I wore face mask for the first time today when I went to pick up dinner for my family from a local restaurant. I parked in the lot and slipped on the mask and took a few practice breaths to get accustomed.
My mask was the homemade type, fashioned from a bandanna and two rubber bands. The fit was snug. Breathing was a little harder. I checked myself in the rearview mirror and the eyes that stared back at me were laced with uncertainty.
I hesitated to get out of the car. For some reason, I felt embarrassed, even ashamed. And more than a little sad. Not because of the way I looked (actually, I liked the camo pattern) or because I had been told by Governor Cuomo that I must wear a mask in public when social distancing is not possible.
My discomfort was larger than that, yet more opaque. What have we come to that we have to avoid each other, hide from each other, protect ourselves from each other?
Not that I would consider defying the mask order. I’ve followed all the guidelines. I’m not one of these people protesting at state capitols that my liberties are being violated. Don’t get me started on that. I feel enough anger and anxiety as it is.
As I approached the restaurant there was a sign taped to the window asking all customers to put on their masks before entering. Seeing this made me feel better, like I was doing the right thing, joining my fellow citizens in a call to arms.
The pickup area was clearly marked with arrows about where to walk and where to stand. The employees all had masks on and were also protected by a heavy, clear plastic curtain with a hole cut in it to conduct the transaction: food passed out, money passed in. Smart. Well-designed.
There was one other customer in the restaurant picking up food. But this guy didn’t have a mask on. He defied the governor’s order. He defied the restaurant’s request to have a mask on. My reaction was immediate: I bristled with fury.
I almost said to him, “Where the fuck is your mask?”
Almost. I said nothing. I wasn’t afraid of a confrontation — in some ways I wanted one. But that would be the wrong thing to do. It wouldn’t help the situation. It wouldn’t educate this person or shame them into wearing a mask. It would only make me feel worse.
I picked up my food. I paid for in cash (with a big tip) that I set on the counter. I touched no one. No one touched me. I walked out into the fresh air. I was alone now, no one around me. I wore my mask all the way back to my car.