A Masked Life

On July 19, 2020, my mother and I finally stopped debating at 10 A.M. We get ourselves ready: a pair of jeans, an unenthusiastic t-shirt, shoes, and the last touch, a face mask. For several hours, we debated whether we should venture outside and if it was worth the risk. I assure you it was not. However, during the last few months, it seems as though our definition of what is worth the risk has shifted. We wanted out of the house. A day to pretend everything around us was just a moment that has finally passed. So, shopping was my suggestion for our venture out into the unknown. As we drove into the parking lot of the department store, I felt nervous, anxious. I have not been into a clothing store for the last four months or so. Why was I afraid? I was afraid of being around other people. I was petrified of being in one place for too long. And I was fearful of this being the place where I could encounter the virus, a place of unessential items, of no importance to life or death. First, I scanned the store to avoid too many people at once. We opted out of grabbing a shopping cart. Eventually, we had too many things in our hands and reluctantly resorted to the treacherous task of fetching a cart. The store had several carts already sanitized, but we do not trust their accuracy in disinfecting. I grabbed one, and I am perplexed on how I will clean the handle without sanitized wipes. I turn to my mother, who assumingly reads my expression, and she dumps hand sanitizer onto the handlebar of the shopping cart, rubbing the bar with her hands. I immediately become repulsed by her actions and reprimand her for such a cringe-worthy moment. Nonetheless, we continued sifting through racks of clothes. About halfway through the store, I felt sick. I could not breathe, and I wanted to rip my mask off and take a breath of department store air. I felt dizzy; my head was spinning, my heart rate rising. The risk of taking off my mask fluttering through my mind, and I knew I had to calm myself down. I had to remember why I was wearing the mask in the first place. It becomes difficult to do something that feels extremely alien. The mask has become a shield from the virus and a shield from the world we once knew. As my mother and I casually picked up items, I noticed other shoppers doing the same thing. Why are we all shopping? There is nowhere to go, nowhere to be, yet, here we are shopping as if we all have events to attend. My eyes scanned shoppers only to see their eyes in return. Their eyes filled with doubt, hope, indifference. Some seemed panicked and in a rush. Others daydream about where they might wear a new, pristine outfit. In contrast, some shoppers seemed determined to ignore a difference at all, unphased by the armor wrapped around their face, gripping their ears in an effort to remain a diligent protector against our one enemy. For whatever reason, we were all in this department store together, shopping for the future. Own futures that would help fuel our desires to maintain some sort of hope for the way things used to be. Uncomfortable with the amount of time we have spent lingering in the store, I urge my mother to the checkout counter. Another daunting task, spacing ourselves from other shoppers, practically holding our breaths until we reach the checkout clerk. An older woman, wearing latex gloves, a mask, and a transparent shield, waves us over to her register. She seems tired but does her job with ease. Her face is friendly, and her smile seems like it is always there, even through the adjustments of a world dealing with a pandemic. The risk she takes to continue her work makes me feel sad. She should not have to be here during a time like this. But maybe she has no choice, maybe she does. However, I still feel guilty and unsure of how to feel “normal” in moments like these. We leave the store and are emotionally exhausted, but the job is not over. We quickly throw our bags into the car and hurry to get to disinfecting ourselves. Ripping our masks off as if we just escaped an inhospitable terrain, we began the process of dowsing ourselves in hand sanitizer. The smell of alcohol sickens me, and the fumes turn from a haven to an inescapable high. We have managed to interact with society and engage ourselves in a common occurrence. I know my outside adventures will not always consist of the same feelings I experienced with my mother. The world will not always be in a state of fury and fear. I look at my son and see hope; I see the future of change in his eyes. And now that we can only see each other's eyes, I see people clinging on to a life they may have never seen before. My favorite author Paulo Coelho said, “Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” I believe I see those who still see our world as hopeless, but I choose to see people like my son, unafraid of the challenge to see beauty.

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