I took off my mask at work today, just chatting with one of the therapists at lunchtime. She said I looked different than she thought I would — her mind had filled in the blank with a different nose and mouth for me. I felt the same. It’s like opening a gift you were sure would hold a new blouse, and finding instead a pair of slacks. Nice, but not what you expected.

We’ll have mask stories later. We’ll remember how we made the first one out of an old tee-shirt, following along with a YouTube video, because you couldn’t buy one for a million dollars anywhere, in the beginning. Later we graduated to Etsy masks, or sewed them ourselves out of whatever fabric we could find at whatever store might be open. We got our shit together, maybe, and sewed some more to give away. Over time the masks became more fashionable, ever more sophisticated: a red mask covered in rhinestones, another in velvet cheetah. Kids in masks made to look like the gaping jaws of a shark or a lion, or with Spidey webs across the mouth, or quotes from Frozen. I sported a black silk model myself back in the day, then tried the kind that looks like a duck’s bill, but I landed eventually on the genderless blue paper ones with elastic straps — because mask fatigue is real, and because at some point we collectively forsook fashion and started wearing jeans every day to work. We’ll remember masks on sidewalks, dangling from the rear-view mirror. The smell of our breath, the rasp of paper against our cheeks, the muffled voice of a masked person on the phone. How we were plagued by maskne, and fogged glasses, and slippage, and the vexing social dilemmas caused by those who refuse to mask and still want to get in your grill. How we were grateful at times for the emotional neutrality a masked face projects.

Not having to smile. Smiling anyway. Social creatures after all, no matter the number of screens or shields or plexiglass barriers between us. We still need each other. We never stopped trying to connect.

What will you remember?

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