Also, my masks didn’t fit. This was before mask makers began offering different sizes and the ones we had seemed to come in one-size-fits-all … for a horse. Then sizes were introduced, but how did one calculate face size, anyway? Last I checked, there were no size charts directing you to measure the circumference of your face around the widest swath of nose, or to draw the distance between earlobe and chin. Using guesswork, I ordered a new batch and learned that my middle child and I had bigger faces than anyone else in the family. I flashed back to a haunting period of adolescence in which my oldest brother accused me of having a face that managed to be too long and too fat at the same time.
Meanwhile, my husband got creative. He had discovered that masks could make a statement, and soon had an exciting coronavirus wardrobe full of personality. One day, a mask with the pattern of an old library card arrived, complete with date stamps. I posted a picture of it on Instagram, where it received more likes than images of my most recent book and my best cat photos.
I had to face the fact that my masks were both unoriginal and unfashionable. They said nothing smart about me and I didn’t wear them well. My horse-size masks kept slipping off my nose. An ear loop always came loose when I was in the company of my strictest quarantine friend or at the moment I arrived at the cash register. When alone, I lost confidence in my face (was there something structurally unsound about it?), and when in company, I felt like an outlaw, shirking my duty as a citizen. Maybe she’s one of those anti-maskers, folks probably whispered behind my back at the pharmacy.
Maybe I was! Goodness knows, I had mask issues. I forgot, repeatedly, not to apply lip balm. I smiled meaningfully at people, forgetting they couldn’t see. Walking up a steep hill after the funeral with two old friends, I gasped and wheezed like an animal trapped under a damp blanket. “Can we stop for a minute?” I begged, while the two of them looked at me coolly, their expressions yogi-like, their breath inaudible.
I briefly contemplated buying a special plastic cup that you can apparently put between your face and your mask to create breathing room, but knew nobody who used such a device, which I’d only seen advertised on social media, and therefore it felt almost as foolhardy as buying something “as seen on TV” was during the ’70s. For all I knew it had been debunked as unsafe and black-marked as uncool; if I wore it, I’d probably wind up with deep, telltale red indentations on my skin. “She fell for the cup,” people would note as they swished by in their bespoke, limited-edition masks from pop-up websites that only fashion insiders knew about.