Unmasked: Facing the Exposure of a New Life
Reading Time: Less than 4 minutes
I've diligently worn my mask for the last 15 months, even though I constantly do the dance of getting out of my car and halfway to the door of a store and realizing my face is naked. Or wearing it for multiple hours while volunteering and ripping it off like a surgeon after a long, intense procedure.
But it's also become a bit of a safety net for my face, hiding the weird tics my mouth has picked up while covered; hiding the disbelief, disgust, and shock that my eyes might not fully convey. Like a couple of Sundays ago when Brian and I went on a hunt for a jalapeno popper croissant that we'd been hearing about at a local coffee shop.
Fully masked, we ordered a breakfast sandwich, a couple of cold brews, and the legendary croissant from the young crew unhappily manning the counter early on a Sunday. The twenty-something girl slowly answered our questions about the menu, her high-waisted mom jeans and loose-fitting mock turtleneck making me itch with memories of my early high school days in the 90s. While we waited for our items, we grabbed a table outside with our black husky-mix, Raven, who somehow sensed the bacon in her future. The anticipation was palpable in our group.
Brian grabbed our food from inside when the buzzer vibrated and signaled it was time for deliciousness. He excitedly set our items on the table, and I noted that his croissant wasn't warm...hard cream cheese and cold bacon was no way to enjoy this masterpiece! He was hungry and indifferent about the temperature, but I couldn't accept this atrocity.
I took the paper-wrapped croissant back inside and asked the young man tending to the food if he could warm up our item. With a flip of his bangs, he explained that once he gives us the food, he can't take it back due to health code reasons.
"That makes sense," I said, my eyes soft, but my mouth doing it's weird masked tick thing. "But I haven't taken it out of the wrapper, and I assumed it would be warm."
Holding back an eye roll, he said that most people take the food home.
"Yes, but we're staying here," I countered, knowing the croissant would never feel the warmth of the microwave sitting next to him. "It might be nice if you put up a sign or asked customers in the future if they want their items warmed up."
Without missing a beat, he said in a dismissive, condescending tone, "I think it's understood," and turned away.
I don't know what my face did in that moment, and luckily, neither does he, because I was wearing a mask.
Brian happily ate the cold croissant, but I stewed and unpacked the interaction for hours afterwards, knowing that if I hadn't been wearing a mask—and for that matter, if angsty kid hadn't been wearing a mask—my anger might've boiled over in the form of snide remarks. Instead, he only got to see the disbelief in my eyes.
That mask has been my safety net and my security blanket, not only as protection from the COVID-19 virus, but also evidently to protect me from escalating interactions with brooding young men.
Adding to the soon-to-be unmasked state of my life, I decided to leave my stable, well-paying, toxic, stressful job in April to explore a freelance writing business. I ripped off the mask of benefits and a secure paycheck for my own mental, emotional, and physical health. Thanks to the pandemic it seems many find themselves in this same position, some not by their own choice, unfortunately. Regardless of our professional situations though, we all find ourselves easing into an unmasked world, not knowing who is vaccinated or not, determining our acceptable level of risk, and trusting those around us to want to protect each other.
A psychologist friend likened it to exposure therapy used with trauma patients, because really, haven't we all experienced some level of trauma in the last year?
As I explore the world unmasked, I find myself on a precipice, no safety net below, discovering the art of "putting myself out there," and exposing myself to criticism and judgement. This is the way we return to normal. We move forward one step at a time, unmasked, taking deep, full breaths, vulnerable, and trusting ourselves to make the right decisions.
What is your safety net? Did you lose it during the pandemic? How are you approaching the return to the "before times?" What fun habits did your face pick up behind a mask? I'd love to hear your thoughts and connect in the comments below!