The other day I had to go into the office building from my safe shelter, so I strapped the homemade, home sewn mask over my face. Babushka sewed it for me, so of course it has flowers and is a bit girly. I would actually have preferred something bright red and angry looking or maybe a cami-mask or some sort of shark jaws–it should be something that broadcasts to the viewer: Don’t come near me, ‘cause this chick [b–ch] will fight you. But no, instead there’s a delicate violet pattern, small enough to tempt someone to come closer and to trace the florals over the bridge of my nose.
I placed the mask over my nose and chin and went in at Oh dark thirty, to see few people and to get in and get out. It was still slightly dark outside and on a regular workday, before the Q*, there would be folks here, pacing the halls. Former prison guards now in suits, banished by ambition and notable work to the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest halls of HQ.
The elevator was ready for me and pinged a greeting. Empty. I used my knuckle to press buttons, and dragged the bag of legal files and codebooks in. It was me and the control panel. Ping.
We rose rapidly to the third floor, the elevator and me–not a soul around. Just me and my floral disguise.
On the third floor I exited. Again, deserted. I swiped my badge and walked into the darkened hall leading into my office.
The past came swimming back to me like Michael Phelps, but with a clumsy splash.
The last time I was masked like this was in Yountville. I wore an N95 mask, similar relaxed clothing, a dark hoodie and loose pants. The facility there was also eerily empty, most of the elderly and disabled had been medically evacuated to other locations. The floors were mostly deserted. Except there was smoke in the air. Cinders. Bits and pieces of the surrounding hills and the once green forests and undergrowth floated down, only to be turned away from my lungs by my N95.
At Yountville, I rose to the third floor as well, but there it was bustling in Incident Command. And the bustling resembled a hospital even more so–because it was a hospital, albeit mostly deserted.
I wore an N95, carried sugar free cough drops, eye drops. I wore a baseball cap and rings of fatigue. I hadn’t slept for days and the power had come on and off multiple times. The emergency generators had kicked in and were burning through precious fuel faster than it could be delivered.
In contrast, during the Quarantine, all I seem to want to do is sleep. I sleep as long as I can, whenever I can. The air is clear, mostly. With rain and wind at times. The family is together under one roof.
The last time I masked, I was alone, having sent the entire crew out of the Napa Valley. We were surrounded by flames–you could see a ridge of them, bright orange under the night sky. Power was knocked out everywhere, so the only light was that of flame. A great big bonfire, moving faster than expected. So fast that law enforcement was speeding from remote house to remote house, trying to get people out. Not all of them got out.
Those early days of masking, I went home to the small house we had, next to the mess hall. No power there, so I turned on a flashlight and curled into a chair with a blanket. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how much I tried–even though my eyes were like sandpaper and my throat was scratchy too.
Now, I often curl up under my plush purple blanket and sleep as if I never slept. Children and adults can be heard late into the night, loud conversations about this and that.
I sleep well now, and often.
The last time I masked, I had to be awake–so much to worry about.
Now, all I have to worry about is the floral pattern on my mask and whether I need to respond to an email.
This masking is better than the last.
But sometimes I miss seeing the enemy at the gate, the fire at the door. The air filled with the aftermath of broad destruction. At least I knew when the battle was over, when the mask could come off.
Now, in this masking, we don’t know when or if it will end.