At first I felt naked, exposed with all my flaws visible for all to see. Some people around me sneered in jealousy and others didn’t mind at all seeing all of me. That’s what it felt like when I dared workout without my mask on for the first time at the gym. In Oregon, fully vaccinated members may workout mask-less after showing proof of vaccination.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last month that they were amending mask protocols for fully vaccinated people, I almost cheered out loud from the excitement.
Okay, it’s not like I’ve been living in a cave this past year and half afraid of showing my face. I just did so carefully and in known spaces. Early on in the pandemic as the world was trying to navigate the unknown future and fate of humanity, Eric and I decided to get together with another couple and form a quaranteam with our besties. We would get together for dinners, ponder our communal captivity, and drink. We weren’t really captive, unlike our friends in various European cities where the residents could only leave their homes for emergencies, grocery shopping, and the occasional outdoor physical activity. Anyone caught outside their home without a legitimate reason suffered penalties ranging from fines, or being arrested. Our American lockdown and shelter-in-place practices were more like strong suggestions, but the feelings of isolation and uncertainty, for me, were very real. Luckily, we weren’t alone in our quest at trying to keep a connection. Some friends visited us via drive-bys and others left us surprises of sourdough bread and other delicious homemade treats on our doorstep. My buddy Mitch even organized an outdoor parking lot drag performance by Portland’s Bolivia Carmichaels for friends as a way to lift our spirits and so we could also see one another. We did what we could to have a safe form of human interaction during the devastating year of 2020.
Throughout the pandemic, Eric and I made sure to stay up-to-date and adhere to the latest CDC bulletins and local state mandates that seemed to change with the frequency of Oregon’s fickle weather. Once our posse (group of 11) were fully vaccinated, we came together for a backyard potluck to celebrate this small medical victory. Sadly, not everyone was in attendance. Two friends delayed getting vaccinated and decided to be extra vigilant by remaining home, though any potential viral spread amongst fully vaccinated folks was extremely low. We weren’t gratuitous about our gathering. Meaning no one dared to post photos on social media of our celebration for fear of receiving overly righteous condemnation when so many have lost so much. The friends that couldn’t attend were missed, but that just gives us another reason to come together at a later date.
Now that people are revealing their faces, it’s made me realize how much I have missed the smiles and receiving hugs in a very challenging year. Every couple is different, and when it comes to our socializing, Eric and I couldn’t be more different from one another. Eric affectionately calls me a “social whore” because I am one of those people who actually thrives in crowds of people. In general he finds socializing draining, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. If there was a poster child for being an introvert, Eric would be the cover model. Me on the other hand, I am an extrovert; shocking I know. I can really feel the energy of others. I know there has to be a science fiction or horror movie about an extraterrestrial being that drains the life force of others. All I can say to anyone reading this post, I only come in peace! I become recharged and that sparkle is seen in my eyes again; no harm is caused to those around me.
It’s been entertaining as people see the caterpillar moustache of mine for the first time since the “before” times (aka pre-pandemic). The stache is actually a holdover from what I like to call, the “deconstruction” of my COVID beard I grew during the earlier and deadlier days last spring when we had more than 110,000 COVID-related deaths during the season according to the CDC. Anyway, I’ve had several double-takes and interesting comments in support of keeping it and even a few urging me to return my mug to its clean shaven state of “adorableness”!
Like many people, Eric and I have now developed a few COVID “holdover” habits that started out as exceptions. One of these habits is that we continue to order out rather than dine in. It’s not that we are afraid, we can conveniently pick up our food or even have it delivered. Related to dining, is the increased frequency we have to run our dishwasher. While some people were working in their kitchens with sourdough, I was expanding my comfort food collection and preparation skills from recipes by Giada de Laurentiis (Giada at Home) and Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman) of the Food Network and have also subscribed to New York Times Cooking. All I can say is that I have been very successful with this new endeavor judging by the snugness of my jeans. This isn’t a complaint and I’m looking forward to preparing some of our favorite new dishes for our friends as people again to feel safe enough to assemble in groups.
Every part of our resocialization is being approached with excitement, anxiousness, and trepidation. I noticed how even though I’m vaccinated I tend to stay 6ft apart out of habit. Not only that, letting people know I’m vaccinated has become a part of my introduction if I’m meeting in person, Hi my name is Judge, I’m vacc’d by J&J., and my pronouns are …, you get the idea. Eric and I recently went out for Sunday brunch with our besties to celebrate our new mask emancipation and selected a venue with a large outdoor deck. We’re not too concerned but one of our besties is still a little cautious of indoor dining so we sat outdoors in a covered and heated space. It was fine because we also had a chance to try a new spot that will likely become a new favorite. After a fabulous meal we masked up again as we walked through the restaurant and headed out the door. We ended up passing by a girlfriend who was awaiting a friend to join her for brunch too. She didn’t recognize me at first until I dropped my mask. What a great surprise! It had been over a year since we had seen each other in person. I went to give her a hug and paused because I wanted to make sure she was comfortable before I created an awkward situation.
Giving the hug still felt a little weird, though I’m sure it was all in my head. I just enjoyed seeing her beautiful face and that smile, something I’ve missed seeing on many faces in the past year. I know the masking won’t completely disappear from our cultural collectives. We may even become like our Asian neighbors and start wearing them out of necessity because it makes us feel safer. Personally with my seasonal allergies, I will likely be keeping mine handy. The grasses and trees of the Willamette Valley here in Oregon can be pretty brutal on a person’s respiratory system. As for now, I’ll be enjoying breathing the fresh air and feeling the warm sun on my uncovered and somewhat furry face.
#BlackLivesMatter #Sciencesaveslives #HappyPride