A Breakup, Unmasked

We first met in the spring of 2020, albeit reluctantly. It was more of an arranged coupling. I was quite happy in my current situation but fate mandated our star-crossed relationship. Oh, I suppose we all experience initial errors and false starts when considering what would turn out to be almost constant contact, but I chalk this up to aiming way too low, ratcheting up my vulnerability to levels dangerously high.

Here I was, perfectly healthy with a firm intention to stay that way. Then the “relationship” came into my life at the command of the government. First it was quarantine to stave off an incidious virus, then, in order to take baby steps in public my first face partner was forced on me. It was paper, temporary, barely functional but what can I say, it wasn’t as if there were many choices at first.

I slapped it over my nose and mouth and gamely ventured to the grocery store for a few vital necessities: bread, milk, Oreos, and craft beer. We didn’t get along from the get go. Scratchy, stiff, utterly inflexible—the quick breakup was a relief, but I needed to quickly find a new partner or be sentenced to house arrest.

And then, ah…as if created out of thin air I was presented with a vision of soft, black-lined cloth with a forgiving elastic strap. As I placed it upon my face we were in instant simpatico. I hadn’t felt such comfort and ease since overdosing on Dulcolax during a lost weekend in Inkster, Michigan.

Oh, we had our little spats from time to time. There was the instance where I foolishly decided to enter an overcrowded Cabela’s a week before deer hunting season. My facial protector scowled at my indiscretion scolding me saying, “you KNOW I’m no N95. Why put me in a position of almost certain failure?”

In my guilt I turned tail, made my way around the displays of dead, stuffed wildlife and emerged into an almost deadlier environment—the massive parking lot populated almost exclusively by diesel-powered heavy duty pickup trucks spewing black clouds of lethal dreck. There would be hell to pay when we got home, including a thorough laundering.

Still, we hung together for almost exactly three years through super spreader environments that included malls, air travel, occasional visits to the office and the in-laws. My protector was impervious to it all and I suffered not even a slight runny nose all that time.

But then, just in the past few weeks, I felt a distance—between my mouth, nose and my material significant other. Gaps had formed. It wasn’t the same. I felt vulnerable. It felt loose. Then one night I awoke with a scratchy throat, runny nose and an unexplainable anticipation of the next episode of “Call Me Kat.” Something was wrong.

My family urged me to take a test. I did. I failed. I instantly moved into a spare room isolating me from those I loved and others who were willing to let me win Uno. I called my doctor. A strong prescription was ordered followed by a question only an experienced, training healthcare professional could conjure: did your mask fail you?”

I caught my breath, thought of the good times we had over the past three years, our initial adjustment period but ultimate comfort level between us and then admitted, “yes doc, I believe it to be so.”

The callous bastard ordered me to immediately toss it in a can and replace it with another that would offer sufficient protection for the long haul.

Tough love, he called it. I slowly removed it from my face, said my goodbyes, thanked it for its service. We parted as friends, but not before it landed one last shot.

“You just had to lower me in that crowded Costco to taste that free guac sample…and I get the blame. You’re all the same. No self-control…it’s a damn pandemic.”


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