First line of defense: wear a mask.
I started wearing one before the lockdown. Before the pandemic, before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan. It’s my ‘I’m in pain but working anyway’ mask. My ‘my body is falling apart and nobody knows why’ mask. The mask of one who is considering their life insurance policy as end of life planning because capitalism does not come with safety nets for unexpected illness.
To the outside world, the mask looks like me. Ten pounds heavier. And with a walker. This mask doesn’t keep out viruses.
Luckily, I have others. A tiger head worn to protest the circus. I wore it on my shaky walk around the neighborhood. From a safe distance of six feet, I wave and blow tiger-kisses to children who can’t see tears inside the mask.
Masks are useful.
Until night. Lights go out, masks come off. Without them, I see the darkness of a city once lit up. I see the inside of frozen trucks, bodies resting eternally, no peace. Stacked in piles waiting for their un-mourned disposal.
Without the mask I see a buried dream come to life. A stranger’s face wet with sweat, not tears. A mask around nose and mouth. I feel someone else’s fever and see him driving south in a hot rage.
A voice on the radio asks “What have you got to lose?”
In an un-masked fantasy, he drives right through the Rose Garden. Into the Oval office. Unmasked faces surround him, eyes open wide. This twenty-first century Gavrilo Princip in a fever dream lunges from the car.
The unknown martyr’s dying breath hits the face of a man who played the fiddle while fevers burned. An imaginary, futile act of retribution just went viral. Too little. Too late.
Put the mask back on, you’re not supposed to imagine such things.
Reality is surreal, but this scene was fantasy. An angry reprieve from the images of dead bodies, the tally of all we have to lose. The wave that hasn’t hit yet.
In bed I am shaking now from the first panic attack in decades. No virus in my lungs, no mask on my face, I still can’t breathe.
Angela Kaufman is an author, writer and activist whose work focuses on spirituality and social justice themes. For more information visit angelakaufmanauthor.com.