This was the moment I knew I’d lost my mind.
It was late spring of 2020. The entire state of Wisconsin was under a mask mandate – in stores, restaurants, public places – and there was plenty of advice about wearing masks outside because, that early in the pandemic, word was that the virus could be transmitted by a runner huffing by on the sidewalk.
In our neighborhood, people walked in the middle of the street to avoid ever encountering someone face to face. It was a chilling time.
After many months in town with just excursions to the dog park, we decided that we ought to figure out how to take day trips. This was tricky because social media was full of terrifying memes about the amount of virus aerosols released with a toilet flush and we knew an all-day road trip would have to include at least one pit stop.
We decided to double-mask. We drove to Horicon Marsh, a wildlife refuge known for its migrating birds. It is an hour or so ride from Milwaukee, through lovely country, and it felt great to be on the road. There were a lot of people at the marsh. The boardwalks were full of people, almost all masked, families with small children, older folks, people who clearly had been going mad staying at home. We were among them.
We steered clear of everyone. When people stopped to admire our dogs, we cut conversation short and kept moving. Finally, we finished the route through the park, way too fast, because my anxiety about the virus and all the people around ignited my flight instinct and, rather than argue with me about it, my husband eased the path back to safety.
We decided we needed to have lunch. We strategized about different alternatives, finally settling on a sandwich place on the main drag of the town near the march. My husband masked up and went inside. I paced beside our truck, trying to peer into the windows to see what was taking so long.
Finally, he emerged with a bag of sandwiches and two cans of soda.
“Were they wearing masks?” I asked him this before agreeing to take the soda can he was handing me.
He went on the explain that the other customers were masked but the people behind the counter – the women making our sandwiches weren’t.
I erupted. I told him that they could be infected, that they could have spread virus all over our sandwiches, that they were breathing on our food. This is what the pandemic had done to me – me of the ‘drop it on the floor 30-second rule’ and the ‘if it isn’t green it’s probably still okay to eat’ standard.
My rage took over my entire body and soul. Propelled by some external power, I stomped across the parking lot into the door of the sandwich shop and I yelled “Why aren’t you all wearing masks?” The women behind the counter stopped in mid turkey sub and stared at me. A waiting customer fingered the sales slip in her hand. I lectured them about wearing masks, how they had a special responsibility to mask up to protect the public. I left all of the fear of the past many months on the floor of that sandwich shop.
And then I went back to the truck.
“I can’t eat this.” I tucked the sandwiches under the seat, wiped the soda lid with an alcohol wipe, opened it up and took a swig.
“I can’t believe they’re not wearing masks. Good God.” My indignation started to leak out of my ears and run down my shirt sleeves.
“Neither were you.”
We drove home then. My husband ate the two sandwiches the next day. I ate the chips.