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Does this mask make my face look...?

Ten minutes. That’s how long I sat in my parked car in the third row of the Hy-Vee parking lot, face mask in hand. Whenever I used to see people wearing a medical mask, I would immediately assume that they were sick with something contagious, prompting me to move to the other side of the store. But ever since the pandemic became real, incidents of people wearing medical face masks and latex gloves in the stores and other public places have increased. Maybe they are ill. Maybe they’re not. But they’re being cautious for themselves and others.

The day before my latest trip to the grocery store, it occurred to me that if I used preventative measures when shopping for necessities, it could reduce my anxiety level about potential exposure to covid-19. In fact, I’d made up my mind that it would be in mine and my family’s best interest to do everything possible to prevent exposure, even if it meant looking like a sick person or a hoodlum.

My sister had an extra hand-sewn face mask, so she dropped it off after she finished her shift at Walgreens. We chatted briefly about random things – but mostly about how tired we are of worrying about this disease and how much we want normal to return – the same topics that connect most people these days. I tried on the cloth mask that had a tan, sort-of animal print, with a lily on one side. It smooshed my nose and the thin elastic string strained my ears. Here I am I’m worried about wearing this thing just long enough to get through the grocery store. Essential workers, like my sister, have to wear them for entire work shifts.

After she left, I put the mask and a pair of latex gloves into a plastic sandwich-sized baggie (per her recommendation) and tucked them into my purse so I’d have them the next day. When I went to the store as planned, I just sat there in my car, holding the mask, considering my options, trying to decide if I could go through with it. If I could actually put the mask on to walk through the grocery store. Look at that old couple coming out of the store. They aren’t wearing any protective gear. There’s another one. No mask. No gloves. Person after Person came out of the store with no mask – most of them qualifying as elderly. They’re high risk and they don’t seem concerned. Maybe I’m worrying too much. But no, I decided. Heather and I talked. My husband and I talked about it, too. He’s at higher risk because if his diabetes, and I have asthma increasing my risk, as well. It’s the right thing. Maybe I’ll just put it here in my coat pocket and decide when I get in there.

I got out of my car and walked toward the sliding doors without even locking my car. I was too preoccupied. There’s someone with a mask. In the entryway I claimed my cart, spotted the sanitizing wipes, and proceeded into the fresh produce side of the store. Some employees had masks, some didn’t. Some customers had on masks, some didn’t. I suppose I wouldn’t really stand out so much if I wear my mask. I reached into my pocket and positioned the lily off-center just to the left of my now-smooshed-nose, straining my ears with secure elastic string.

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