Gearing up for battle, I put on my mask before going inside the grocery store, the book store, the shoe store, the anything store. Masks scratch my face, poke me in the eye, irritate my skin, keep my skin from breathing so that instead it sweats. The rash on my chin from these months of sweat gets more irritated and more painful. That’s not supposed to matter. All that matters is the greater good: wear a mask to prevent the spread of the virus. Nothing else is supposed to matter but the virus.
Except when it does.
Behind the masks are the people — people making bread, people who aren’t sure if they’re employed, people who miss all the other people we all used to interact with.
I miss cooking with other people. With my friends. With Mark and Ben. I miss Mark’s sense of humor and Ben’s steady reliability. I miss Arlene and the way she used to have a gazillion lemons and limes filling the fridge. I miss cleaning out the fridge for her and organizing her collection of garlic. I miss trying out crazy-complicated recipes with Jonathan, and trips to Trader Joe’s in my car together to get all of the necessary ingredients.
Going back further, I miss being 8 years old and making waffles for lunch with my mom and my sister and Abby. I miss listening to Abby’s expertise on subjects like grilled cheese sandwiches and the One True Way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I miss when Laura and her college roommate came home for Christmas break, and I bought sirloin tips at Whole Foods because they used to be the only type of red meat that even remotely appealed to my vegetarian sister.
I’ll say it straight out: I don’t like cooking alone. It’s too complicated to do it all by myself, and it’s too lonely.
Baking alone is fine and zen and everything. I can put on music and jam out along with the recipe. Baking has precise steps all written out on a recipe. I can do one thing at a time.
But cooking isn’t like that. Cooking is 2 or 3 or 4 pots and pans on the stove, on the heat, all at once. Cooking is the toaster oven, or the oven itself, and maybe the rice cooker going too. I need a sous-chef. I don’t like trying to control it all, be in so many places at once. I need company from friends, peers, not only my parents.
The pandemic has upended my community, not just the whole world, but the individual slivers of world that each one of us lives in. I want my people back. And in order to get to the future ideal where we chat away with the grocery store workers, the librarians, and everyone else, the #1 action that each of us can take is to wear a mask.
Some things are worlds more important than my irritated skin, and that’s healing the world through the greater good. Once we all do that, we can heal each individual sliver of good. We can see the smile on someone else’s face, and someone can see my smile too. The virus is not the only thing that matters to my world: it’s the people around me, working so the virus may pass over us, so we can all get our people back.
Wear a mask.