| mask (masculine noun) | /mask/
In the midst of this pandemic, our societal infrastructure and sense of normalcy have deteriorated. I am desperate and unemployed. In the face of such instability, I strive to articulate the positive. No, I am not planning a quarantine glow-up. I will not reappear ten pounds lighter with a radiant complexion and a shiny, amber mane. I have not learned to play a concerto or speak Tagalog, Mandarin, or Farsi. I have not adhered to my daily meditation practice or mastered a split.
But I have cooked a boeuf bourguignon, perfected my patience as the cubes of seared meat fell apart and the scent of wine permeated our apartment. We have made stuffed bell peppers and frittatas with bacon and thick slices of goat cheese. I have made chocolate chip cookies so buttery that we had to chug a liter of water after eating one with our afternoon espresso. I’ve read sixteen books and consumed countless cups of coffee. I’ve relished caffeine highs while basking in the mid-afternoon sun and wept silently as the days passed grim and torpid in this lorn, provincial place. There were days when the sky felt heavy, as if it too were forcing us into confinement. I uncharacteristically smoked (half) a cigar one afternoon when I felt particularly reckless, when, numbed by days devoid of distraction, my dopamine cravings were so intense I could feel my brain kindling like a puck of self-lighting charcoal. I’ve led digital dungeon raids and mixed bogus negronis: Campari and lemonade. I have drunkenly danced to equal parts Fleetwood Mac and Arizona Zervas, delirious leaps and pirouettes punctuated by thirsty sips of leftover wedding champagne. Indeed, I have sung and stretched and fasted and fed. I have learned that my husband loves to write, and he has taught me how to brew beer d’abbaye. One Sunday, we coaxed the hoppy sludge through a plastic colander as we crouched on the kitchen floor. I burnt my fingers and cursed. I have listened to podcasts about medieval executioners and contemporary serial killers, if only to remind myself that the world was already a nightmare hellscape before this all began.
I will not leave quarantine with a tangible proof of progress, evidence of self-actualization, or an acquired skill. I’m not even sure I’m happy for the quarantine to end, to witness the simulacrum of normalcy that will be erected in its stead. I have ordered an assortment of cloth masks in floral vintage prints. Before boarding the train to Paris, I will secure the giddy fabric around the lower half of my face. As the hills of Lorraine slide past my window, I will wonder at how much has changed, or if I have really changed at all.