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The Mask

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

She was pretty. I don’t mean to be macho, or demeaning. That’s what I remember.

I meet a lot of people in this line of work. My mind has never been one to retain names, or faces very well. They just don’t stick. I might recall your washing machine, your friendly dog, or bumping my head in the cellar stairway. Randomly, I have no control. Repeat customers, It’ll come to me, but it may take a minute. Show me your appliances. Sometimes I draw a total blank. Embarrassing. I try, believe me.

I might have to peek at my slip to get your name right. My cheat notes. I’ll probably only get a first name, our machine tends to garble, and my wife doesn’t like to guess. She’ll leave it blank. She’s busy. I’ll peek at your check, or card, before I write up the slip. Little games that make up my day.

Kerri was busy, I do remember that. She had at least two jobs, the first was obvious. The big yellow Bluebird school bus was neatly backed in the driveway. I have small kids, and we happen to have a wonderful bus driver. I ponder about the importance of the job every morning, when my boys stretch to climb the big steps. Precious cargo. My babies on board. She will protect them like her own. A tough job, I wouldn’t last a day.

Kerri’s icemaker had quit, I believe. She was cooking, hurrying to prepare a meal before she had to go to her other job, at the local fire department. Another occupation that commands my instant respect. Any first responder has earned nobility in my eyes, just by the career choice. She was cool. We chatted while she cooked, about kids, and jobs, and all of the running. The logistics always bite you, it seems.

She was bright, and friendly. I liked her, right off the bat. And yes, she was pretty. She had the extra shine that only comes with raising children. It’s hard to break down in simple words. All women have a glow, when they’re pregnant. Mother Nature takes care of that, and it’s hard to miss. I will smile like a goofy cub scout, when I see a lady in late stages of pregnancy. I can’t help it. I try not to be creepy.

Creating a new human being is pretty amazing. Magical. This pregnancy glow will never fade. It develops, over time. Mom’s face will age, as the children do. The storm of life weathers all of us.

When a Mom is talking to her kids, you can see it, if you really look. I could see it when Kerri was telling me about hers. Right there, plain as day. The same face her kids see when they look at her. My own Mom, and my sweet wife, glowing back at our little ones.

The shine. The best kind of pretty. They can’t hide it.

Masks. The photo. That’s what I came here to tell you about.

She needed a new icemaker. I didn’t have one on board. She asked if I’d mind letting myself in, on my return visit. She wouldn’t have to miss any more work, and she’d leave me a check. Perfect. We’d make the arrangements.

I got the part after a while, and made the trip back. She had left me this mask, and sweet note.

My first thought: How incredibly kind.

Mind you, this was way back at the beginning of the Covid Ordeal. Nobody was wearing them, hating on them, or talking about them at all. I don’t get a lot of tips, or extras, with this job. I’m trying to save people money, while they’re in a bind.

A thoughtful, handmade gift is hard to beat. It stunned me for a second, like an unexpected birthday present. My favorite colors, to boot.

It’s like she knew. The way Moms do.

My second thought: I’ll never wear it.

I was already picturing the shelf in my mancave where I would stash it. A keepsake. A souvenir.

I didn’t even try it on. I doubted I would ever strap it to my face.

If I had only known.

It would stay on my front seat. The desk unit of my mobile office. Life would change.

New rules came down twice a week, it was mayhem. Who to believe? That’s a huge question.

I don’t want to fight with anyone, but I resisted. All the way. I’ll just keep to myself, and do my job.

I couldn’t see the mask really stopping much. Sneezings, maybe, but a sleeve will catch those.

Don’t get wound up. I’m no scientist. I understand all of the viewpoints.

I didn’t like it. I kept my mouth shut. I’ll walk away before I’ll argue. I’ll stew.

In the end, which turned out to be the beginning, I complied.

It took exactly one dirty look, from a little old lady. Extra dirty. I broke.

I own a business. I don’t need any hard feelings. I try to stay in neutral territory. Always.

Now it’s old news. We all have masks for every situation. My wife has bought me a bunch, she’s even making her own. My front seat desk has a half dozen nice ones, all shapes and models. She bought me a box of disposables, should I ever get caught short. She never leaves me hanging.

I grumble. I’ve made some long parking lot walks, only to remember my mask was still on the seat desk.

I’ve been on the floor, sweating, with foggy glasses, and no extra hand. Unhappy.

Every time I snap those elastics over my ears, I flinch a little bit. I feel the eyes of unseen strangers, the other crowd now. Shaming me for giving in. My Colonial ancestors wouldn’t be very proud.

It’s in our DNA I think. The resistance. Instinctive. Don’t put your hands on me. That’s the feeling.

I’ll tell you how I get past it. How I choke it down. I think about Kerri.

I wear her mask. Every time.

I missed it, in the laundry one day. Had to use a backup. Made sure it never happened again.

I think back to that little note, and this tiny snapshot of my life. A random act of kindness.

It’s easy to recall the happiness, that note made me smile for the whole day.

The foresight that she had, so early on. The great mask. I’ve got a huge melon, but she nailed it. A perfect fit, and colors that I’m proud to wear. Anywhere.

I can see her, as she reads this. Smiles, hopefully. Maybe a blush or two. Knowing nods.

I wear that mask proudly. Sometimes I pretend I’m a bandit. I can’t help that.

I even smile under here, once in a while.

I don’t remember many, as life flies by like a runaway train.

But I’ll always remember Kerri.

She’s pretty. Like a Mom.

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