This story, while depicting one of the basic ways COVID-19 has impacted our lives, represents all of the changes we have experienced. Even the most mundane, everyday tasks can change because of something this pervasive.
I can’t believe I forgot my mask; the bloody thing was on a peg by the front door, and I walked right by it. I try to turn my scarf into a makeshift mask, but it won’t stay in position properly. Soon I give up and continue to walk until I leave the building. I’ll have to avoid people — the few I see at least.
When I come across the first person, I cover my mouth and nose firmly, but they glance at me as if I have a third eye. Afterwards I walk onto the road, curving around passersby as if a magnet is pushing us apart.
I watch my breath billow up before my eyes. I can see it momentarily, then it’s gone — there again, gone again — dissipating as soon as it appears. It spreads out invisibly, extending itself to the nearest person. I shake my head. I don’t have COVID-19. There’s no risk here, unless I catch it here and now. Then, why do I feel so guilty?
I pass a man who coughs; he wears no mask. I shoot him a death glare, covering my own mouth and nose, but he doesn’t notice. It was probably just a reaction to the cold. At least he’s better than that woman in the store who refused to put a mask on and sneezed all over the apples. Who did she think she was, anyway? I called security on her, and they escorted her out, kicking and screaming. I have no remorse.
I come to our neighbourhood’s little park and stop to stare at the playground equipment. There were a bunch of kids who used it daily throughout the summer — now it’s empty. The metal is icy cold to the touch; the wood a damp kind of black that you only see in winter against a backdrop of fresh snow.
I wish I had my mask. What if a cop stops me and asks me where it is? Don’t be ridiculous. Not like I’ll be going inside anywhere. I’m just out for a walk. A much-needed walk — away from people. I continue my walk, internal anxieties flailing. Usually, these walks are a coping mechanism, especially the last few months — but that’s harder today. It doesn’t feel right to be out here. It feels like I’m doing something wrong, somehow, even though I’m not breaking any laws. My social anxiety is morphing into some form of solitary anxiety, where I can be doing nothing and still feel this intense guilt and shame. If only I knew why.
The sky is mottled grey. It isn’t snowing yet, but it looks like it may soon. A squirrel’s head pops out of a hole in a tree. I stop and watch it. It watches me back.
“Hey,” I say to its little face, “You all good?” No answer, which is probably a good sign that my mental health is still intact.
My walk leads me to a high school where I make a turn, walk through the parking lot devoid of cars, and eventually head back down a street running parallel. This one is smaller, which I like — less risk of bumping into people.
Others must have had the same idea, because I run into five people within five blocks. Each time I veer into the road — the fourth time, I slip on a patch of melting ice. Thankfully, I catch my balance before the fall, but manage to step in a puddle of slush.
“Should’ve worn my boots today,” I say to the woman as she passes, my hand near my mouth and nose. She doesn’t stop, but she looks at me like she doesn’t understand. She’s not wearing a mask either.
After that I choose to walk on the road; not a lot of cars out anyway.
The one car I do see is a spectacle. Inside the vehicle sits a man wearing his mask, windows up. I watch as he passes, and wonder why he would find that necessary; it seems redundant to me. But I know the answer, I suppose.
When I get back to my building I pull my scarf up to hide my nose and mouth — it isn’t ideal, but it will have to do. The security guard doesn’t stop me as I walk through. There are two of us in the elevator. We stand on opposite ends of the tiny room, my scarf loose around my face — his mask covers his nicely. He tries not to look at me, but I can’t help to look at him.
Once back upstairs I feel almost faint. My door closes and I’m alone again. My breath comes in short, sharp bursts, and I realize I’ve been holding it for maybe a month. I hope that soon I can see others without fear, or at least breathe without guilt.