The old gray mask

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The old gray mask

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I would like to submit my gray, cotton face mask to the COVID-19 Archive. It is perhaps not as the most important item, but certainly it is the most present item for me throughout this pandemic. At almost a full year into this adventure, everyone has a keen familiarity with and opinion of face masks. I got this one as a gift. It feels about the same as getting socks on Christmas, except more useful. I have used this thing every single day unless I forget it—which sends me into a chaotic panic.
I am a teacher in a suburb of Nashville, TN. Our school district insists on teaching in person, despite having alarmingly high infection rates in our community. This mask is now part of my daily uniform, a non-negotiable. It serves as a role model for students. A sign that their health is of paramount concern to us. It is part of everything I do. I have dozens of paper replacements in my desk. Those aren’t as good. They straps hurt your ears. The cloth ones are better, more comfortable. I thought about getting one with my favorite band’s logo, but I am going to stick with this old reliable gray, cotton mask.
The smell of this mask will haunt me the rest of my life. I wash it multiple times per week. It often smells like laundry detergent. That is a good thing. However, by the end of the day it often smells like whatever I had for lunch. The masks gets hot. It is blasted with my carbon dioxide for eight hours straight. It gets really bad when I have to lecture during the day. When you inhale sharply to talk, it sucks in the material. I’ve learned how to breathe differently when I have the mask on. Sometimes I just pinch the end and hold it with my fingers while I talk. I can rarely take it off. I panic if I forget to put it on when I leave my classroom to go anywhere. Who would have ever thought this little cloth mask would be so important? I often doubt that it is effective at preventing the spread or contraction of infection. I am certainly NOT an anti-masker. But it’s a piece of cloth. I guess that it’s better than nothing. This gray cotton face mask, sometimes imbued with the glorious smell of fresh linen in the breeze or Last night’s roast and mashed potatoes has become a source of loathing and resentment, but simultaneously an anti-viral security blanket (if only in my imagination). Yet, I can’t wait to get rid of this vile thing.

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This item was submitted on January 15, 2021 by Gabriel Rheaume using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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