Lifespan of a Mask

How long will we need these masks? What will they become – the standard contents of purses and backpacks, a selection kept on hooks by the front door to grab in haste or routine as we briskly attend our days? All this indulgence in personalization – choosing prints, the softness of the fabric, elastic or ties – will it seem absurd, embarrassing once history etches the final toll?

When masks drop away and the veil of fear is lifted from the everyday, what world will we emerge to, blinking and soft-skinned? Will we prove able to claw out from inside ourselves, scratching away the cocoons we wove so carefully from strands of new self-knowledge?

Already I have to clear the cobwebs, push myself to exit the apartment; it takes some convincing. Once over the threshold I remember the world, its heat and infinite atmosphere unspooling above me and I want never to go back inside. But arriving at the threshold means stumbling over a tangle of considerations: so many choices, outcomes snarled together; each requiring thought. Over-thought. Think again. Contingency. Supplies. A packed bag. Every day a Go Bag.

Consider the architecture that connects you to me: filaments, sticky and fine, reaching from my body to yours, to his and theirs, until we’re suspended in a net of words and deeds and shared experience, ricocheting through time like a spider riding an air hockey puck – it leaves a thread but is far too quick to track with the eye. We’re mounted in a constellation, a web made of time and assumption, with fibers that stretch, retract, break open in spots like hosiery.

Sometimes we need it to break: snip the cord to a familiar face, let it fade from view, and watch an entire life drift beyond reach. What if I unfriended you, deleted you from all my devices? Would it erase the past, destroy the web with spiteful childish hands, unconcerned that what’s gone might never be restored?

Right now we all want to blow things up. The fireworks tell us that. From rooftops and open streets, covert bands of my neighbors launch nightly displays of glitter and spark from contraband tubes of paper and gunpowder. Paper from the chopping and mashing of trees; gunpowder from potassium nitrate distilled from crystals formed of bat guano which is mainly fruit; sulfur from the hot center of the earth; and charcoal, a gritty fossil. Mingled together, it’s a bonfire of a bonfire. Burning what is already burnt. To purify? To destroy the structures that bind us but no longer serve? We’ve been stripped of so many familiar channels that kept us connected and found we can survive anyway. Why not incinerate what we don’t need? Pile it between us; turn it to ash.

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