I took my first small steps toward living life as a vaccinated person last week, planning a quick trip to Cincinnati with my friend, Donna. We had a small window to travel since necessary events like doctor’s appointments and graduations have hopped back on our calendars.
But we dared to take our vaccinated selves a little bit north, to visit the aquarium in Newport, check out a museum or two in Cincinnati, and shop at Jungle Jim’s.
We figured we would see the aquarium first, since it was just this side of the river before crossing over into Ohio. We spent the afternoon wandering around, oohing at the pretty fishes, ahhing at the colorful ones, and eeking at the truly horrifying, Moray eels getting most of those.
The museum was death on masks, with teenaged staff on patrol, checking faces, peeking around pillars to make sure the four-year olds in front of me had their little noses covered.
I was chastised once and I didn’t take it all that well.
Because I was hot and sweaty and couldn’t breathe.
Barely into the first room of tanks I began to question my choices of the past year. How did I let myself get so out of shape? I struggled to breathe, could feel my heart pounding in a disturbing way, and I wanted to sit down. As soon as I ripped off my mask once outside, I could breathe and I felt instantly better. I’m so suggestible, I thought.
The next day and the same thing, but this time in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Hot. Sweaty. Cranky. Faint. Miserable after two hours and here I was hardly moving at all, just sauntering, when I wasn’t floating, from one painting to another. And again, instant relief in the fresh air.
What was happening here?
What was happening was this. My mask wearing up to this point had been brief. The grocery. Doctor’s appointments, where, somehow masks seem less burdensome. I thought this little getaway would be a good test for living a little larger life, masked though I may be.
So, last Thursday afternoon I parted ways with Donna, off to take a nap, feeling sad and disappointed. If Michelangelo himself came back to give a lecture on the trials and tribulations of painting the Sistine Chapel, if he asked me to sit in the front row so he might turn to me for encouragement, being scared of public speaking as he is, I would have to turn him down.
Because I can’t wear a mask that long.
Then, in the course of an afternoon nap, my world changed.
New guidelines were announced while I slept and the vaccinated can ditch the mask.
Two hours later and we can’t find a place to eat. Every hip restaurant is packed, waiting lists piling up, the front of house staff shaking their heads, unable to explain why they are so slammed, so suddenly, on a weeknight.
I can explain it.
That there, that was freedom in the air.
Release and relief.
Freedom for those who wear one mask and another one, and a third on top of those.
Freedom for the reluctantly compliant, of which I number myself. I will do what I am asked, even while my head is reeling with conflicting data, mandates contrary to commonsense, and a nagging fear, larger at times, smaller at others, about getting sick and what that might mean.
Freedom, too, for those who hate to be told what to do. They don’t have to fight about it anymore.
The announcement came so quickly, and was so general, it will take a while for states and businesses to catch up. But each day now corporate masking orders are dropping like flies and it is fun to watch.
Some will keep wearing masks, I suppose, and that is fine, as long as they don’t cut those shaming eyes my way. Or anyone’s way, really. Because for now, the worst is behind us and we can make decisions for ourselves and our own safety. I’ll hang on to that package of disposable masks for the occasional times I might need them. But I plan to walk bare-faced into the sunlight, and into Target, the first chance I get.
Right now, the biggest task before us is finding something other than Covid to talk about.
Won’t that be something? No more Fauci, CDC, WHO, all of them having worn out their welcome in my conversation rota long ago. On to better, which is to say, normal, things.