Buck never forgets a thing. He rummaged around in “the old red building,” our name for the metal storage shed he bought more than thirty years ago to store tools, gas cans, old paint cans, and “stuff.” You know. “Stuff.”
Anyway. He emerged from the red building with a sealed package containing an old n25 face mask, the type he used to (sometimes) wear while running the the ancient Case 60-hp tractor. The type of mask made famous by their short supply for medical workers in the Covid-19 crisis.
We had already decided that when we made a supply run to Publix, I would be the one to go in, for several reasons:
- I’m 13 years younger.
- I’m female.
- My blood type is O-positive.
- My immune system isn’t compromised. Buck’s radiation and chemo in 2014 saved him from Mantle-cell lymphoma, but left his white blood cells not quite up to par.
He drops the mask onto my desk. “You can wear this.”
“Well, I can, I guess.”
We exchange a long look. I sigh. Before he can go into the “there’s only one of you and I can’t live without you so you have to take care of yourself” speech, I cave.
“Okay. I’ll wear it.”
“And I’ll drive you.”
Before I protest, I realize he may have a little cabin fever and could use a little field trip, too. “Great,” I say. “Thanks.”
“Besides,” he adds. “The dog wants to go. We’ll take the van.”
So he makes a sandwich, I cut up an apple and some cheese, put a Dentastix (her lunch treat) for Lou Lou Belle in a plastic zip bag, and we head out for the 5-mile drive to the grocery store.
All the way to the store, munching on cheese and apple, I think of reasons why it’s silly to wear the mask. How stupid it will look. How ridiculous I will feel. How it will mess up my hair and make-up. How I don’t want anybody to think I bought an n95 mask on Amazon and have deprived a medical worker of needed protection.
But under the watchful eyes of Buck and Lou Lou Belle, I struggle into the mask, bitching and complaining all the way. “It’s hot. Ow, it pulled my hair. It’s too tight.” They are unmoved. “Okay, I’ll be back in a half hour.”
I learn that the meat department guy and seafood department lady recognize me even with the mask. “I’m smiling under this thing,” I say.
“You should draw a smile on the outside,” the meat department guy says, laughing. Neither of them is wearing a mask. In fact, I only saw one employee wearing one, and that was a guy in produce. Have they all been tested? Could I learn to love the mask?
A clerk, one I’ve been seeing for decades, nearly begged me to let her take my cart out to the van. She knows I always do my own. “I really need to get out of here for a few minutes,” she says.
I advise her that a friendly chocolate Lab (is there any other kind?) will pop her head out when I open the back van doors, and that’s exactly what happens. “Can I pet her?”
“Sure,” I say.
Note to self: “Wipe Lou down with sanitizer.”
And write in my notebook one thousand times: “I am not a germaphobe. I am not a germaphobe. I am not a germaphobe. I am not a germaphobe. I am not . . . .