How the face mask snuck its way into my everyday life

Body: 

Communication employee Reineke Maschhaupt resisted the face mask from the beginning. But now that it's gone, she's suddenly being struck by nostalgia.

Read in Dutch

My warm breath into the fabric. The moist that starts circulating between my mouth and the mask and slowly renders my face damp. The feeling I can’t get all the oxygen I need and have to gasp for air if I exert too much.

From the very beginning, things between the face mask and I haven’t exactly been lovey-dovey.

Each time I lay the mask over my face, press the nose bridge and pull the strings around my ears, I get the feeling I’m being muzzled. Of course, my mind knows that we need this. It knows that, if we all do this, then perhaps we can prevent some of the contaminations.

My aversion to face masks grew even stronger when I got a side job on weekends to complement my then-declining income as a freelancer. I was the chef in charge of warm foods at a diner. For eight hours straight I was stirring pans in an ever-hotter kitchen. The hot fumes settled themselves on my chin, cheeks, and nose and slowly, mingled with sweat, ran into my collar. After two hours, the first drops found their way down my cleavage, into my belly button. After that, there’s no telling where it ends. I turned into one big water vapour mixed with food smells.

And just when I thought I’d found a way to deal with the thing – just keep breathing and pretend it doesn’t exist – I was introduced to the phenomenon of face mask rash. After a whole weekend working in a hot kitchen, soft round bumps started to show around my mouth. They disappeared after a few days, only to reappear after the following shift.

Not a huge disaster in the great scheme of things, but it didn’t add to burying the hatchet between me and the face mask.

But that was until two weeks ago, when I walked into a university building, took the face mask from my left pocket in a single, efficient move and put it on with a professional sway. Two seconds later, I was at a standstill. I realised I did that completely automatically. Not only was my aversion to the face mask gone, but putting my face mask on felt the same as putting a jacket on or off. While at first, I often forgot to bring a mask with me, now there’s always one in my left pocket. When I come home, I immediately throw it into the laundry basket or in the bin and put a new one in my pocket. Freshly washed ones are hanging by the door. And I tell you, a fresh mask, smelling like eucalyptus… not a punishment to wear.

Since February 25, we don’t have to wear it anymore. I look at my mask collection, from colourful fabric to single-use ones, with a double knot behind the head or strings behind the ears, with flowers, graphic prints or plain black. What is this I feel? A misplaced type of nostalgia? We didn’t always get along, the mask and I, but we did grow closer together.

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