Yesterday I left the house mid afternoon to pay a visit to a dog. It was finally mercifully cold in a way that will not be ignored, a state of weather that brings me a molecular peace I cannot fully describe. Winter walking is high maintenance and I come correct. My orange coat is for below fifty degrees and above 20 degrees (while my blue coat is for below 20 degrees), my thinner cap is both warm enough and fits nicely under my earphones, my plaid scarf is small enough to tuck into both the high neck of my coat and my pocket should I find it too warm. In addition to the clothing, tolerating the out of doors when it is below forty degrees means, for me, something on which to blow my nose, and in This Our Year of COVID it means a cough drop or two in case I am in public and find, in terror, I need to cough. And a mask of course. Always a mask.
This route is highly trafficked by vehicles but for a full mile I passed no other pedestrians. Passed the grocery store, passed the intersection, passed the elementary school, passed the playground, passed the field in a bucket valley where we played glow-in-the-dark frisbee, and saw not a single person.
Lately I’ve been trying to listen attentively to a new-to-me piece of music every day, so I loaded up Bill Orcutt’s Odds Against Tomorrow. Orcutt had been recommended to me many a time by my bandmate Neal and for some reason ended up in a bin in my brain reserved for Someday, Whenever. Yesterday was someday, whenever. The long and short of it is that the record is a dream of a heaven I want to live in. It’s Dylan Thomas’ Child’s Christmas in Wales. It’s the Tree of Life. It may not be Lake Michigan, but it’s definitely a lake in Michigan.
So there I am on Whites Road in my bubble of transporting guitar — far from the only bubble proximal to anything called Whites — and remembrance of night frisbee and on my way in the cold to pet a friend who happens to be a dog then swinging by the bookstore to maybe buy my 2021 calendar, an errand I wholeheartedly enjoy. I’m floating on magic. My nose turns on like a faucet. I pull off my soggy mask and stuff it in my pocket while I blow my nose again and again and again. Bill Orcutt plays Moon River and I remember standing around my friend’s grave with a small group of his family and friends and singing Moon River to his newly buried ashes. I forget to put my mask back on.
Past the golf course as I approach the stop light a man rounds the corner. He’s older, seventies maybe, and wears expensive and thorough winter gear — a silver gray puffy coat, waterproof pants, a performance fleece hat, boots with a sturdy if pristine tread. I admire his preparedness, smile at him. A fleece neck gaiter obstructs the bottom half of his face but I can see that he is saying something to me. I pull the earphone away from my ear and say, “Pardon?”
“You should wear a mask!” He is yelling through the gaiter and I see now the knotty vein trickling down his forehead. I don’t have the context to tell if his anger is sudden or if I’ve just entered its room as it was ongoing.
Of course he’s right that I should wear a mask. I usually do. I want to say to him that I have been so careful, that I have not hugged my parents this year, that I have only hugged my child once and that was when their grandfather passed away, that I cared for my mother for months while wearing a mask and keeping the windows open and the air purifiers on full blast and slept in hotels while BYOB (bringing your own bedding) so that I could go home to my immune compromised partner and not kiss him for weeks because just in case. I want to say that I simply forgot in that moment, had only just been blowing my nose and hadn’t replaced it, would not want to endanger him or whomever it is that he loves and hopes to protect.
I want to say those things but instead because he is a man and he is yelling at me I scoff and say, “I am outside and nowhere near you,” because I am a far deeper well than my best intentions and are we ever fully healed?
And now on days between 20 and 50 degrees when he is out and catches a glimpse of a bright orange coat he will see not a woman enjoying a winter walk, exploring new music, grieving a friend, anticipating a friendly dog exchange, but an asshole who indignantly refused to wear a mask. And, however bizarro that orange-coated asshole alter-me is to the reality of my pandemic year, he will be right.