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  • Writer's pictureJanna Zonder

The Unmasked Crusader

Because a small percentage of people refuse to wear masks inside public buildings, all of my outings have become adventures in calculating risks. My inner dialogue usually goes something like this: Okay, I'll get in and out as quickly as possible. Most people will be masked. It's about how much of a viral load hits you. A little exposure probably won't hurt me. I'm healthy for my age . . .

Once inside, my thoughts rumble in short staccato bursts. I'm jumpy, skirting around people and trying not to give them the stink eye just in case they're packing heat.

Last week, I wanted to mail something that had to be weighed. I jammed inside a small post office with a short line of people. All customers and staff were masked except for one tall, loud-talking, white man in his mid-forties. He appeared to be in a good mood, spraying out conversation to every one around him. In a different time, I would have found his friendliness attractive, but now his body language screamed, "You are all such suckers!"

Though I tried to avoid it, I ended up in line sandwiched between him and an elderly black man with slumped shoulders and tired sad eyes. He looked pretty much how I feel on many of these pandemic days. Turning in my direction, and talking around me, the old man peered over his mask and said to the unmasked man, "I sure will be glad when things go back to normal."

He paused, then spoke again. "I don't guess it will ever get back to normal."

The guy behind me leaned in my direction and blared, "Oh, it'll get back to normal. Some of us aren't going to put up with this!"

The threat in his voice was unmistakable and a call to action for those around him. Did he know of a plan? Would it involve more violence? Or, was he just another loudmouth puffing himself up in public?

The irony hit me hard that this elderly black man in front of me was longing for normal, but probably not the normal envisioned by the white guy behind me. In fact, I imagine all three of us had a different perspective on what would be a comfortable normal.

The men stopped talking after that, and I was left with the rumble of my thoughts. As the line inched along, I put as much space between me and "Covid Harry" as I could, but I couldn't stop his words from echoing in my head. My heart hammered into overdrive. Are we all on the front lines now to do battle with home-grown terrorists?

As I walked back out into the fresh air, my attitude settled into something even more insidious than fear — a frustration so profound that my body ached from the weight of it.

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