Freedom Flings

Yes, I do and yes, it does!

Mask mandates have ended here in New York. I, for one, am glad, but skeptical. While I didn’t hesitate to barrier my face to prevent a deadly virus, I’m a little hesitant to remove it, too.

For well over a year I’ve viewed that mask as something that’ll save my life. Conveniently, it prevented me from getting the flu, too (although I received my yearly shot for that). The mask had other uses, too. When I did go out, I didn’t have to wear makeup. It also provided a certain amount of anonymity. I could always claim I didn’t recognize someone, especially if I didn’t want to see them.

Which wasn’t a lie, mind you…it was pretty accurate. I didn’t recognize my own boss once. She work a mask, a hood over her head as she stood under an umbrella. She could’ve been anyone. I’m sure this has happened to you, too.

So I was invited to a wedding a year ago. It finally took place last weekend. And boy, was I raring to go!

Mountainview Country Club is gorgeous. With mountains in the background (hence the name), their manicured grounds aren’t just for golfers. No. If I get married again, I’m fairly certain I’d like to hold the event there. With reflecting ponds, hanging lights, and riot of multicolored flowers surrounding the event space, it declares its gorgeousness with great aplomb. A billowy, white high tent with open sides invited guests in to celebrate the wedding that took place a year earlier, with only nine people in attendance.

I didn’t know what to expect. The invitation came with a set of rules: masks mandatory, tables set six feet apart, no wandering from tables, limited dancing, temperature checks upon entry. Before I get out of my car, I slip on a brand-new silk mask I ordered on Etsy. It came from Hawaii, made from Japanese cloth. It matched my brightly-colored dress and jacket I’d purchased from Macy’s a few weeks before. Smooth and cool, its adjustable ear straps felt comfortable and, most importantly, didn’t fog up my glasses. Oh, how I wished I found this company a year ago!

Two ladies joined me on our walk to the reception. They, too, wore masks. We all wondered aloud if it were necessary to keep them on. Better safe than sorry.

We’re directed into the entranceway, where we’re handed glasses of champagne. How am I supposed to drink this? Then I notice the bride and groom. I go over to greet them. Their maskless faces beam at me. “You don’t have to wear that thing,” says the groom as he waves his arm around the room. “We’re all vaccinated!”

“How do you know this?” I ask as I glance at the guests. Not a single one wears protective barriers across their faces. Instead, they’re digging into the Italian hors d’oeuvres table or sinking into the salad sidebar. Drinks flow freely from the open bar. Everyone’s smiling and laughing, with lots of hugs and kisses liberally applied. “There’s at least eighty people here. Did you ask them all?”

The groom gives me a look. “Hey, this is my family…and hers,” he says, nodding to his bride. “We believe in science. And we wanted this to happen. And yeah, we did. After waiting a year for this, no one wanted to miss out.”

Bride agrees. “And besides, the sides of this space are all open – there’s a strong breeze. Look up – fans,” she says, her glance skyward.

She’s right. The event space is a giant tent, at least thirty feet high in the center, with huge fans blowing air around. It’s also a breezy day, so the air flows freely.

I rip my mask off and sip my champagne, eyeing the crowd. Before long, I start chatting with people I know, strangers I met and engaging in general merriment. It’s so nice to sit down at a table and have conversations with people who I actually can touch, bump into accidentally, laugh with and, yes, hug. How much I missed that! Of course, conversations initially rotated between what vaccine did you get (“I got Moderna, and you say you got the Pfizer…what was your reaction?”), or what being trapped in the house for a year was like (“My fiancee and our roommate? Well, having three people, especially when you’re engaged to one of them, gets weird”). After we got that out of the way, talk eased into the usual politics, jobs, life.

For four hours, everyone lost themselves in the joy of not only two people joining their lives, but reveling in the old familiar ways of a celebratory gathering. Everyone, and I mean everyone – even the waitstaff – seemed to relish the opportunity to be among others. It seemed everyone wiped their plates clean; the novelty of being served a meal still quite new for most, including me. Never had a better steak! Two other writers sat at the table and we discussed our projects. They write science fiction, too! The dance floor filled with people losing themselves to the music. The wedding couple shared their cake with each other and us. When it was over, I felt refreshed, jubilant. Not only for my friends, but for all of us. So wonderful to be among people, once again, unafraid.

Over this weekend, the weather betrayed us with three days of solid rain and temperatures in the 40s. My sister was supposed to have a picnic. Instead, we had dinner inside. Still didn’t matter. She hosted a small gathering of vaccinated friends we hadn’t seen in over a year. We poked each other to see if we were real.

Now I only have one hurdle to cross, and I think I’m going to start: shopping without a mask. While I’m sure there’s plenty of people who shop maskless that refuse to get a vaccine, I’ll just keep my distance. After all, I’ve had the Moderna, and along with Pfizer, we’re pretty well protected. I just might decide to leave that thing in the car and test my new-found freedom.

It’ll be fine. That’s why I had the shot.

Life is returning, and here I come!

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