the eyes have it

I walked into a Nordstrom maskless the other day. I wasn’t flouting the rules. There were no signs saying one was required for entry. It was a bit surprising, actually. Many businesses here in New York City still want your face covered, even though Governor Kathy Hochul lifted the state’s indoor mask mandate on Thursday. I expected a big department chain like Nordstrom would have just followed suit. Not so. And so in I went, wondering if anyone was going to stop me. No one did. But I can’t help but see a big problem here, and it’s as clear as the nose on your masked-up face.

Even with the rule lifted, people here just don’t want to let go. Everyone in the store had a mask on, including the employees. I was the outlier in there. It felt like I was doing something wrong under the watchful eye of the law. I could feel the stares. People’s eyes followed me longer than they would on any other day. Most of the time, New Yorkers just mind our own business. Head down, mask up. No one bothers another. We’re all on our own missions here. And we can’t be bothered to waste our time with a little thing like extended eye contact. But I’m slowly realizing it’s me who’s holding the longest stare these days. Because I don’t understand why so many want to stay as nothing more than a pair of eyes. And my campaign to be a voice against it never got off the ground.

One can’t understand the depth of this unless you’re living in a city like New York. Most U.S. cities don’t have citywide vaccine passports. We were the first major city to do so, and it’s been this way since August 2021. New Yorkers welcomed the idea. Majority rule thought this was the best way to keep everybody safe, though I think some were in it to punish “certain people” from participating in society. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to tell you the reality of what it’s like to live in such a place. Because it’s all part of the ongoing vibe that we need to give up our civil liberties in the name of being “the right thing to do.” We’re keeping ourselves and everybody safe. This is just how it has to be now. The new normal. Masks for all, forever and ever. Why should anyone want to take it off? There’s still a sign in my apartment building, a place I’ve lived for the last ten years, saying “Welcome: Masks Required for Entry.” That’s funny, because I walked through the doors just fine without one. It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. Half the people here don’t even wear one properly anyway. It’s down below the nose or chinstrapped up. At that point, just veto the look already.

And it’s clear I can’t hide my disdain for it much longer. It’s showing up all over my face as I stare in disbelief at one masked-up face after another, even outside the indoors. And on the children, too. That issue doesn’t even seem to be on the ballot. Why is everyone just following suit? Who is that really for? When is the moment you’ll feel safe to lose it, and will that day ever even come?

I can’t ask people these things. I don’t want to make anyone feel stupid. And blatant questioning right to their face is me telling them how dumb I think they’re being. Really, I’m not trying to judge anyone else’s choice. If you want to keep it on, that’s fine. It honestly doesn’t affect me either way. I just have a lot of questions about why it’s even there in the first place. Like why outside? It’s not that cold out, just put a scarf on. How come you have to order a slice with it on, but can take it off at the table three feet away? After showing your vax pass, of course, something none of us were even asked if we wanted. Just another consequence of New York’s down-ticket mindset. Do I still have to wear a mask at work? I can’t get in the building without passing a daily rapid test, which then emails me a QR code to which I scan at the visitor’s entrance. Eleven years with the same company and I’m just a visitor to them. And I have to still wear a mask inside. Though we haven’t seen an email from HR to tell us one way or the other, so lots of people inside are starting to make their own rules. Passing their own laws with a not so obvious majority.

But why does it have to be like this for New York? What have we done that’s so wrong and so backwards? I’m going back to Florida next week and I don’t intend on bringing a “just in case” mask. People are going to see my whole face whether they like it or not. I have very expressive eyes, but they are just not enough anymore. You need to see the words come out of my mouth. You need to hear them. And you need them to come from someone unafraid to let you see the truth all over their face, a very tall executive order for the likes of me and my big mouth.

I’ve been free from the mask since June 2020. I decided all this was all over for me, and then it was. Even if the rest of the world didn’t think so, or how many scoldings I got from HR. It was a freedom I chose and didn’t need anyone else’s approval for. If I didn’t have to wear one, I wouldn’t. And if I did, I’d make it cute. But at this point, I don’t feel so alone in my thinking anymore. Many out there see what I see, even if they don’t express it in the way I wish they would. They’re on all sides of the political spectrum, but that doesn’t even matter at this point. They’ve uncovered their face as they uncover the truth of what we saw and went through over the past two years. The ones we gave our votes to didn’t do their jobs, and it’s about that time to see them for what they really are.

I’m not out to make fun of anyone for their choices. That’s a tiresome venture that loses its luster quick. I also don’t need anyone to think exactly how I think. I’m just here to provide pathways to the whys. The what ifs. The what fors. Wonderings about the wonders one can see, once you take it off for good. All I’m asking is that you try it. I’ve elected to stay right here, and I hope you vote within your best interest on it as well.

I don’t know what’s got people so scared. I just wish they all can see past soon. It’s very unsettling when only the eyes watch you. Let’s finally see what that mouth can do, too. All in favor? Say ‘eye.’

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