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“Who was that masked man?”

Somewhere in the deep drawers of my memory, this question unfolds. I see it uttered by a perplexed passerby, shielding his eyes to see a white stallion carrying a cowboy into the sunset. The credits roll and the music swells. My mind recalls a black mask, and I sense the face it conceals was that of a hero.

Yes, the Lone Ranger, much like the doctors, nurses, food service workers, dog groomers and 50% of the “rule-following” population are today’s heroes, wearing a mask and trying to do the right thing. But unlike the fictional faces of rangers, Zorro, Batman and Ninja Turtles, today’s masked men and women have more than their eyebrows concealed. Today’s heroes are covered from nose bridge to neck, looking more like bandits than brave hearts.

However, let me assure you this blog is not about being judgmental or, goodness knows, political. It’s about being personal and, truth be told, a little paranoid.

Mask wearing for COVID-19 has actually caused me to rethink my whole reason for being, because masks not only cover my nose and mouth, but also my personality. I don’t laugh, smile, smirk or stick out my tongue, in playful jest. I am bland and admittedly, really boring.

Why? Because I never got the hang of making good eye contact. Looking someone straight in the eye always left me uncomfortable. This may be due to the fun fact that at less than five feet tall, my attempt to look someone directly into the eyes causes severe neck pain. Instead of their eyes, my gaze hovers somewhere between their collar bone and nasal cavity, unless I’m really feeling ambitious and do a quick head jolt to see their hair line, just for a flash.

In short, I am always left a little queasy. I blame much of this on my progressive lenses. In order to not appear shifty, I try to keep my eyes in one place. This helps with the dizziness and the unnecessary distractions of shiny earrings, uni-brows and unruly facial hairs that may be part of any person in my close range.

It’s easier to focus if I look elsewhere, or in my case, nowhere at all. Ceilings and carpet squares are far less befuddling than peering into the window of someone’s soul.

I could pull this off before COVID-19, but now with a mask being part of my uniform, my whole viewpoint has changed.

I can no longer say something slightly sarcastic and get a chuckle from the team. I can no longer smirk or frown, bear my teeth, bite my lip or open my mouth in an inaudible “O-M-G” to garner the reaction my ego-centric nature demands.

I cannot smile — and this is sad. Smiling is my absolute favorite facial expression. I use it with cashiers and waiters, members of the Y, friends, family members and occasionally, my husband. Smiling clarifies the words I am speaking.

I am thrilled to see you.

You look great

Thanks so much for your input.

Don’t bother. I’ve got it.

The pleasure is all mine.

Saying these phrases with my masked mouth and dead eyes may not illicit the happiness or sincerity I intend. Without my big smile, these words alone could be misinterpreted.

So, when I first started to wear a mask, I actually practiced in front of a mirror. I tried to see if I could make my smile reflect upward and into my eyes. But the over-played, wide-eyed expression caused me to resemble Marty Feldmen — I was instantly creeped out. I blinked back tears and put on my glasses.

Then there was my lipstick. Sadly, I am addicted to it. Over the years I have sampled every brand, finally finding that perfect shade of red that could be basically tattooed, Betty Boop-like, onto my very un-Betty Boop-like face.

But despite the proof of 24-hour coverage that had carried me through two pregnancies, several major surgeries and the deaths of both parents, this wonder lipstick was no match for the mask. It smeared, badly.

An unmasked, mid-morning mirror check showed my face resembling a Coney Island clown. Shockingly, my carefully applied lip-liner had ridden up to mustache level, not stopping the lipstick from likening me to a two-year old who has absolutely no clue how to eat a cherry popsicle. The mask was put back on immediately.

My co-workers applauded my conviction for not spreading COVID-19, but actually, I’m just vain. Besides, the mask also concealed my adult acne and rapid facial hair growth — no doubt caused by excess sweating beneath the cloth covering.

But who am I to complain? Mask-wearing is now a thing. So I will happily wear one. And even if I’m not happy, you won’t realize it. My eyes and the fog from my bifocals will certainly mask my true feelings.

Judi Christy

Judi Christy is the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA.

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