Wearing The Veil

Remember planking? Several years ago? You don’t remember. A fad swept the nation. Folks posed for photos in a plank position in public places for a few weeks, mostly for social media purposes. Like dance routines now, or that ice bucket challenge for a while, planking was a photo/video stunt folks performed specifically to generate content for social media.

I was a member of an online photography group during this Season of the Plank. We all posted photos specific to a weekly challenge or prompt. You guessed it; one week our given challenge was planking. Make that self-portrait planking. It didn’t have to be in public but it did have be an image of ourselves. I was heavily into Yoga Bombs at the time, which were photos of myself in yoga poses in public places, so the planking challenge didn’t scare me at all.

That is, until I tried it. It wasn’t the plank. It wasn’t the public. It was turning my face downward. These planks were done with the belly on the ground (or other surface), face down, legs straight, arms either closed at the sides or extended forward from the shoulders. The face part triggered something emotional. The rest of it was fine but turning my face down to the ground in that position felt deeply disturbing. I tried to make myself do it anyway but in the end I turned in a photo of a face-up plank done on my back; so not a plank.

I didn’t get credit for meeting the challenge and my photo was not chosen for the gallery that week. No matter, I spent a fair amount of time exploring the nuances of being blindsided by the unforeseen shame response to the face-down posture. It felt ancient. As if it was encoded in my DNA. I wrote about it in detail in what was my former blog at the time. My resistance to this face on the ground business felt primal. I became curious about inherited trauma. And it wouldn’t be the last time.

Another negative response happened years later practicing Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) alone at home. It was video yoga. An online class, probably YogaGlo before it became simply Glo. I got into the pose like I’ve done a thousand times (without incident) and then felt a rush of unwelcome sensations. I saw an image in my mind of someone hog-tied in the dark on the floor of a shed. I heard voices outside the shed. I felt fear and dread. I got out of the pose in tears. Another opportunity to be curious.

Fast-forward to the present day. I’m working from home. I’ve only been going to the cardiologist; nowhere else. No grocery stores, no buildings, no interior spaces of any kind. I leave the house for exercise but otherwise I have been staying home. Doing my part. Protecting you, protecting me, everything delivered, flattening the curve, yada yada yada. I have not worn a mask. I haven’t needed to wear a mask. Or gloves. It just hasn’t been an issue because I haven’t gone to any public places or had contact with the public.

But I’m aware of the memes. I read a particularly poignant one the other day. An artist I’ve always admired retweeted someone asking, “What kind of selfish piece of shit doesn’t wear a mask?” So apparently this is what people think of folks don’t wear masks; that we are selfish and shitty. Just because I haven’t been around people doesn’t mean I’m uninformed.

I’ve been to the cardiologist five times since the COVID 19 crisis began. I have not been required or asked to wear a mask at any of those visits so this week I went to my follow-up appointment maskless as usual. You know, like a selfish piece of shit heart patient. This time they wanted a mask. Apparently most of the world carries their own now. Well, unless you’re a selfish piece of shit, I guess. I don’t even own one.

After the screening. After the mandatory hand sanitation. After the mandatory temperature reading.

“Do you have your own mask, Mercy?”

“No.”

“Okay, we will give you one to wear.”

I made no response while the nurse reached into an empty box on her right.

“Uh oh, it looks like we’re out of masks.”

I made no response as she consulted another nurse.

“What do I do?” “Give her one of ours.”

I made no response as the nurse reached into a full box on her left and pulled out a disposable mask.

“Here you go. Put this on and step up to the window.”

I stepped to the window, got the mask halfway on as I answered more questions, then sat down and tried to get it all the way on. As soon as the lower part of my face was covered I had another reaction. A rush of heat. My belly clenched. The back of my neck tightened down hard and threatened to seize. An intense feeling of shame flooded down on me, sour and heavy; my body beneath it as brittle as a silent scream. So yes, I ripped that fucker off my face, gripped it in my fist, and sat there brazenly uncovered like a selfish piece of shit.

No one asked me to replace it. I was called back to see the doctor, finished up the appointment and left, and no one said a word about it. But I guess they didn’t need to since I already knew what they were thinking. I drove back home not thinking about my heart but instead thinking about my reaction to that mask. When I got home I tried again in a mirror, wondering what the hell is this fresh fuckery? It’s not rebellion. It’s not ignorance. It’s not political.

It may indeed be religious. Definitely spiritual. I don’t have it figured out yet because it feels awful to keep it on more than a few minutes. All I can tell you for sure is that the act of veiling my face is bad. It triggers reactions for which I have no reference. Covering any other part of the head — just fine. Covering part of my face — not fine. And like before, the feeling seems older than this crisis and older than this life.

And this is a problem because I can’t stay home forever. Eventually I will be called back to work where masks in common areas of the office are now mandatory. I hear from other people there are now businesses which will deny entry to folks without masks. Selfish pieces of shit like me are turned away, lest business owners face fines and sanctions. And yes, I already know all the good reasons why. It’s not a lack of understanding.

So what’s a selfish piece of shit to do? Marvel at the irony that countries the world over have been banning face veils as a human rights issue and now human rights issues are making them mandatory.

Mask, cover, veil, scarf, bandana. Selfish, negligent, shit, excrement, killer. Precaution, protection, prevention, protest.

Compliance, complicity, conspiracy, conscience. The new normal. The old normal. The abnormal.

The air we breathe. The hate we breed. The overly dramatic. The post-traumatic.

Immunity. Community. The day in day out give in or get out.

I don’t have it figured out yet; how to deal. But I do know people are looking at me/you/anyone not wearing the veil as a threat to them and heaping the shame, while wearing the veil may make me/you/anyone with a transgenerational inheritance experience shame. One person’s symbol of compliance may be someone else’s symbol of violence, and I already know who loses the argument. The gold standard is death. Feeling shame or experiencing trauma can’t/won’t justify killing people with our hideous faces. So comply or be vilified. March or die.

It’s a cost no one is talking about yet, likely because we haven’t found each other yet. And who would dare? I mean, really? While people are dying and grieving over the dead and fighting to keep people alive during a plague, the rest of us don’t get to have trauma. We don’t get to have the audacity. Who would do that? The Selfish Shits Society. I guess this makes me the founding member. Meetings held in secret. Infidels welcome. Enter at your own risk. Veiling of faces not required.

— Mercy

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