When I arrived at the airport, I realized I hadn’t eaten. That morning, the idea of eating anything made me sick. Over my disposable mask I was wearing an N95, and over that I was wearing a face shield. It was probably a good thing I wasn’t hungry, since taking all of that off would have been quite cumbersome.
I went to check in my bags. While weighing them, the ground attendant made small talk with me. “What are you planning on majoring in?” she asked. I said economics. It is much easier to lie when the lower half of your face is covered. Without my suitcases I felt naked. My hands swayed aimlessly by my sides as I walked, a clue to how lost I was. It was obvious that the majority of travelers were college students. We were all wearing sweatshirts and we all had eyes that darted from place to place. We also all looked very, very tired.
I adjusted my face shield as I stood in line for the security check. A baby was gnawing on the sleeve of her sweater in a stroller behind me. When I was small my mother always complained about the inconveniences of airport security screenings. I never understood her frustration with the process. I was born in 2002 and have never gone on a flight that didn’t require an intense pat-down or emptying of the pockets before I was allowed into the second half of the airport. The baby behind me had no idea that things were stranger than usual. In fact, the baby behind me had no idea that things were strange at all.
I stood with my arms up and my legs spaced a shoulder’s width apart in the full-body scanner. Usually, I briefly panic for the 20 seconds the scanner rotates around me. “Am I sure I don’t have explosives in my pockets? What if security thinks that my zipper is a razor sewed into the sides of my jacket? What if I have the leaf of an invasive species that is illegal to transport across borders stuck to the bottom of my shoe?” This time I was a little disappointed that the alarm didn’t go off. To be honest, it would have been nice to have a little human contact. After patting down my ankles to make sure I wasn’t concealing a switchblade in my sock, maybe the security guard could have held my hand for a little bit, or possibly braided my hair.
Once I passed security my realization that I hadn’t eaten anything yet hit for the second time. I walked up to the nearest restaurant. In a time when you run a high risk of contracting a deadly virus, eating fast food seems like a lot less of a health risk. I never noticed how much people manhandle your drink when they give it to you. The man taking my order must have had huge hands because he managed to overtake the entire lid of my drink with just his palm. This wouldn’t have bothered me so much had he not been wearing his mask below his nose. When I sat down to eat, I took the lid off and disinfected the rim of the cup with a wipe that left my lemonade tasting faintly of alcohol. This is as close as I’ve gotten to drinking throughout all of college.
On the plane, I was shocked at the many reasons people came up with to take off their masks. One woman slipped her mask down below her chin to talk to a baby. “Aren’t you just the most precious thing?” she gawked. I concluded she had to at least be 70 years old. The man sitting next to me had his mask below his nose for almost the entire flight. He also got a call from his wife before takeoff that he stared at for forty seconds before pressing ignore. He was a real stand-up guy.
The man sitting in front of me did pick up a phone call before takeoff. “I applaud y’all out in the hospitals dealing with this shit,” he said to what I assumed was a medical worker. “But let me tell you something–we aren’t all built for that. I was built to save myself.” You would think someone so dedicated to self-preservation would be more diligent about face coverings, but he took his off three minutes into the conversation. “Hey do you know if Vanya is single?” he asked. “Will you give her a word for me and tell her I’m coming into town for Thanksgiving?”