I had never fully understood why the phrase ‘like a breath of fresh air’ was so common until today—the day I am officially allowed to step outside and literally take a breath of fresh air for the first time in nearly two years. No longer is anyone within Washington, DC required to wear a mask within entertainment facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, and other public areas. Thanks to Mayor Muriel Bowser lifting the mandate, I am free to strip myself of my mask the next time I enter Whole Foods or take a stroll into my local recreation center. I finally have the privilege to take in the smells of the late Winter climate and feel the promising warmth of the sun on the lower half of my face. Though I have experienced this many times before and will do so many times after today, it somehow feels like I’ve never done it in my life.
Though I can’t fully say I am happy that the mask mandate has been banished, because it hasn’t—not entirely. As a student in Washington, DC, I am still required to wear my mask for the eight hours I am confined to the spine-pinching plastic chairs in my school. I must still huff up the stairs and feel the moisture pooling behind the piece of cloth. I must still find some swift way to maneuver my lunch into my mouth while not completely abandoning my mask. I must still roll my eyes at the knowledge that my morning’s makeup will be completely obliterated come my return home, my lipstick the worst of the wreckage.
But I understand why it's required. Unlike on the streets of Washington, DC, where one can distance themselves from passers-by and elect not to huddle in an overcrowded room, students cannot. We are practically on top of one another in the halls during the five-minute rush to class, we can’t always employ the six-feet-apart social distancing rule (as if that year-and-a-half confined to our homes didn’t socially distance us enough), and we aren’t always sure if the other practices appropriate hygiene. So not only do I understand why masks are still required within that particular facility, I am grateful that they are. I sometimes find it hard to believe that we once carried on inside the school with the unhealthy practices we accepted.
Nonetheless, I am still free to toss the wretched piece of cloth aside within just about any other facility I wish to enter. And by God[dess]---Happy Women’s History Month! —will I enjoy doing so.