The Fifth Base

Collage by Laura Padilla-Castellanos

There are new private parts.

The lower half of the face, once freely flaunted, has been rightfully reclaimed by the individual, stripped from the public eye and shrouded in mystery. And the longer we wear the masks, the more secret this region becomes.

The constraints of the pandemic have produced a new set of norms with strangers. COVID has made the safe sex talk a part of everyday life. To even our shallowest acquaintances, we ask, Who have you been seeing? Who have the people you’ve been seeing been seeing? No, I don’t want to take it off, and why would you even ask that?

We keep our distance, we smize, and we agree, upon meeting, to cohabit for two or more weeks (a practice we queer women call a “first date”). 

Only if the moon is full and the time is right do we take it to fifth base: face-to-face, sans mask. 

Walking alone at night, a mask feels like armor. No one knows if I’m smiling, choking, micro-hotboxing (it could be a thing). I’m a public hermit, browsing the world on incognito mode. 

And there are levels to it. To fortify, I add sunglasses. And a hoodie. Boom, “She doesn’t even go here.” An invisibility cloVID. Coronaflage. 

While masked up, I think: Maybe we overestimated how many people should be free to see our lower faces on a daily basis. Why must we weather the spittle of our acquaintances? Maybe future generations will look back on the Beforetimes as a period of savage immodesty. 

 “Grandma?” future children will ask. “Is it true that humans used to walk around face-naked, like dogs?”

(Of course, some twisted people will purchase face masks for their dogs.)

Hugs will replace french-kissing. Handshakes will be the new handjobs and platonic handshakes will be criminalized (at last). And taking off one’s mask, opening oneself to another’s breath and spit and smile, will surpass sex as the single most intimate thing two humans can do. I’ve taken a purity pledge, and I implore you to join me. Ladies, respect yourself. Wait until marriage to show him your mouth and nose.

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