This woman is me. I had waited until the last minute (as usual) and was struggling to come up with a costume. Time was running out so I looked through my costume box to see what I might be able to pull together that would be good enough for the party I was going to that night. Miraculously, I found some-blood stained scrubs from many Halloweens ago that still fit. I was delighted when I realized the entire costume could be pulled together with just a short trip to Walgreens.
“But, face masks?" I thought,"How would I ever get through an entire box of these???”
A friend and I stopped in Trader Joe’s on the way to the party to pick up some apps and mixers. I got a kick out of the novelty of being at a grocery store in a face mask and bloody scrubs. No one batted an eye. Maybe because it was close enough to Halloween or maybe because it’s Portland.
I thought about what my character’s backstory might be. My face, scrubs, face mask, and gloves were covered in blood. What happened that day to cause me to end up looking like I walked off the set of a horror movie? Was I a sadistic surgeon? Was I impersonating one only to go on a murder spree in a hospital? Was I just really clumsy or bad at my job? Did I not have time to wash up before heading out?
Five months later, it’s March 2020 and my garage has been transformed into a make-shift PPE factory. My husband is 3D printing face shields and shipping them off to anyone who will take them.
He spends his days working from home, sitting through Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. At night, he shifts gears and prints PPE. Some of them go to local hospitals. Some get shipped to a friend of a friend in another state. A Buddhist nun in Maryland who needed one to safely give last rites to COVID patients who were dying alone in hospitals. A former student going through chemo who wanted one for her partner to minimize the risk of him coming home from his grocery delivery job and exposing her compromised immune system to the virus. A box is shipped to a doctor friend of a friend in a hospital in New York who was already experiencing a PPE shortage; as soon as he gets them says he’ll take more if and when they are available.
I don’t know anything about 3D printing, but sometimes I help assemble them at the desk in my art space that I haven’t used since December when I did my first ever makers market. That was a bucket list item for me--to sell something I made. I never saw myself as an artist or maker. I was trying to lean in.
The day of the market I wasn’t feeling well; but I had been anticipating and working towards this day for months and the thought of having to back out was devastating. I wondered if I was being irresponsible. What if I was contagious??? I talked to a friend who convinced me I was overthinking and decided to push ahead. I couldn’t bear the thought of missing my first art show. This is something I had dreamed about for years and never thought I would ever get to do. I would be heartbroken.
I’ll just be mindful, I thought. I’ll bring hand sanitizer.
Did I mention, this was December 2019? Just checking. The timeline seems relevant.
I made it through the event feeling awful, but happy. It was nerve-wracking and fun and a bit surreal. I sold a few things. My friends came out to support me. It was a good night. When I got home, I dumped all the bags in the garage to be dealt with a little later. I ended up being really sick for the better part of a month so a little later became much later, and then eventually the bags blended into the background.
In March 2020 the desk in my art space has been usurped to support the make-shift PPE factory. It’s cleared off and covered in plastic and has stacks of face shield parts waiting to be assembled. The ghosts of the makers market are still present, but covered in cobwebs and boxes of face shields. My art space has been canceled along with movies, concerts, soccer matches, restaurants, parties, and hugs. It’s just one more thing that was gone overnight, but also it’s somehow the final straw. The sight of that happy moment frozen in time and totally inaccessible is gutting. But how can I advocate for my art space at a time like this? Why would that matter?
I sit at the desk where not that long ago I was making art and feeling like an impostor as I nervously prepared to sell it in public for the first time. I couldn’t have imagined how distant and irrelevant this memory would feel in just three months; how it would feel like it existed in an alternate dimension.
I think back to that Halloween party. There were a lot scarier costumes that night.
As I wipe down plastic parts of face shields and get them ready for shipping, I think about being a healthcare professional who signed up for saving other people’s lives, not risking their own. I think about a nurse in Long Island who is grateful that some random guy in Portland who happened to have a 3D printer and a drive to help people is responsible for this piece of equipment that might keep her from spreading a potentially fatal virus to her family that night. That if not for the willingness for him and others like him to pitch in, she might get sick or die or not be able to touch her child for months. That she might have to be the sole person to bear witness to someone’s final breath because their family isn’t permitted in the room. I think about how she is “essential” but also somehow disposable, like the PPE she’s forced to reuse against previous hospital protocol; about how she has been failed by her hospital administrator, her local government, and her president.
I can’t sleep that night. I wonder what could be more terrifying.
Halloween 2020 will be here before we know it. If time continues to speed up the way it has in the past six months, it will be here before I finish typing this sentence.
Fans of the holiday might still feel inspired to celebrate, even though our ability to “do” Halloween will be significantly compromised this year.* No parties. No giving candy to strangers.
*Except for people who are intent upon continuing to deny the reality of the pandemic and will do whatever they damn please because #freedom #merica.
[Carrie Bradshaw voice]: I couldn’t help, but wonder: Will anti-maskers wear masks on Halloween?
I’m curious what Halloween will look like this year. Maybe people will feel inspired to go all out decorating so that even if we can’t connect with people in person, we can offer something to scare and delight passersby.
I’ve always loved Halloween. I love the freedom I feel being in costume--the permission and opportunity it gives me to step outside myself a bit. I love the creativity on display, the ritual, the leftover candy. I love adorable toddlers waddling up to my front door, saying “twick or tweat” as nervous, smiling parents encourage them from the sidewalk. I love the invitation for people to get freaky and express hidden sides of themselves. I love darkness on display. And sometimes, I even like the fun of scaring myself on purpose.
This year though, I don’t know. I already feel scared all the time. Darkness is already on display. Death and decay and terror are a daily presence living in the U.S in 2020. Reality is a nonstop horror show.
But maybe there’s still something compelling about choosing fear that we know is only a fantasy, something we created and can therefore control--something that’s just pretend. Maybe some of us will need Halloween even more this year--scary situations that we consented to for a change, that offer the strong promise of a safe and happy ending.