I Finally Saw My Boyfriend Without a Mask

I spent lockdown in love. We met at a coffee shop on 110th, where he gave me a
loyalty card, punched it several extra times, and made me a cortado. I called
him “Eyes” in my journal and was nonfocal with friends that night.

After a month of flirting I asked him out for coffee, but he has nightmares
about coffee so we stood outside on his break and talked. It was thrilling. I
floated home, feeling the giddy hernia of infatuation, and my mind outraced
itself to see him away from the shop.

One day I said, “Oh my God—Jeremy, I just realized I’ve only seen you with a
mask on!” He denied it and debated me, then admitted it was true. I pulled my
own mask off and asked him to do the same.

“I don’t know,” he said. “If we were living together, sure, but technically
we’re not in the same pod.”

“What are you talking about? We’ve been together six months! Take the fucking
mask off.”

“What are you, one of those wackjob anti-maskers? That’s not COVID-safe.
According to the guidelines drawn up by the CDC and approved by Dr. Fauci,
we’d both have to quarantine for ten days before safely resuming indoor
activities without personal protective equipment (PPE).”

“Are you joking? Take that shit off now already.”

“Stop it! We’re not at that level of intimacy.”

“What? We have sex! We’ve had sex for months! We’re having sex right now!
Vigorous anal sex!”

“And I worry about it every time. This is not appropriate indoor activity.”

“That’s why we’re having it outdoors! By a school! Your concerns about social
distancing and other mitigation efforts are completely misplaced!”

I had him there.

Let me say right here that beyond his incapacitatingly beautiful eyes, he has
a brilliant wit and powerful shoulders and is the man of my dreams. He’s read
everything and is utterly amazing in bed. Or wherever we happen to be. He
knows what fuses are and I was heavily invested when he stepped six feet away,
washed his hands in a schoolyard water fountain, then turned and, for the
first time, showed me his naked face.

It was the face I’d imagined, but with subtle differences. He was older than I
thought, by a good margin. That explains the references he makes to stuff I
haven’t heard of, like Marie Dressler and the League of Nations. His mouth was
larger and kind of resentful, and his teeth were partially British. He had
acne scars, which I usually don’t mind but not that kind. His nose was fine on
its own, but somehow indefinably out of place with the rest of his features
and snoutlike.

“I bullied you,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I won’t do that again, ever. Please
put it back on.”

“So,” he said, slightly muffled and I forgot to mention his voice, which is
deep and relaxed and like falling into a vat of dark-chocolate orgasms, “you
still want to marry me?”

It took a while to imagine his old face under the mask again. The one that
matched the fine, symmetrical features north of the mask line. The face that
dominated my daydreams. The other face was fine except that besides being
footlike it conveyed a different personality, a resting British bitch with a
grudge that might someday be against me.

The wedding was a small outdoor affair, as was the wedding night. We spent
blissful weeks at home getting to know each other domestically. No visitors,
so no one knew we were strictly masked indoors. Jeremy could explain why it
made sense but I tended to tune out at “droplets” and definitely “antigens.”

One Sunday I was sanitizing some groceries and he said, “That’s probably not
necessary.” I put down the grapes and wipes, stunned. Wasn’t he fixated on
hysterical anti-COVID hypermeasures? Were we masking for a reason other than
the antigens and the things?

Did he know I preferred his real face to his actual one? Had I hurt him? It
was horrible to think he wanted to keep his face hidden because mine had been
disapproving that day.

“You know,” I said, “when you love someone, it’s…I guess there are all kinds
of reasons for it, but mostly you just fall in love with his soul. The surface
stuff, like looks or whatever, fades away, and you’re left with a deep
connection that no one can explain and nothing can break. And seriously—”

“Listen, crazy face, you’re my guy,” he said, gripping me by the shoulders so
hard it hurt. “I’m stuck to you like Min was to Bill. I said in the wedding
and I mean it—I take you. For life. And for the record, you are the
handsomest man in the world to me. I look at you and think, normal person. Who
cares what anyone else thinks?”

So he *is* insecure. That’s something to remember, and to make him forget. One
day I know we’ll be overcome by events, overrun by the herd and their
immunity, and we’ll grapple with the great unmasking and realities that
follow. But right now it’s Eyes and me, peering out over sweaty gaiters, a
surging outbreak of happiness.

Like all New Yorkers, Jeff Ward is a writer and podcaster. He coproduces the
DISCORDIA podcast and has had stories published in three humor anthologies —
(Drag City). Jeff has contributed to “Weekend Update” and performed in New
York and London stage productions before the world shut down.

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