I get out for walk every day. I spend much of my walks worrying about things that could happen. Mostly they are the same things (losing my keys, having to go to work, forgetting to lock the door or turn off the burners) but lately I’ve had a different set of worries.
Basic fear of random cruelty. One of those unmasked white joggers that keeps zooming up from behind me is going to knock me down and cough on me. And laugh. In a coarse kind of way that doesn’t go with how fit they look. They will lean over me with their hands on their thighs and cough again. Then they will keep running. Probably they are not infected. That almost makes it worse.
Fear of not being invisible. When I pass that young guy who’s making eye contact, he’s going to ask me for my phone number and follow me asking me again, because with a mask over my face I don’t look exactly my age and I’m no longer invisible to the kind of young man who likes women with droopy butts. I won’t know what to do because strange young men stopped hitting on me when I turned 50 and I’m out of practice. I consider asking him if he talks to his grandmother with that mouth, but think better of it and keep walking faster.
Fear that I am invisible. No one out here sees me. That’s why they keep walking close to me with their masks around their necks, talking loudly on phones I can’t see anywhere. Either that or they are talking to nothing at all, which is apparently much more important than invisible me. I am of the age where it’s okay with them if I die.
Fear that I look like my motives are bad. I’m going to step into the roadway to avoid a small group of loud maskless people coming the other direction, and I’ll get hit by a car. The group of people will demand to know why I’m avoiding them. “Who do you think you are?” they will say, while they are calling 911 because the driver of the car took one look at me and kept going because I’m a certain age and it doesn’t matter.
Fear I will be seen as a bad person. A protest will converge on me and because I have never met a protest I didn’t like, I will be swept up in it. The bicycle police surrounding the crowd will single me out, knock me down, and arrest me. I will be convicted. As a result, I will lose my mask and everyone will think I am irresponsible. “It’s not my fault,” I will keep saying, and they will tell me to stop talking and put my mask on.
Fear of performative retail. I will decide to go into a store for something I need while I’m out for my walk. The store will have hand sanitizer at every entrance, and store personnel only allowing a few people in at a time. There will be arrows on the floor indicating the direction of travel in the aisles, and lots of six-foot markers telling customers where to stand. It will, however, be jammed with customers and employees all of whom are wearing their masks wrong, no one will be following any of the instructions, and when I plead for help finding my way out, I will be looked at as if I am insane.
Fear of my own mask. Part of the reason I’m picky about wearing my mask is that I am older and have asthma, but I swear they are going to find me passed out on the ground because the mask, having gotten a little sweaty, will finally asphyxiate me. Someone will give me the breath of life and will give me COVID-19 as a result.
Fear of my own destructive powers. I’m already sick but asymptomatic and my mask won’t protect any of these people who are walking too close to me, and no one will ever know it was me that gave it to them. I will be guilty for the rest of my life but I won’t tell anyone.
Fear of losing my stuff. I will sit down to rest and, because women’s jeans have lousy back pockets and I’m trying to keep my mask from falling off, my phone will fall out. Later on, at home, I will realize it is gone, look for it, and see online that my phone is taking a nice long walk to a place I have never been.
I should point out that not all of these fears are entirely false, which is what makes my adult paranoid fantasies so much more compelling than the ones I had when I was fifteen.