Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Each day when I boarded the bus in eighth grade, no one would offer me a seat until the driver yelled, “One of y’all please let this poor girl sit down!” At school I was bullied from my first class till the final bell. Snickering girls whispered as I passed, “What is wrong with her?” Boys told me I was ugly and tried to trip me or shove pencils in my ears. My main method of coping was to avoid school altogether by having my mom — an overwhelmed single mother and nurse — write sick notes for me.
I was a mediocre student. I played flute and sat seventh chair out of eight in band. I don’t know what got into me, but that year, when it was time to sign up for the regional solo festival, I chose the most difficult piece of music I could find: a concerto by Vivaldi.
The festival was an opportunity for band students to perform for judges, who would rate us as “needs improvement,” “good,” “excellent,” or the coveted “superior,” for which the performer was given a tiny medal. The previous year I had played an easy solo and received a judgment of “good.”
When I told our band conductor which piece I intended to play, he said I was being “overconfident.” No one in our middle school had ever played a college-level solo like that at the festival before. He warned me I was at risk of embarrassing myself. (He was probably more concerned I would embarrass him.)
I didn’t change my mind. With three months to prepare, I got my mom to sign me up for private lessons with a kind music student at the local university, who worked patiently with me each week. I practiced through the long hours my mom was at work. One Saturday I practiced fourteen hours, until my lips were sore.
By the time the festival arrived, I was prepared. The accompanist played the opening bars, and the music flowed from me. My fingers just automatically did what they were supposed to do. The judge said, “Wonderful,” and told my mom my talent should be fostered.
The following Monday in band class the conductor announced that five students had earned “superior” assessments. When he called me up to collect my medal, he congratulated me and told me I had surprised him.
After that, I began to take music more seriously and moved up in the band ranks. The confidence I gained carried over to other parts of my life. The bullying gradually diminished, then ceased altogether. By the time I started high school, I was first chair in band. I eventually left that school to attend a conservatory.
I’m still surprised that my depressed and beaten-down eighth-grade self had the chutzpah to perform such an advanced piece of music against the advice of her band teacher. It just so happened that the solo festival occurred when I had reached my breaking point, when I was tired of being bullied and diminished.
White River Junction, Vermont
I had joined hundreds of other University of Kansas students to march against the Vietnam War. As we proceeded through downtown Lawrence, scores of National Guardsmen in gas masks formed a barricade across our path.
Our group slowed, and the soldiers pointed their rifles at us. National Guardsmen had killed student protestors at Kent State the previous year. We had only a moment to decide whether to retreat or to risk our lives. We chose to take that next step forward.
To our relief, the soldiers stood down. Perhaps they felt as vulnerable as we did.
We rightfully honor our military veterans who put themselves in harm’s way for us. But we should extend the same gratitude to the millions of citizens who also put themselves in harm’s way for peace.
At the age of fifteen I was the only Jewish student at a fundamentalist evangelical school in Quito, Ecuador. Most of my fellow students were the children of American missionaries. My father was a U.S. foreign-service officer at the embassy in Quito.
When I made it clear to my classmates that I could not accept Jesus as the son of God, they told me I was destined for hell. I was ambivalent about the concept of heaven and hell but nonetheless spent my high-school years trying to prove myself worthy of this heaven that seemed so important to my classmates: I became a model student and a friend to all. I worked to display the qualities espoused by Jesus — kindness, humility, forgiveness, generosity. After all, though I didn’t believe he was the son of God, I did think Jesus was onto something with his teachings.
In the spring of my senior year a friend came to me deeply distressed. “I have a problem with you,” she said. “How can you be such a nice person and not have accepted Christ into your life?”
Her quandary secretly thrilled me. I had succeeded in opening my classmates’ eyes. As I walked down the aisle at graduation a month later, I held my head high. This Jew was not destined for hell.
Wendy N. Cohen
Falls Church, Virginia
When I was a kid, my mother told me I should become a doctor, and I took her advice to heart. In college I got a job as a medical assistant in an emergency room. I enjoyed the work but had one major problem: at the sight of blood I got dizzy, my vision blurred, and I would have to sit with my head between my legs, breathing deeply. I thought that with repeated exposure I would eventually learn to cope, but after three months blood still made me feel faint.
After work I’d come home and garden. I had planted the front yard of my rented house with Shasta daisies, salvia, black-eyed Susans, and ceanothus, and I spent my free time amending the soil, adjusting drip tubing, and deadheading flowers. A friend who worked for a landscaping company saw my yard and said his employers would hire me. I had never considered being a landscaper for a living, but I was starting to wonder if this dream of being a doctor was mine or my mother’s. I quit the ER and took the job. Though the work was tough, I loved being outside, stuffing loamy soil around root balls.
After graduating from college, I started my own landscaping business. My mother said I was throwing my life away. Twenty-three years later my company has ten employees, and we’ve built hundreds of gardens. I still can’t stand the sight of blood. I’m grateful that other people became doctors and I didn’t.
In January 2017 my sister and I joined a sea of other women wearing pink “pussy hats” in the Women’s March through downtown San Diego. It was my sister’s first protest. In the late sixties, while others her age were demonstrating against the Vietnam War, she had become a “stewardess,” as flight attendants were called back then. The protests hadn’t fit in with her career or her promilitary upbringing. San Diego is home to both Marine and Navy bases, and most people there frowned on antiwar sentiments.
I was the rebel in our family. I came of age in the 1970s, and my causes were the environment and women’s rights. I marched against nuclear power, took the first women’s-studies classes offered at my college, and refused to shave my legs.
My two millennial daughters have followed in my footsteps. “Fuck the patriarchy!” is a favorite phrase of my older daughter’s.
I am proud of my girls and of my sister. I hope they learned a little about fighting the powers that be from me. More than that, I hope one day we won’t need to fight for women’s rights anymore, because we’ll finally have them.
San Diego, California
Fresh out of college, I moved to the big city and got a job selling classified advertising for a news weekly. Eager to learn, I threw myself into every task. If someone in another department was under a deadline, I pitched in. My hard work caught the attention of the publisher, who was looking to hire a new office manager, and I got the job. The workload was tremendous, but I was determined to prove I could keep up.
The general manager, Mavis, never thought I was doing enough. If an employee was out sick, I was expected to fill in for the missing person in addition to doing my own work. Once, when five people were out, I spent the day running from the reception desk to the circulation desk to the advertising department. When I asked Mavis if someone else could manage the phones for a half hour while I finished that week’s billing, she told me I needed to work harder.
Another time, the furnace went out, and Mavis sent home all the employees except me. I had to stay to answer the phones and let customers know why the business was closed. (This was before voice mail.) Shivering in my winter coat, I sat there for more than two hours. Only one phone call came in.
Two years into the position, feeling hopeless and depressed, I went into therapy, which grounded me enough that I could look for another job. I was hired for a research project at a nearby university. When I told Mavis I was quitting the newspaper, she informed me that I had to stay long enough to train my replacement. And I would make myself available to answer any questions that might come up about the job after I left.
Several former coworkers informed me that Mavis had to hire three people to cover the work I had done on my own.
I loved my new job. My supervisor was impressed with my productivity and suggested I not work so hard. After some time I took his advice.
For the next year I got periodic phone calls from Mavis with a question about my old duties. One day I’d had enough. I told her this was the last time she could call me. “Fine!” she snapped, and she slammed down the phone. Not even a thank-you.
I should have fought back a long time ago.
South Bend, Indiana
When my daughter, was in eighth grade, she came home from school and told me a boy was spreading rumors about her and her friends. He claimed that Sophia had asked him out, and that he’d rejected her. He also said my daughter’s close friend had sent him revealing selfies. Sophia was furious, more for her friend than for herself, and she asked me if she could beat the boy up.
“Sure,” I said.
“If he’s been that awful, I guess it’s fine.” I like to call her bluffs. Besides, it sounded like the kid deserved it. “But don’t really hurt him,” I added.
The next afternoon I got a call from the school telling me my daughter had walked up to this boy in a crowded hallway and slapped him as hard as she could on the cheek. Sophia and the boy were whisked to the principal’s office, where Sophia explained he had been telling embarrassing lies about her and her friends. Then my daughter asked if she and the boy could have a moment alone together. Surprisingly the principal agreed to it.
Sophia told the boy why she was so mad and apologized for slapping him. He admitted he had spread the rumors and apologized, too. When the principal returned, they had forgiven each other. In class that afternoon, Sophia’s teachers praised what she’d done.
I like to think of myself as a peaceful person, but this child of mine is very different. She’s been getting into trouble and fighting boys since she was little. The most memorable incident was when she attacked an older bully while they waited for the school bus. I remember holding my newborn and watching in helpless horror as they rolled around in the snow. Later that evening she told me the boy must be going through a hard time, and one day they’d be friends.
I’m glad she has figured out how to protect herself, but I don’t know whether I should be proud of my daughter’s behavior or embarrassed by it. I am timid and scared of conflict, and sometimes I wish I could learn from her. But another part of me thinks she shouldn’t be quite so bold. Retaliatory behavior hurts people and ultimately leads to more conflict. Where is that fine line between standing up for yourself and aggression? Is it ever possible to solve violence with more violence?
Oak Park, Illinois
The doctor told us my thirteen-year-old sister had only a 20 percent chance to live another five years.
At first my parents thought she’d hurt her leg playing softball. Then the doctor found a tumor in her femur.
My dad — an engineer and problem-solver — told the doctor 20 percent wasn’t good enough and asked what we could do. The doctor said he’d heard about some experimental treatments at the children’s hospital, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up. This was 1973, and chemotherapy was still relatively new. Later that day I heard my dad weeping behind a closed door.
The next doctor was all business as he described the experimental treatment: They would inject my sister with a poison that the voracious cancer cells would devour. The poison would kill the cancer before it could kill her — at least, they hoped so. She might not make it. They didn’t know for sure.
“Take a good look at her now,” he told us. “It’s the best she’ll look for a while.”
My sister was a fighter. She lived through the chemotherapy, with its brutal nausea, mouth sores, and hair falling out in clumps. Then they scanned her femur, made an exact replica out of titanium, and replaced the diseased bone with the artificial one. She learned to walk again with her new implant and attended high school between recurrences that were zapped with more rounds of chemo. She went to college on crutches. Finally, after her last surgery, the doctors told us the spots on her scans were tiny, granular. It was over, they said. We’d won.
She turned sixty last year.
Maplewood, New Jersey
I was home on break from my first year of college when I went to a party with friends. All night my long-distance boyfriend and I had been arguing by text. Bored with the party, I decided to take a walk and call him. The conversation quickly devolved into a fight.
As we argued, I walked aimlessly, getting farther and farther from the house where my friends were. The neighborhood was dark and quiet. I noticed a hooded figure across the street but paid little attention, too engrossed in the fight with my boyfriend. Suddenly a great weight hit me, and my phone went flying as I was pushed into the bushes.
The hooded man was ripping at my dress, holding me down. I fought back, clawing at him and kicking when I could get a leg free, but he overpowered me. I lay still, terrified, as a car drove by. Its headlights shone in our direction, and the man let go and ran.
I sprinted back to the party faster than I knew I could. When I arrived, people gawked at my leaf-covered hair and scratched skin. “What happened to you?” one guy asked. High on adrenaline and filled with fury, I shouted that someone had just tried to rape me.
Before that night I had never experienced real violence. It dramatically altered my view of the world, and for years after I looked at the people I met and wondered: Does this person want to hurt me?
Santa Cruz, California
It should have been an easy, no-contest divorce, but my husband’s family had a lot of money, and my attorney wanted to fight for it. I told him multiple times that the money wasn’t mine and it was more important to me to maintain a good relationship with my husband for the sake of our three children. But a week before the divorce hearing, without telling me, my attorney submitted papers showing that we would be going after the money anyway.
My husband called me, furious. I tried to explain that I hadn’t given the attorney the authority to do that. When I spoke to my attorney, he said he was acting in my best interest and had never seen anyone walk away from the kind of money we were dealing with. He wouldn’t let it go. The night before the divorce hearing, on December 22, I dismissed him and called my husband to tell him I’d be representing myself.
At the hearing the judge asked me if I understood I could not lay claim to the money after the divorce was final. I proudly said yes. As I was gathering my things to leave the courtroom, my now ex-husband asked me what time he should come over for Christmas Eve dinner with the family. I told him after four o’clock would work. The judge overheard our conversation and gave me a puzzled look, followed by a smile.
I’ve had a friendly relationship with my ex ever since.
I came home from the first day of kindergarten carrying a self-portrait and announced that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.
It took me a while, but many years later I gave it a shot: I went back to college for an art degree, and I toiled away for two decades, slowly building my résumé and working multiple jobs to support my calling.
Finally I got a one-man show at a prestigious gallery. As I was preparing for it, my wife got pregnant with our second child, and the pregnancy triggered a severe depression for her. One day the gallery owner called looking for me and got my wife instead. To this day she does not quite remember what she said to him, but after they spoke, he would no longer take my calls. My big break evaporated with that one conversation.
Then a friend asked me to partner with him to turn his studio into a high-end design space where we could entertain clients from New York City. My wife said no. Another friend offered me a well-paying job three days a week so I would have four days to work on my art. She wouldn’t agree to this either. In desperation I went back to school to become a teacher, because her father, whom she loved dearly, had been a professor. I’d never wanted to teach. Professors didn’t have much time to devote to their own work.
Angry about the situation, I resolved to focus my anger on its root cause: my wife’s depression. I was not going to let the illness that had robbed her of her personality also rob me of what I had worked so hard to accomplish. I would teach all day, come home, make a healthy meal for our sons, and help put them to bed. Then I’d drive forty minutes to my friend’s studio, where I would work till two or three in the morning. The next day I’d do it all over again.
My wife is much better now. I never did get that big one-man show, but my son’s cradle, which I made for the gallery exhibit, found its way into the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
When I was growing up, my dad and I didn’t get along. He was an eye surgeon and used to calling the shots. School had come naturally to him; he’d finished his bachelor’s degree in three years. I was different. I traveled through school confused, never quite sure what I was supposed to do. Only once did I make the honor roll.
My dad didn’t understand my love of skateboarding or the anticapitalist lyrics of my favorite punk albums. I spent most of high school stoned and angered by his insistence that I conform to his views. Privately I felt doomed never to be successful. The bar was too high.
In the spring of my senior year of college, some friends who had graduated ahead of me returned from teaching English in Japan and suggested I join them in the fall. I said yes, knowing how angry it would make my father.
When I let him know of my plans, he shouted, “You have no job there, no health insurance, and you don’t speak the language!” But he couldn’t stop me. It was the first time I had truly claimed my own identity.
Over the next twenty years I rode my bicycle across the U.S., was an instructor for Outward Bound, and worked for Habitat for Humanity, making fifty dollars a week and living on white bread and beans. My father appreciated the spirit of some of my pursuits, but in general they drove him crazy, which just pushed me harder.
When I told him I was thinking of applying to graduate school, he gave me a conciliatory pat on the shoulder, as if to say, You’re too old for that now. So I worked with a tutor and spent a hundred hours on a single application: Harvard.
I got in. My dad was so proud that day. Two years later, when I completed my degree and was elected class marshal, I waved to him in the crowd at graduation: See, Dad?
But even that victory didn’t last. By summer he was asking what my next steps were and whether I had considered this or that PhD program. He passed away twelve years ago without ever seeing my career in education take off.
Now that I’m reaching middle age, I can see that my father did his best to connect with me but was stuck in his own definition of success. I miss him, and I realize that his questioning my choices propelled me into many adventures I might otherwise have missed. Having him to rebel against was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I raised my kids in a coal-mining town. When my son was six, he told me he wanted to play the upright bass, and I arranged for him to take lessons with a local musician. My son learned jazz and blues tunes and would occasionally play at a local pub. The crowd went wild for this little boy who had to stand on a stool to play. He was also an amazing visual artist, painting and drawing the beautiful mountain landscapes we could see from our backyard. A local gallery hosted an art show for him so he could sell his work.
Though my son was beloved by many adults, he was relentlessly bullied at school. The kids taunted him and ran away when he tried to join them on the playground. There was a cultural rift in our community between the “hippies” and the “rednecks.” One day on the bus a boy threatened to kill my son because he’d “voted for Obama.” A group of kids trapped him in an empty trash can and rolled it around the park. We once threw him a birthday party, and no one came. He tried to fit in by taking up new hobbies like fishing, hunting, and playing football, and he didn’t play music or draw for nearly ten years. His bass sat in his closet with broken strings. He struggled in school and went into a deep depression.
Right before his junior year he and I moved to California. He asked me to buy him a piano for his seventeenth birthday. He now plays it nonstop and writes songs about heartbreak, anger, and loneliness, which he posts online. His lyrics are clever and wise. He has made a new friend who is a rapper, and they get together to freestyle. My son says he feels sorry for the kids who bullied him, because they were often bullied at home. He has fought back by being who he is.
In 1949, the year we lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, I was eight and played a lot with Denny, the kid next door. My family didn’t have much money, but his was poor. We had a gas stove, at least, while his mother cooked with wood. She baked bread for her brood every week and always gave me a piece.
Somewhere Denny’s family had acquired a load of old railroad ties, which they cut up for fuel. One of Denny’s chores was chopping them, and I often helped out, thinking it great fun — until the day we got into a fight.
I can’t recall who threw the first punch, but I do remember what we fought over: Where does wood come from?
I told Denny it came from trees. He said it came from the railroad. I tried to explain why I was right, but to no effect, and at last we resorted to punching the truth into each other’s faces. In my mind I wasn’t just fighting Denny; I was fighting against wrongheadedness. I was only beginning to see that the world was rife with ignorance, and I was in a battle to purge it.
No one won the fight. When it got dark, we just quit.
Not for many years did I understand that truth can be relative. In my world, wood came from trees, and stoves ran on gas. In his, wood provided warmth against South Dakota winters, and it came from discarded railroad ties.
I developed a womanly figure early, in seventh grade, and the eighth- and ninth-grade boys leered at me in the hallways, calling me obscene names and asking for things I didn’t understand. (I had just learned about the facts of life the year before.) To make matters worse, a posse of ninth-grade girls, jealous of the attention I was getting, harassed me daily. They would yell, “We’re going to beat the crap out of you, girl!” They even called my house to threaten me.
My grades plummeted. I had only two close friends, who were no help. The teachers simply looked the other way.
The school dance was approaching, and I was told by my bullies that if I went, I would not make it out in one piece. Against the advice of my two friends, I decided to go anyway. At the dance I kept an eye out for the tough-girl group. Sure enough, the leader came up to me and told me to meet them in the girls’ lavatory. I was afraid but determined to confront this once and for all, come what may.
Kids gathered outside the restroom to witness the bloodbath. I followed the girls inside and immediately noticed they seemed nervous. The leader was sweating, and the others were looking down at the ground. Their tough-girl personas were just an act, I realized. This was my chance.
“Who’s first?” I demanded.
The leader shrugged. “We were only kidding.”
The girls left. The crowd seemed disappointed at the anticlimactic ending, but word spread quickly, and the bullying stopped.
Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
The worst part of my job as a public defender was having to represent men who had beaten their wives or partners, often in bizarre and cruel ways. In one case the wife said her husband — the man I had been appointed to represent — had tried to “fork” her to death. My wife came with me to interview the woman, who displayed a series of bruises where her husband had repeatedly jabbed her with a fork. Before the trial this woman told the district attorney that her husband had repented and she wanted to drop the charges. The DA agreed. I felt sure her husband would beat her again.
I also represented women who had killed their partners, always after a long history of abuse. One of these women told me that her husband would make her intertwine her arthritic fingers, and then he would squeeze them. She showed up to our appointment with her eyes swollen like those of a boxer who had taken too many punches. This meek-looking woman had bought a pistol to protect herself from her husband. When he tried to break into her house in violation of a restraining order, she called the police. An officer came immediately, but by then the husband had fled. After the officer left, the husband returned, broke through the door, and charged at my client. She fired once and killed him.
“Am I a murderer?” she asked.
At trial she was acquitted in less than three hours. The judge, the prosecutor, and I all commended her for defending herself.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
In seventh-grade music-appreciation class, to alleviate the boredom of listening to Mozart, I slide a blade of grass along the ear of the boy in front of me. When he reaches back to flick it away, my classmates and I snicker. Gawky, slight, and new to our school, he’s an easy target. After I make a few more passes along his neck and arm, he catches me and asks me to stop. I don’t. As we leave class, he turns around and punches me in the face. “Keep bothering me,” he says, “and you’ll keep getting socked.” He’s given me a black eye, and a lesson in how to stand up to bullies.
Not long after, a larger boy starts taunting me during basketball, pushing me aggressively and swinging the ball in my face. “You’re such a pansy,” he says. On the way back down the court, I catch up to him and slug him between the eyes. Watching him cover his face and run to the sidelines, I yell, “Who’s the pansy now?”
I soon become known as someone who is quick to brawl. The key, I learn, is to exude outward calm until I get close to my opponent, then unleash the first punch as hard as possible, straight to the nose. It doesn’t matter how big the other person is: if I get that first punch in, the aggressor usually backs down. If he doesn’t, others rush in to break it up. He certainly never messes with me again.
In high school I get into a series of fights. The same happens in college, but now, instead of empowerment, I feel a puzzling sensation of grief with each scuffle. As I watch the other guy whimper away, his humanity is apparent to me. More painful than the throb in my hand is the loneliness I feel. The worst are the times when I punch friends, spelling the end of relationships. I cry alone in my car after fighting a guy on my water-polo team. The coach was delighted by my “aggressive attitude,” but I know whatever camaraderie our team had is now gone.
One day I’m fuming over getting dumped by my girlfriend when my roommate, Don, attempts to cheer me up by reminding me there will be other women. I angrily tell him to stop patronizing me and challenge him to go outside and settle this like men. He looks directly at me and says, “I do not believe in violence.” The empathy in his eyes moves me. I’m willing to throw away four years of friendship, and for what? The anger leaves my body, replaced by an overwhelming sadness.
That was twenty-five years ago. I haven’t been in a fight since. In fact, I’ve used Don’s response myself during heated confrontations. From those six disarming words I’ve learned that the best way to fight back is to refuse the invitation.
Morro Bay, California
It took two long meetings with ten people, including the school district’s assistant superintendent, to enroll my daughter in kindergarten. Emily was born with Down syndrome. Brown v. Board of Education had established that separate was not equal, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) had confirmed Emily’s right to be in a general-education kindergarten class. We brought an advocate and a copy of the IDEA to the meeting with the school to convince these educators, who felt Emily would be better served in a segregated special-education classroom, or even a separate school. We had already observed how much she had learned from her peers in her inclusive day care. She could climb the jungle gym, dress herself, sing songs, and make friends. We wanted her to continue being around all sorts of kids, and we prevailed.
Inclusion was hard work for Emily, me, and often her teachers. But what an incredible experience it was for her and her classmates. I’m glad these people who went on to become doctors, nurses, teachers, attorneys, clerks, and so on got to know an independent, hardworking, kind, and funny person like Emily.
My daughter once told a teacher that she used to have Down syndrome but it was “wearing off.” Another time she decided that she didn’t have it anymore because she’d given it to her sister — just like a cold.
Emily is now thirty-nine and has a job and an apartment. She takes two buses to work and two different buses home. Pre-COVID, she would sometimes walk a mile to our condo for dinner. She embraces her Down syndrome and is a proud advocate for herself and for others with disabilities.
My best childhood friends were two brothers I went to school with. When the boys got two pairs of boxing gloves for Christmas, I was excited to get to use them, too. More than once as we sparred, I fought back tears after getting punched, but I learned how to land blows back.
In my early twenties, between college terms, I waitressed in Glacier National Park in Montana and began dating a young man there. After I returned to college, he came to visit me. We were sitting in a park and kissing when he rolled on top of me and started doing things I didn’t want. I tried to push him away, but he pressed even harder, and my fear quickly turned to anger. I freed my hands and began to punch his face as hard as I could. I never saw him again after that. I’m grateful to those brothers for teaching me how to fight.
My husband came home one day during the pandemic and told me about a conversation he’d had with a friend who refused to wear a mask, saying there was no good reason for it and he didn’t need any “fucking liberal” telling him what to do.
I was stunned. The first words I’d have chosen to describe this friend of my husband’s would have been sweet and easygoing. I felt belittled and attacked by his statement. I had spent many hours sewing face masks for friends and family. To me wearing a mask to protect oneself and others from an airborne virus wasn’t liberal and crazy; it was thoughtful and neighborly.
Later that day, to blow off steam, I sat down at my sewing machine and made my husband’s friend a mask. Maybe, I thought self-righteously, I would save his life. I made the mask out of my favorite yellow bandanna — one I had worn on many hikes, including a trek along the coast of Spain to commemorate forty years of marriage. I cut that bandanna to pieces, lined it with soft fabric, and enclosed it with a letter telling the friend that I felt it was not a sign of weakness for him to protect himself, his three young kids, and his wife. I left out my other opinions about his stance.
My husband delivered the mask to him the next morning, and that evening I received a photo by text: a selfie of the friend’s face covered by my yellow mask. Above it were his kind eyes, clearly smiling.