Thank you for buying a mask! You won’t regret your purchase.*
As promised, here is the story of how the mask you’re holding came to exist.
The year is 1986 and a thirty-two year old woman named Esperanza becomes the first person in her family to successfully immigrate to the U.S. (Specifically Brooklyn. Also, that’s my mom. Woo!)
Esperanza soon finds a job at an apparel factory in Newark, New Jersey–specializing in the medium-to-high-end women’s fashion found mostly in Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s. This factory also happens to be a sweat shop.
Growing up, my mom would always bring home left over fabrics to use in her own garment projects. She’d hang her pattern sketches on strings hanging across the living room. Two old-school, black iron Singer sewing machines sat in the corner like a pair of rottweilers waiting for their master’s command. And mannequins lazed about, wearing the half-finished outfits my mother seemed to always be working on, but never finishing. She’d also make clothes for us, but also gear like packs, sacks, and blankets.
We cut to 2001. 9/11 happens. The U.S. starts revving up the engines of war. Soldiers can’t go out in the desert with their standard green camouflage uniforms. Nope. They’re going to need new uniforms designed to blend in with all the patches of sand-colored camouflage that naturally exist in nature, because that’s totally how camouflage works. (Eyes roll so hard I start crying blood.)
Around 2005, the U.S. Army contracts Esperanza’s factory to start producing uniforms. One thing you gotta understand about my mom is that she’s a craftswoman first. She’s never shared her views on the Middle Eastern conflicts post 9/11, and I’ve never asked, but what I do know for certain is that–to her–a pattern is a pattern and fabric is fabric. Her job is to put it all together. Sticking to her business-as-usual attitude, that meant she also started bringing home left over U.S. Army fabric.
Over the course of five years, she turned hundreds of yards of “reclaimed” fabric into bags, blankets, jackets, pants, belts, satchels, hats, mats–anything else she could think of. I spent a good portion of my early twenties figuring out how to move an entire closet’s worth of U.S. Army-grade bomber jackets. One is more than enough for a lifetime. Five? Who do you even try to sell those to? (I managed to sell them all and regret not keeping at least one)
“The bottle was empty, but I pretended like it wasn’t. Did I pull it off?”Esperanza on the above picture.
Here’s where I get a little poetic. For years, my mom has taken fabrics and sewed them into uniforms meant to cloth soldiers on their way to kill other soldiers–she took that fabric and also clothed her family and loved ones. I’m not saying it evens things out, but damn it, that has to mean something, right?
For reasons that exist within my personal backstory (feel free to ask me about it over coffee), my family and I lost contact for a little over ten years. I wasn’t sure I’d ever talk to them again, let alone see them. Then COVID happened.
I like to think of COVID as many things. A pandemic; the illness that finally struck down my tough-as-nails grandmother (I still don’t think she’s actually dead. I didn’t see a body. Show me the body); a marketing department’s wet dream; and a reset button. A social and emotional reset button.
For me, it was like the universe powered my reality off and on again. And, by the time I’d realized it, I was talking to my mom again. A little bit at first–a text here, a selfie there, just to assuage her anxieties about COVID. After one call, she asks me if I wanted any masks made from the “Army cloth.” (Which is what she calls the reclaimed materials.)
At the time I was working part time at a restaurant doing deliveries-only. I was broke, terrified, and drunk most of the time. Some extra-thick “Army cloth” masks seemed just the thing to help me feel even a milligram safer.
Here’s something you need to understand about Esperanza. She is the physical manifestation of the word overkill. She blasts mosquitoes with bazookas. Fuck a fly swatter. That’s her. So, when I say “yes” to her mask offer, two days later I get a FedEx box big enough to fit a microwave STUFFED with masks.
More to last me a lifetime.
Well, years pass and we get to the here and now (hello!). The economy is worse than 2008, I think, though the news keep assuring everyone “There’s no such thing as inflation” and “Buy now! Sell later!” In my case, I get laid off in January from a 2+ year position, and then get laid off again four months later after only working for two weeks.
I’m on the phone with my mom, telling her all this, and out of nowhere she says, “Dude, just sell the frigging masks.” (she says this but in Spanish). I blink at my phone and ask if she’s sure, and she doubles down. So, I say, “Okay.”
With every purchase of a mask, you get a link to this story AND a link to a FREE fantasy short story inspired by everything in this post.
If you would like to support the author (me), please feel free to drop a donation via Venmo. (Suggested donation $5)
Enjoy! Link to extra fantasy story here.
*Please note: if you do purchase the only cursed mask in my inventory, that’s really more on fate than me.