My best friend and I have not lived in the same state for the last three years. I have seen her only a handful of times in person since then.
Occasionally, we message each other the phrase, “I miss your face.”
I am not entirely sure where or how that phrase started, but I feel its applicability now more than ever.
I find myself missing the faces of the people I used to see at work every day. I miss the faces of the friends I would hang out with on weekends and the faces of family I should’ve seen at Easter and graduation parties. I even miss the vast and nameless sea of faces I would see every morning and evening on the L during my work commute.
In certain regards, a face is simple. It contains two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Our brain can, in fact, see faces where there are no faces at all. It’s a psychological phenomenon known as face perception.
Every beautiful face I have known has not been beautiful because of the four pieces that constitute it, but because of its intricacies. You know, the way a small uptick of a mouth can reveal that someone is hiding a smile, or the way trembling eyes can betray that someone is trying their best not to shed a tear.
If you stare at a face long enough, you might just fall in love with it.
While I am missing many faces, there are a handful of faces that I have become better acquainted with since quarantine started. Those are the faces of the family I live with and a variety of faces that I’ve stuck with since day one.
I’ve watched those faces light up with laughter during bonfires, become frustrated because one player won’t make a deal for the orange spaces during a game of Monopoly, grow terrified at the impending doom of the world around us, make silly faces for no reason at all, and simply exist in a state of tranquility.
Isn’t that beautiful? The way a face can just exist without the threat of a virus. That it can forget, even just for a second, that we are living in an unprecedented time that we will one day tell stories about. A face that’s been happy, sad, fearless, scared, and every emotion in between since this whole pandemic started. But mostly that it can forget and just be at peace.
I have spent all of quarantine loving these faces, and yet I miss those of the people I haven’t seen in what feels like forever. Even when I do venture out into the world now or our family comes to “visit” us, everyone wears a mask.
We’ve seen family from a distance, usually with masks on, as we chat from our front doorstep and they respond from the sidewalk.
That vast and nameless sea of faces I would see at grocery stores is now a sea of suspicious eyes and masks. No one comes close to you or says hi. I walk around and smile at people only to realize that they can’t even see what I’m doing. That once simple nicety is no longer a part of this world.
When my friend and I message each other “I miss your face,” we mean a lot more than missing the image of a single face. We are really just exclaiming our sadness at the inability to see one another in person. You know, to sit in a room with your best friend and just talk and laugh without the worry of spreading a pathogen.
So we do our best: We video chat.
We go to virtual happy hours with coworkers and friends, and we hang out with the family every Sunday using Google Hangouts, where we still get to see our bedridden grandmother on Mother’s Day. We attend Skype meetings, we FaceTime, we go to Zoom classes, we chat on Discord, and we do everything possible to see the faces of those we hope to see one day again.
I guess in some ways, I’ve come to know these faces better as well. I’ve even come to know my facial expressions better as I watch it react to people over video chats. It’s what I hope and assume the people I haven’t seen might miss about me too.
So while we do our best, it just isn’t the same.
It’s not the same as taking a shot with your friend at the bar or rushing to your morning meeting with the cup of coffee that couldn’t wait until after. There is nothing like seeing someone light up with a smile and start laughing without the pixelation and delay that results from a bad WIFI connection.
Returning to the life we led before might not be practical, but it’s sentimental. It is all the things we miss about the world we knew only a few months ago.
And while we prepare to return to that life, which probably won’t look the same for a while, I’m worried that we might miss some of what we’ve gained. I don’t want those video chats with my family to dissipate. I don’t entirely want to work every day in an office in downtown Chicago with a two-hour daily commute. Mostly, I don’t want to miss out on all of the quality time I have spent with the lovely faces I haven’t stopped seeing since day one of the pandemic.
I don’t know what the next few months, the next week, or tomorrow will look like. Time has a strange way of working right now.
I also don’t know when our lives will return to normal, but I assume we will get there eventually. There will be some things we miss about these last few months, and there will most likely be many things we don’t.
The only thing I really know is that I want to be in the same room with those beautiful faces I haven’t been with in so long. I want to stop grieving for the unspent time together, yet I don’t want to lose how close I’ve gotten with those near and far.
If there is anything we have gained from this experience, it’s that humans can and will do anything to see who they love and to be with them in any way they can.
So family, friend, and unnamed reader, all I can say is that I miss your face.