The Abridged Memoirs of a Custodian
by Ashley Michael Karitis
Clyde was, in what might be considered, the loneliest of professions.
Each afternoon, he would arrive at the empty aisles of St. Jean’s Parish to tend to the multitude of custodial sins: cobwebs in the gothic arches, splatters on the stained glass (portraying the station of the cross), picking out lint in the oak and maple pews, and vacuuming the animal cracker crumbs left over from the little ones whose parents tried keeping them occupied with said simple carbohydrates.
Lonely these days may have seemed, but lonely, he was not. Clyde was privy to moments that were important enough to call on those far and wide—friends and family, and even those who would need to forgive each other in order to come together for such special gathering.
In his thirty-seven years as a custodian, Clyde had attended more weddings, funerals, christenings, and masses than all of the priests combined who had rotated in and out over the years.
Special, these moments and gatherings were, but Clyde was still not part of them. He was only an observer, sometimes unwelcome, on the fray, and always behind the scenes. Nobody really wanted to see a spotted-faced, balding man in coveralls on their wedding day. Yet, he was the unseen enabler, for one flick of a switch and the christening of Patrick Joseph or The March of the Brides would come to a crashing halt.
Clyde could recount every type of wedding you could possibly have under the roof of God’s House: painfully planned nuptials to ensure family legacies; unions to provide for an unexpected baby bump; marriages that had taken place during custodial hours, out of sight of forbidding parents. He had seen groom and bride spat with each other as though they were in a presidential debate, sometimes ending with a slap in the face and a “Why didn’t you tell me!?” Never assuming, Clyde dutifully clean up the flower petals, rice, and extra paper programs.
Usually, the tense, happy, or excited couples would return to the parish with a new babe to be doused with holy water, draped in a stale lacey gown. Clyde would set up the bath and rearrange the potted seasonal flowers—just so the mothers would feel extra special—and afterward he would mop up the excess drops of bath water that speckled the altar.
Through all these celebrations, Clyde never feared, avoided, or felt sad about the funerals that came and went every week. How could a funeral be any less important than a wedding or christening? How could he feel sad for the dead, and for those that came to celebrate and memorialize their person’s life?
For Clyde, being a custodian had been his own ritual, just as these events in St. Jean’s had been rituals. It was a ritual of living vicariously, and letting the joys and sorrows of others brim over into his world.
© 2015 Ashley Michael Karitis
Ashley was raised in Bend, OR. She is a documentary filmmaker based in Portland, OR that dabbles in travel writing. She is currently working on her first compilation of short stories.