Motivation logo

My Secret Life As A Janitor

792 Hours and The Midnight Library

By Chelsea DelaneyPublished 3 years ago 4 min read
My Secret Life As A Janitor
Photo by Daphné Be Frenchie on Unsplash

33 days is 792 hours, or 47, 520 seconds if you're counting. But who's counting...

I am. I'm counting the seconds of unemployment as part of my attempts to amuse myself with way too much time on my hands. If I had lots of money saved, or maybe lived in a tent in the woods, I wouldn't try so hard to keep my days structured and proactive. I'd wake up at noon and walk across the street to take a nap at the park. When I woke, I'd pet a lot of dogs and walk home.

But I don't have oodles of savings, there are only so many naps and walks one can take, and I'm BORED. My computer is happy to remind me of how bored I am: "Weekly Screen Usage is up 18% from last week to 9 hours and 44 minutes a day." Screw you Apple. Don't give me problems without solutions.

Fast forward to the 48,000th or so second, and I had this baffling interchange with Jose of the unemployment office--

Me: "Why would my former employer have lodged an objection to my unemployment claim?"

Jose: "Well, it says you still work there. Do you still work there?"

Me: "No, I haven't worked there for roughly 48, 812 seconds."

Jose: "Okay, well we'll get that cleared up. And it says here you are a janitor?"

Me: "WHAT!?!?!? I was an Educational Liaison for the Department of Family and Children's Services. How am I now a janitor?!?"

Jose: "Hmmm....that it is tricky. Can I put you on hold briefly?"

Roughly 300 seconds later...

Jose: "My supervisor says you are a very unique case, so she's gonna go ahead and take over and try and get this cleared up."

Me: "Thanks, I always knew I was a unique case. I'm glad we now have government documentation of that fact."

I got off the phone, still confused. Fortunately, my creative practice has given me a high tolerance for the surreal. Should I go to the janitorial offices tomorrow with a mop and bucket and tell them that I work there? Are all the other custodians wondering who this lazy ass Chelsea is that never comes to work but never gets fired?

Who was I in my janitor life? I read the magnificent book, The Midnight Library, back in November. In it, Matt Haig sets up a new system for the afterlife. Before his main character dies for reals, she goes to an impossible library that contains all possible permutations of her life that's quickly ebbing away on Earth. In this second chance limbo, she reckons with her regrets and her romanticized fantasies of what could have been. Readers walk with her, feeling both pained and fascinated as she tries out various versions of her life. We know this story because we've all lived it--the late night 'what if.'

I started to imagine janitor Chelsea. She has strong arms, free of their current state of chicken wobble. She's fast on her feet--as good with a dirty joke as she is in sticking up for fellow workers who aren't being treated right. I want her to wear massive work boots and maybe drive a Jeep. But in a weird twist, she also crotchets at her desk and makes exquisitely decorated cakes for the whole crew. Her locker is crammed with books on botany--textbooks for night school. Sometimes she brings her dog Stan with her to work when she's covering someone else's shift on short notice. Stan is a pit bull missing all his teeth. He hangs his head out the window and smiles at the passersby. His drool makes tracks all the way down the passenger side door.

Identity comes apart just as quickly as it comes together. You would think this would cause us to hold these pieces of "self" lightly, but most of us just increase our grip.

As Haig's main character starts to rack up different practice lives, he starts listing them in poetical fashion, starting with: "In one life she was..." I couldn't resist this writing prompt back in November, and so I went back and read through them this afternoon, after janitor Chelsea winked at me over the phone. And for a second, I wasn't bored anymore, just pushing the clock forward until I found another job. Instead, I was wandering through the seeds of the possible, dreaming...

In one life she was a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

In one life she sang bluegrass music with her Dad and Grandma all over West Virginia. She was by her Grandma's side when she died.

In one life her mom never left her dad.

In one life she was an exotic dancer.

In one life her son was hit by a car at the age of 6.

In one life she had a small flower stand on a busy New York street corner.

In one life she was a pastor's wife.

In one life she ran away from home the year she turned 12.

In one life she lead an international cult.

In one life she gave away her entire fortune in 24 hours.

In one life she had a pet giraffe and seven peacocks.

In one life she worked for the FBI.

In all of her lives, she knew how to be happy.

The list went on, and strangely, even the hard, unthinkable things that could have happened to another me, made this me happy. Maybe it was remembering, once again, that I'm not alone. Maybe it was all the things we tried--if the bravery of my one life is impressive, what is the sum total of all combined Chelsea bravery? Maybe it was recognizing my extraordinary in the midst of the mundane. Whatever it was, I was thankful to janitor Chelsea for showing up. May we all have such skillful spirit animals.


About the Creator

Chelsea Delaney

Life is weird, write about it, paint about it, dance about it, and sing about it too. Use every language in your arsenal to sculpt the world you want to live in. Writer, educator, artist, and creative midwife--this is what I do.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.