Kim wears a different nail polish every week. Lilac puts her in an especially good mood. Her manicured nails are opaque but still shine from a distance. Along with her salon highlights, they add a much-needed glow to an otherwise dull ensemble: A pair of faded blue jeans, off-white sneakers. Like all Facilities Management workers, Kim is given an allowance to purchase clothes from the bookstore to wear while she works. She only buys gray because everything else is too flashy.
She’s happy when she wears lilac. She says she feels pretty. The next week she paints them gray. Maybe it’s just coincidence, or maybe it’s because of the rain, which causes her t-shirt to turn the same color as her nails, but Kim isn’t as cheerful on the days she paints them gray.
She doesn’t paint her nails this often because the color wears away from nine-hour days cleaning Hicks. Kim somehow manages to keep them in pristine condition as she begrudgingly cleans Dean Joshua’s office windows. After Dean Joshua filed a complaint with FacMan that her carpet wasn’t vacuumed thoroughly, Kim stopped taking her trash out as often. A few doors down, Kim empties Brian Dietz’s near-empty trash can because he’s nice to her.
At 9am, a voice comes onto the walkie talkie while Kim is cleaning the student leadership suite, which she says is always messy because of “those big girls who order pizza all the time.” The voice belongs to Kathy, another FacMan custodian. She says help is needed over in Severn. Kim divulges that the custodian responsible for the building was caught sleeping on the job, and after going three days without pay, he came back and retired. Kim turns her radio down.
“Kathy’s a real bitch. She’ll be over here just a bitchin.”
Twenty minutes earlier, Shane’s already grinning behind the security desk when Kim walks in. He teases her with a story and she smiles bashfully. She says be nice, or else she won’t take out their trash. It’s her favorite threat. These guys are the closest thing she has to friends on this campus, so she eggs them on. She heads toward the back of the office and returns a few minutes later with their carpet sweeper. Dave tells her she can’t keep taking it, that she’s racking up the fees. She walks out of the office with it and a grin.
She tells me that not everyone is nice to her around Hicks. She likes cleaning here but misses Hoben since they changed everyone’s placement this year. She misses the kids. She misses driving them to the mall or to the Amtrak station on the weekends or around campus in her red truck. She misses the girls from Texas, now seniors, who don’t stop to say hi to her anymore. During her lunch break, she used to sit in the Hoben lounge and wait for them to come by and gossip with her like high schoolers.
These days, she eats lunch in the Richardson Room with the same FacMan employees: Dylan, Stephanie and Mark. Some days she enjoys their company, like the day Mark reached for his phone to show everyone a video of Kim and another custodian playing in the sprinklers behind Hoben on a hot day last spring. It’s Girls Gone Wild, he says. Custodian style. Kim stops him before he gets to his back pocket, laughing. “You get outta here!” she says. Her eyes disappear from smiling so big. She likes when they pick on her. Mark says they target her because she takes it so well.
The next day, before she can finish throwing her trash out, the other three have already made their way down the hall to exit the building. Kim is annoyed because they’re supposed to walk out together, but she doesn’t yell for them to wait up.
“They do that sometimes,” she mumbles, resigned.
Ever since her best friend from childhood died 20 years ago, and her husband of seventeen years divorced her “for no reason”, Kim keeps mostly to herself. She says it’s because all of her friends want to party.
“Everybody tells me I’m boring.”
She prefers to stay at home and let her dog, Magnus, “man handle” her, while she paints or quilts or makes stained glass windows. Kim wants to be an artist. She’d quit her job if she could make a living out of it.
When she’s not creating something, she’s watching her favorite tabloid talk show, Maury, popularly known for its agonizing displays of baby mama drama and sexual infidelity.
“I wanna watch them idiots fight cause they’re so stupid.”
She’s convinced the talk show is a set up. It has to be. There can’t be that many stupid people in the world, she thinks. She likes Maury because it make her feel better.
“I think, maybe I don’t have it so bad after all.”
She doesn’t feel like changing when she gets home from work, so she stays in her faded jeans and gray Kalamazoo College tshirt while she watches Maury or quilts or plays with Magnus, until she goes to bed, putting it back on just a few hours later and returns to a sleeping campus at five am. She doesn’t mind the solitude those first few hours, but prefers when everyone is awake.
If she could go anywhere in the world, it would be Jamaica.
“I would probably go just ‘cause I know all the Jamaicans here and I probably don’t have to pay to stay anywhere.” She laughs and her eyes disappear again. She wants to go to Jamaica for the beaches, even though she won’t put a bathing suit on because she thinks she’s too fat.
“Although, if I was in Jamaica I would never see anybody again so I probably wouldn’t give a shit! Who cares, right?”
A fun day for Kim is when she, her sister and her friend Donna go quilt shop hopping for sales. When she tries to do something different, it never works out. Once she wanted to see a baseball game but couldn’t find her way into the parking lot.
“I got pissed off and went to the mall.” Malls are therapeautic for Kim.
She has no desire to find another husband or boyfriend. She misses her two grown boys but Magnus fills the silences of her home and the empty side of the bed at night.
She says her life was always quite simple. When she was still married, she took care of the pigs and cows on her countryside property in Otsego. She used to kill the animals for their meat, but stopped when she got attached to one of the pigs. Kim named her Precious.
Her husband let her keep the house and bought himself another property not too far away, so every once in awhile, she makes him come over to fix things for her. They’re not friends but they’ve learned to tolerate the other’s presence. She doesn’t mind him around. At least it’s company, she says.