I was there, the second floor corridor trudging behind the one rickety cleaning cart. On top was my coffee, trembling, spattering and, much like myself, allowing its cheap, unhygienic aroma to permeate everything in the vicinity.
Leading up to it, I can recall almost everything. Every trivial cigarette break, every irrelevant bit of gossip, every inconsequential guilt-riddled pang for me to give my mom that now-three-days-overdue birthday phone call was vividly preserved. As far as housekeepers go, the troop I served with at the Econo Lodge was by far the brashest and cockiest. Sure, we were good; we’d swarm through that two-story filth harbor daily with a jackrabbit-like quickness. Stoic and desensitized, we saw ourselves as a fearless machine, but, ultimately, we were only children toiling against impossible odds.
Morning rounds that day were normal; they’d gone as expected. A few tips here, a pair of once-white-but-now-rubber-glove-worthy briefs to incinerate there, an abundance of caked after-love and chicken bones in 203’s bathtub, you know, pretty much the standard. Twenty-minutes ahead of schedule and already four-podcasts-deep, I stopped my cart outside 207—
“Sorry, yeah, no, I’ll just take the entire Kleenex box, Doctor.”
From there on my memory’s only snippets, like a disc skipping or a partially developed roll of film. Wreckage and grime covered everything and immediately I thought I was going to be sick. The grubby, favela-like air clung to the inside of my lungs as I stifled the impending panic-vomit. Recklessly but instinctually, I charged into the fray. I thought I could be a hero and, foolishly, I underestimated the power this hygienic holocaust wielded.
Second thoughts soon clouded my mind; this visceral frontier had assaulted every sense from every angle. I persisted, though, hoping I could clean my way out of this ambush. White-hot revulsion coursed through me. I’d never know the parents and their litter of children who had left this litter bonanza for me, but I knew then that they would always be a part of my life.
“No, no, I’ll be okay, Doctor; just give me a minute.”
Okay, sorry. Part of me remembers striping the one bed’s nest of blankets to find a trove of half-eaten Gobstoppers corralled in an empty pillowcase and from there I saw the dark red splotches smeared up and down one side of the fitted sheet. It could’ve been pizza sauce. It could have been tomato soup. But the lack of pizza boxes or discarded soup containers suggested this was nothing but chunky toddler blood from a Gobstopper-heavy disagreement or a game of The Floor is Made of Lava gone awry. I was only twenty-two; I wasn’t ready to piece this grim truth together.
I had no backup; I’d moved in too fast and now had no cover. I needed to get away from the overwhelming mess of Dorito shrapnel, the broken toy that was still dripping with fresh child tears, and the TV remote with the partially-enjoyed Jolly Rancher in place of the usual pair of AA batteries. Frightened, I couldn’t remember any of my training, but that was nothing new. That day I’d been pretty hungover and nowhere near lucid during the four-hour orientation on sheet folding and sexual harassment policies. At this point I staggered to the bathroom, probably hoping to retreat into solace and get away from 207’s ground zero.
“No, it’s okay—I just need to get this all out.”
I chose wrong. I was so wrong. The bathroom, that repellent coffin of gross, was the pinnacle of the nightmare. The tub was coated in hair, like a barbershop or wig factory floor. At one end of the hair-carpet was a crumpled, fetid towel and at the other, God, I pray that was only chocolate speckled into a Jackson-Pollack-like buckshot. Pair that visual abhorrence with that mound of ill-fastened dirty diapers strewn around the overflowing garbage can and, yeah, you could say this tour of duty had quickly progressed into a tour of doody. Overpowered, that had to have been when I collapsed, either from the smell or a stress-induced aneurysm.
Next thing I remember, I was in the hallway. Alessandra, another housekeeper, must’ve pulled me out. Relieved, my lungs filled with fresh hallway air. I was now freed from the wreckage and smoldering horrors confined within 207.
Nothing prepares you for that kind of mess. The Econo Lodge wasn’t prepared either; the manager destroyed the room through a controlled burn the following day. I can’t face an Econo Lodge hallway anywhere anymore—they’re all too similar and I’ll uncontrollably tense up. I had to step down from my post; I could handle 99.9% of this job, but you never know what’s going to be on the other side of the door and, eventually, everyone draws a 207. I’d clean up ten, no, ten thousand honeymoon suites from plushie weddings if you could guarantee me that I’d never face another ravished room from a family of six vacationing on a budget again. However, that’s not the reality, Doctor. I’m sorry, I can’t keep fighting the good fight.