By Toni Caushi
BU News Service
It was almost the end of the night shift at the State Police Barracks in Holden when a state trooper’s laughter troubled the silence dictated by the cork walls of the building. A cartoon seeped through the trooper’s TV, depicting a boy dreaming about flying on the back of a dragon to save a beautiful but terrified woman from the chains of zombified trolls.
In the adjacent room, Patrick Cawley, the station’s dispatcher, was getting ready to punch out from his shift. “This is it,” he said while stretching with a yawn. “This is my mind-numbing job.”
That Sunday morning in October, 6 a.m. marked the end of an eight-hour night shift that Cawley had mostly spent fighting an exhausting battle with sleep. In a matchbox of a room, he often ground his teeth while occasionally jolting his head back when drifting into sleep in front of three computer monitors that flashed in reds, whites and blues.
While the arms of the clock crawled through that morning, only three calls came through the scanner. Somewhere in the west, a woman was driving erratically. In the east, a man was cuffed for having a felony warrant. And from somewhere in between came a domestic abuse call about a bloodied male stopped in a car with a female.
Meanwhile, “Dateline” replayed old episodes on the TV above Cawley’s monitors. The drama often vacuumed the attention of the room, “She bent over and shot her husband point blank – POW.”
The cork in the walls was useless against the freezing temperatures of the night outside the station. Cawley’s partner had spread a cotton blanket patterned with puppies over her, and the trooper in the other room wore his high-visibility jacket while watching reruns of “South Park” on his TV.
But the day didn’t start out cold and drab. At 12:30 a.m. that Saturday and a city away from Holden, a wedding photographer cocked her camera while smiling at a newlywed couple, “Well, now we’ve got sun!”
At noon, Cawley had brought the couple together in marriage.
In the Figueroas’ living room, family and friends sat sardined in foldable chairs. Some cried tears of joy, others sat in discomfort from sitting elbow to elbow, while the photographer skulked from corner to corner, careful to not step on any attendees’ toes.
At the top of the wood-floored room, the young Figueroas nervously held hands. Contoured with white flowers, the altar rainbowed over their heads. It towered over the couple, and yet barely reached the 6-foot-3-inch Cawley, who, in a well-groomed, silver-lined, Garibaldi-styled hair and beard read words of union from a leather folder.
“We are gathered here on this day not to mark the start of a relationship, but to acknowledge and strengthen a bond that already exists. This ceremony is a public affirmation of that bond, and as their dearest family and myself, it is our honor and privilege to stand witness to this event.”
These words were from the first paragraph of a sermon that Cawley had written since his ordination from the Universal Life Church. Afterward, he laughed about how his delivery always reminded Erica, his wife, of Daniel Plainview from “There Will Be Blood”.
“Before this moment you have been many things to one another – acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher,” Cawley said. “Now you shall say a few words that take you across a threshold of life, and things will never quite be the same, for after these vows, you shall say to the world, ‘This is my husband, this is my wife.’”
His signature for a license is worth $100, but that Saturday afternoon, Cawley did not accept the bill that the groom held in front of him. Cawley was aware that a stranger’s presence – there to observe his work and playing no other role in the wedding – could make the attendees uncomfortable.
“I don’t really do it for the money,” he said later. “I do it because I enjoy it. It’s a big part of people’s life.”
At 9 a.m. on that Saturday morning, his suit, tie, slacks and ironed shirt waited in his closet for the marriage of the Figueroa’s. Meanwhile, black coffee brewed in the kitchen, while Cawley stood waiting in his favorite wedge-sole work boots, cuffed jeans, and a maroon Stormy Kromer outdoor hat.
The outfit is just a piece of the 33-year-old Cawley couple’s infatuation with a life corniced by a vintage theme. You can’t mistake the sentiment, even if you’ve stepped foot in their home only once.
Walls that reach heights of Victorian engineering were lined with wallpaper traced with white flowers and leaves. Depending on the room, the floral imagery laid on backgrounds of either pink, blue or yellow. Yellowed family pictures taken almost a century before hung upon them.
Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald would feel right at home.
“We had been going back and forth with the owners of this house and I remember sitting at a Target parking lot with Erica crying and crying because she wanted it so bad,” Cawley reminisced. “I told her ‘Hey, we’re gonna make it work – we’re going to figure it out.’ We came over here when the family was cleaning out and we pleaded our case to them. They called us a little bit later and were like ‘Yeah, alright, we’ll sell you guys the house.’”
The 1950s appliances or the half-smoked cigar on the back porch are constant reminders that no matter the time of day, Cawley will always be able to travel in time and space to a place that accommodates for the simplicity that he expects from life.
Before sharing a moment of familiar honesty at his kitchen table that Saturday morning, Cawley had just punched out from another cycle of a day in his life, one which he considers unavoidably boring, but at the same time, contentedly perfect.