The Princess of the Gutter (Poetry)

I entered my thirties as someone
Who had failed to get a stable job,
Who had worked for minimum wage
Programming corporate websites,
Which involved typing away non-stop,
Being pressured into working overtime,
And leaving the office at around five PM

As I waited for the train to come,
I daydreamed about walking forward
And dropping onto the train tracks below
(Why not? Why was I alive at all?),
And when I finally got home
Around six and a half PM,
Often I went to sleep immediately
(Or passed out when I sat down),
So I could wake up the next morning
For a new workday to drain me dry

One of those jobs I quit because
I couldn’t tolerate the stress
And exhaustion of those work hours,
I was fired from another one
While I was on medical leave
Due to anxiety and depression,
And the others either let me go
Or didn’t hire me after the trial period,
All of them with a creative variety
Of ‘you can’t work well in a team’,
Which would be fair and all
If working there had involved teamwork,
Instead of me sitting alone at a desk
Programming whatever they told me to

(I’m a terrible worker, I admit it,
Unless I’m interested in the subject,
Because I only care about my obsessions,
And I will work as little as possible
If I can get away with it)

The last of those cases was back in 2015,
When my immediate boss argued angrily
Against the supervisor that didn’t hire me
After a trial period I got through a center
For adults on the autistic spectrum;
That supervisor I hadn’t dealt with
Stated the cookie-cutter phrase
As the reason why she wouldn’t hire me:
‘You wouldn’t fit in with the team’
A more accurate assessment of my abilities
Would have been ‘We’re better off hiring
Somebody else that has less problems’

I had spent six months of my life
Programming their intranet for free
So I could add that bullshit experience
To my curriculum vitae,
Although no employer who reads it
Would consider hiring me

(Their HR person wanted me to be proud
That my effort reduced their work time)

Anyway, I had given up on ever making it
As a regular member of society
(In which I never felt I like belonged);
I spent most of my days reading,
Writing (very little those days),
Playing video games, playing guitar,
Or masturbating

As I was busy hating my life,
I was called from a center that deals
With adults with severe disabilities,
To attend some half-assed, bullshit course
About developing social skills for work

During the initial interview for the course,
One of the counselors offered me a job
At a workshop, in the assembly line;
Leaving aside that I didn’t want it
(I try to avoid working in jobs that
Would make me want to kill myself),
The tremendous din of those workshops,
As well as how loud some workers are,
Would clash with my auditory disorder,
And my IBS would make me stop the line
Every forty minutes or so to take a shit,
So I decided to pass on that opportunity
(If you can call an opportunity a job
That wouldn’t pay me enough to live;
I hadn’t become that desperate yet)

They justified the government grants
By setting up a course that would teach us
How to talk politely and behave professionally,
To learn how to face life’s challenges
And become integrated into the workforce

Modern society believes, and is forced to,
That everyone is equal in a diffuse sense,
The same way a religious person believes
In a god that is just a construct
From which they derive their sense of meaning
Without the need to question or analyze it;
The gods are not omnipotent,
So if we don’t believe in them,
Everything collapses into absurdity

(I’m not willing to accept an existence
Where different people must be treated equally;
People are born with or develop
Wildly incompatible needs and abilities)

The supposedly well meaning idiots
In charge of organizing these courses
Put people with physical injuries,
Severe intellectual disabilities,
Severe “social” disabilities (autism),
And even a jihadist without disabilities
(Some shit about risking exclusion)
In the same fucking course,
Which made it utterly worthless;
I was furious at the state we were in
As a society that I had to deal with it

(We wasted half of every class
Hearing how our society was terrible
And we should think about converting
Into a more compassionate religion,
As if I didn’t already hate this civilization
For forcing us to tolerate this garbage)

Anyway, during one of the breaks,
I skedaddled as usual to read alone,
Sitting at an isolated bench
As my earphones played storm sounds

But that day someone walked out
Of the nearby workshop,
Where a bunch of disabled people
Sat in front of an assembly line
To assemble machinery parts

It was a beautiful woman
About twenty five years old,
Who wore a workshop uniform;
As she shuffled to the bench
Located right in front of me
(Maybe seven meters away),
She was sobbing like a child
As if nobody could hear her
Or nobody would care

(I immediately thought that she cried
Because her life wasn’t worth living)

When she sat down,
Her shoulders drooped
While the streams of tears
Dripped onto her lap

She looked like those women
I passed by as I walked through
The fanciest neighborhoods
Of the capital of Gipuzkoa,
Where well-off women strolled
While they held their shopping bags;
I would believe her if she had told me
She was an actress preparing a role

I sat there gawking at her
While I held my breath;
There was something epiphanic
In how such an incongruous woman
Sobbed like an abandoned puppy,
As if the world had left her behind

I wondered how broken she was,
And about her kind of brokenness
(Nobody would have ended up there,
In a facility up in the hills of Donostia,
If society hadn’t decided to hide them)

Someone else came out of the workshop:
It was a hirsute, ugly man in his forties;
He was missing most of the hair on top,
But I remember tufts of thick back hair
Peeking out from the collar of his uniform

He hurried up to sit at the bench
Next to the beautiful, sobbing coworker;
I think he asked her what was wrong,
While she trembled
And her chest convulsed,
Then I heard her thin, broken voice,
Trying to cobble a sentence together
As if her brain was cleaved in two;
The words were incomprehensible

(It made me feel that life is a lie,
A farce that we’re forced to accept,
And I wished that all the pain
That was in the depths of my heart
Was so intense that it would kill me)

It might have been cerebral palsy,
Or a myriad other disorders or diseases,
But whatever the cause, she was broken
To the extent that she knew
That she could freely sob in public
Like a ghost wailing in the night

The hirsute coworker put his arms
Around the sobbing woman’s shoulders,
And as he cuddled up to her,
He spoke to the crying beauty
With tender words

He stroked her head
And kissed her temple,
Like a lover does
To comfort their beloved,
While she wept and wept

(That man was the ugliest I’d ever seen,
Because he was the one hugging her
When it should have been me)

I still wonder if she knew,
If she was aware of her limitations,
If she was a bright woman
Trapped in a brain unable
To put together coherent sentences,
Or if she had been blissfully spared
By her severe disabilities
That degree of sentience

(I hope she was stupid,
As dumb as a wild animal,
So she wouldn’t understand
The kind of hell she lived in)

What I learned from attending centers
For disabled people who can’t get jobs,
Is that most human beings are spared
Having to come across the people
Who would disturb society
With their misery

‘The Princess of the Gutter’ by Jon Ureña

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