(Editor’s note: Another essay from commenter K., a wonderful writer who’s part of the gang filling in for me while I’m on vacation.)

Why the fuck should it be this way?

I just spent an hour on the phone with a friend of mine. She’s a janitor working for a contractor at the local private college, the one who pays low enough that my daughter and I qualified for low-income housing. She’s missing work today. She went to her rheumatologist yesterday, who didn’t really listen to her, who sent her some place that gave her some sort of inserts for her shoes without looking at her feet. And today she called in because her foot hurt her so bad, and the supervisor said, “We’re gonna have to have a talk.”

So. Is she going to have a job next week? Can she file for unemployment? Is she eligible for SSDI? What is she going to do? Where is she going to live? What kind of job can she get if she can’t be on her feet? Who can help her? (In one way, she’s half-lucky. A bunch of us browbeat her into applying for the Badgercare buy-in, so she’s got a skimpy insurance plan. It covers some of the treatments she needs. At $130 a month. She’s lucky her daughter can help her pay for it. Because she can’t afford it on her own.)

I’ve just gone through this with Daughter and with an ex-boyfriend, so I’ve got people to call, and places to go, and a list of information that needs to be gotten together for when you call, when you walk in the door. Mostly I’m the one who can say, “I’ve seen this, and it will be rough, but at the end, you’ll be safe.”

While we were on the phone, she told me a story her mother had told her about her dad, the one who handed her the genetic susceptibility for RA, the one who was disabled, the one who told her how much it hurt. He was standing in the back door, looking out at his garden, when a neighbor yelled out to someone, “Look at that lazy asshole.” Because he was disabled. Because he had RA.

Later today I’ll be calling another woman who worked with us. She’s probably got a ruptured disc, probably from mopping floors, and probably too fast. It’s hard work, using one of those old-fashioned swabbie-mops, swinging a heavy wet mop around – especially when the company is understaffing and you’ve got to hurry. I hear she’s crying, because she’s afraid. (She only “probably” has a ruptured disc, because between her and her husband, they make just a little bit too much to get on the state’s insurance. And an MRI costs, what – $2,500? Might as well be her weight in gold.)

So this is one of my unofficial roles, telling people that it will be hard, but that if they try, they will be safe. This is one of the things I’m worried about, going away to college, that I won’t be here for these people, to get them going in the right direction, to give them strength. I’m glad that I can do it, that I can pay back all the people who helped me get to a safe place. But it shouldn’t be up to me. It shouldn’t be happening at all.

I got no conclusions. I got no idea what it should be. I just know that it shouldn’t be like this. That it shouldn’t be so hard to tell people that they’re going to go on welfare. That it shouldn’t be such an awful thing for people to need help.

Fuck cowboys and their hopped-up shit.

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