This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
Takeesha: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha stood just off the sidewalk, on the main Avenue, swaying. Cars sped within inches of her white-sandaled feet. One foot was out of its backstrap, and the leg attached to it trembled, twitching at the knee. She wore a skirt of black mesh gauze that ended at her calves and showed her underwear and legs. Her shirt was white with a teardrop-shaped hole between her breasts that ended above her protruding midsection. Its halter-style revealed her back with its patchwork of splotches and scars.
It was in that outfit that she was arrested and taken to Rikers over two months ago and in that outfit that she was released onto the streets again this day.
It was more than her knee that twitched, it was her eyes beneath the lids, too.
She was steered onto the sidewalk where a couple of people spoke to her, namely a John (some say pimp) who’s known her for 12 years. He wore a Bluetooth headpiece and silken tie and had bright hazel eyes against light-dark skin. He didn’t go out into the street to retrieve her. He let someone else do that.
Takeesha couldn’t say what she had taken. John said he had only left her for a moment, when she went weaved across traffic to collect something that would, minutes later, fuck her up completely. He thought she had taken two bars of Xanax (sixteen times the 25 mg recommended starting dosage). That’s all.
Now her body jerked minutely with invisible strings. Her mouth couldn’t form words.
“Are you OK? You weren’t like this a minute ago.” His voice was stuck in carefree, perhaps the excited pitch of Takeesha’s freedom from jail hours before. It was the kind of voice with which an adult, kneeling, speaks to a young child. Or maybe his tone was always that way, patronizing and notes and notes away from scared.
He stood mute against the bustling Friday night backdrop, looking at Takeesha, the woman he called “Desire.” “She wasn’t like this a little while ago.” He seemed as though he would stand there for forever, until Takeesha answered that she was OK. But she was unable to say that. She was unable to say anything.
An outsider suggested a safe place.
She didn’t have a safe place for someone to watch her come down from her high — no apartment, no friends with which to stay. John avoided the prospect of his home, despite his frequent visits made to her in jail and the length of their contact. His home neatly slid off the city map.
“This would happen on a Friday night when hotels are the most expensive,” John said.
A hospital then, was an outsider’s chosen safe place. 1.7 miles away.
Takeesha traveled to the car in a slow shuffle-stagger, a helper on each side. A heave into the car’s bucket seat. John rode in the back next to her, in his own seat, a gap between them. Her elbow slipped off the armrest again and again, instability swinging her body forward. She was untethered, without touch.
On the drive, John asked questions that were blocked by Takeesha’s defenses, reptilian ones present when she wasn’t.
“Do you know where you are?”
“Do you want to go to the hospital?”
“What did you take?”
“I didn’t take nothing, sir.”
Sir. Sir. She was full of Sirs.
At the hospital, a stretcher, blood pressure, blood prick.
She would sleep it off, have her three-to-four-month pregnancy confirmed along with her night’s consumption of heroin, crack and Xanax, leave at 3 a.m. — against medical advice — to return to the street.
A safe place, a room, something, soon.
The next night, Takeesha strode onto the block, happy. She flaunted lime green and white this time, a combination that appeared fluorescent against her black skin, paling the solstice moon. Her friends were there, an audience.
“Let me suck your cock! I know you want it!” Her voice erupted against the desolate streets as she made open-body gestures to a small man driving a beige Nissan.
Someone worried it was Vice. “It don’t look like no cop to me.” She laughed loud, at ease back home.
Saturday night. From left to right, top to bottom: Beauty, Tiffany, Pat, Takeesha: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
When the air calmed and the road momentarily emptied, Beauty rubbed Takeesha’s stomach, asked if her child would be a boy or girl. Takeesha pointed to John standing nearby with a few plastic bags, the whole of her owned possessions, while she chased cars.
“Ask him. Whatever he wants.”