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.
Jen and Chino: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Jen sits on a tree's barrier fence facing the bargain store's hanging pushcarts. She watches passerby in the neighborhood, focuses on not moving too much.
A few months ago, she started getting clean, checking into a rehab in East Harlem with her boyfriend, Chino.
To do it, she disappeared one day. Details were scant on the streets, and rumored words to her whereabouts were the usual: dead, arrested, drug treatment program or settled down in Upstate suburbs. (The latter never happened for anyone, but there existed Cinderella-like hope.)
Chino sits on the fence with her now, comments on women. He likes white girls. Jen makes muted threats, whispers of disbelief. She apologizes for him.
They're here, free of their residential treatment program, until Sunday check-in, about 16 hours from now. She's at the stage of rehab to get weekends away.
When asked, they come to Hunts Point to be alone together -- you know. When out in the world, they sit on the main block with its drugs and dealers.
Back in late March, Jen checked into Bronx Lebanon detox facility, following Chino's example set a month beforehand. Before, she followed Charlie's route of getting clean -- taking less and less, staying functional. Charlie, her pimp, now serving three years in upstate prison for old charges.
This spring, from Bronx Lebanon to Harlem rehab, treatment for opiates and cocaine.
On Mother's Day, she earned the beginnings of outside privileges, and she exerted them by doing laundry near her Harlem building. The two-hour breaks were brief but glorious. Then, she spoke of the weight she had gained and getting off of drugs for her kids.
She has three kids. She sees them every once and a while, a visitation system with some kind of loose netted order to it.
On her phone are dozens of photos: Disney princess birthday parties, the twins being silly.
Three months later, June, she checked into the hospital on excused leave from rehab. A trio of fucked lower back discs.
On the fence, she hunched forward for Chino to lift the back of her shirt. A surgical scar bisected a florid lower back tattoo, a red, bunched thing.
A shadow neared and cast itself over the display, asked what's up on the block.
"I got Percs," Jen said, smiles, bent over. Lifting up, frowns, pain.
Chino nodded. "I got more than that." His words, a slurred relic of his dealing days.
The next night, there they still sit. Rehab curfew a thing of the past, if such a thing existed at all.