This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty and prostitution in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
Diana, Hunts Point. Photo courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Diana angled against collapsed cardboard at 11 p.m. a few feet away from her only shelter: a spindly tree, base strewn with golden leaves, heroin cookers and old needles.
Her blanket gone on the chilled October night (her husband had made off with it in what was thought to be a crack-buying expedition), the 20-year-old's body curled inward as she paced the block in her ensemble du jour. Tonight was a knee-length denim skirt, faux-fur scarf and curled raven wig, both disguise and seduction costume.
If she looked a little different from yesterday, the cops might mistake her for a non-routine streetwalker, leaving her alone. If she looked a little different, the passing johns might pay interest in the "new" girl.
The day had been a good one; she had pulled five tricks, earning $150. With it, she bought lunch, the night's outfit and four bags of crack, two of which she now stored in the toe of her mock-suede boot. She also bought a place to smoke the crack, paying the dealer's girlfriend a bag of her new purchase (the equivalent of 10 bucks) to inhale in the woman's room. Privacy and escape from the paranoia of police approach cost. Today she was kicked out of the crack house before finishing her drugs, left antsy in anticipation of a completed fix. That and the absence of her husband nagged at her focus.
She had a jackson left, next to useless at this time of night if not to buy drugs. If she had known she would spend the midnight hours alone she would have spent $4 on a dollar store blanket -- they had nice thick ones there. With it, she could have covered her body, head too, on her sidewalk-spread cardboard bed, a polyester layer removed from idling leers and catcalls.
Instead, she spoke longingly of her husband to anyone who would listen and stepped into the street to wave lingeringly at passing cars. If she couldn't sleep safely, out of sight, she might as well make money, tired as she was.
Diana and John, Hunts Point. Photo courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Her husband John disappeared earlier in the day while she sold herself on a nearly back-to-back client circuit. After mining enough cash, she trudged up and around the main parts of the Point in search of him, now resigned to wishing his return. She felt safe, comforted, at ease with Johnny. Only once did she say that perhaps he's angry with her for being gone all day, upset for her leaving him alone.
The two exchange relationship power depending upon who has the crack, or the money for crack. In deference to their rock habit, they assembled their day: when to hook, when to sleep, when to eat. Priorities and love lag behind, leaving Diana to work the streets without Johnny's promised protection and to sleep uncovered on the sidewalk.
Now Diana was angry enough to smoke his share of crack while he was away. Here, excuses were porous and punishment came by way of a four-minute stolen fix, a fix she had earned through sex, yet one she thought she owed to her husband. Fear momentarily kept her from lighting a stem, vice and undercover cops circling. She would wait it out and wonder: did Johnny leave for anger or for crack? Drug dependency versus emotions and duty.
Removing her wig, off work, a fuzz of fine black hair revealed a vulnerable scalp, mirroring her slumped figure against the chain-link fence. The sky shone a clear black, marred with pockmarks of stars.