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.
This article examines 17 substance-abusing women's perceptions of their mothering practices in the context of a residential substance-abuse treatment program for women with children and pregnant women. Using in-depth semistructured interviews and observations of treatment groups, the participants' cultural knowledge about mothering is explored. Although the women in this study described how their substance-abusing lifestyle had a negative impact on their children, they also detailed practices that illustrated that they felt capable as parents. The women were silent about how race, gender, or class arrangements affected their lives; their stories, however, showed active avoidance and manipulation of the contemporary ideology of mothering.¹
Rosie doesn't get calls to the Bronx. She only comes there at night, to spend the darkness with two homeless people in a van. And only for a few days, since she's been out of jail.
Most of the calls to the escort service out of which she works are from the Islands: Staten, Long, Roosevelt.
Rosie: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
This night she hops, small bounces inches off the sidewalk, for warmth. Sometimes her boots go off the concrete and the snow she steps in wets and seeps through. She's smoked enough crack to hold a smile about this.
Her madam doesn't like her doing crack, likes coke instead. Her madam snorts it. When she steals phone numbers away from her madam, a Queens-based woman, she makes more money and smokes it. The madam gets three quarters of Rosie's profits: a driver fee, an agency fee.
Tonight she hopes to earn enough to buy her son an air hockey table for $60 at Target. It's on sale this week. She pulls a glossed flier from one of her jumbo bags of assorted things, a paper folded in quarters and ripped in the middle. She thumbs through it, points to a photo encompassing the bottom quarter of a page. Just right for her two sons under 10. A clean-cut boy in his stripes and pose is beneath her finger.
When she makes money, she does three things in specific order. She goes to Western Union, makes deposits on her priorities: things like kids and bills. (She's a gold member, doesn't even have to fill out a form.) Second, she buys food. Then, she can party.
To that end, tonight she's on her way to see a blind regular near JFK, two hours away by public transit. She'll suck a limp dick while he smokes crack. This is done in the silence of the hotel room, backed by the whoosh of the highway. No noise out of her.
His name is Matt and he'll bring cigarettes and talk about how she costs more than his electric bill.
Matt will tweak out near the end, grow paranoid and want her to stay close. She'll calm him enough to force his exit, leaving her the room for a couple of hours to shower and nap. Four-hour room rentals are luxurious.
Sarah in traffic: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Sarah goes along. Perhaps it will be sexy to have another woman there, and she'll make a couple of dollars. Perhaps Sarah won't be noticed and can steal from him, at least bum some cigarettes. Perhaps she can just take a shower and get away from her drug-mooching husband for a few hours.
They apply mascara in time with the jerks of the car in traffic.