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.
Neecy clean. Photo courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Neecy had been a lot of things lately: dead from a john's gunshots, dead with cancer, alive and in a New Jersey detox.
Neecy was the type to jokingly ask, clean and off the streets, if you wanted her to do a sexy pose. She still had it. She would hug long and show you her cross necklace, tell you of the church woman who was sick, the one she was on her way to help. She'd say that's why she was back in Hunts Point from New Jersey. Plus, she wanted to see the neighborhood. When looking at you (she was the type to look hard), she'd hold you by the arms excitedly, unable to show more teeth.
Two weeks later, she was under a bridge, shooting up in places of her body she had hoped you'd never see again, her face hidden amongst the darkness. She couldn't go back to her family like this.
Neecy relapsed. Photo courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Her triggers, circumstances and situations aiding her relapse, were returning to the neighborhood, seeing the dealers mill on their corners, watching familiar people slip into buildings for thimble-sized plastic baggies. Being around her friends, her street family, those that smoked and shot up. Leaving would mean abandoning her entire life, all that's familiar. Getting clean would mean giving up everything she had known for years.
Clean meant loneliness.
If only she stayed away, people said. If only.
Friends in the neighborhood called her foolish: she has a family that cares for her in New Jersey, the pillars of support. Eyes lit by cigarettes in the black, they say, "if I had that, I'd be clean." When shivering on sidewalks, on the way to get a hit, they say, "I wouldn't be on the street. No way. Quitting ain't that hard."
They collect beneath a bridge, among stolen candles and pipe-greased clothes to gossip and say, "I love Neecy, but maybe she'd be better off dead." They could make a list of how their situations were worse. They had kicked her out of their makeshift space a few days before and hadn't seen her since. They couldn't feel bad.
They had heard she stays with Frankie. If Neecy's there, she's safe with him. But she must be making money because Frankie doesn't let people stay for free.
Frankie's apartment has tall bongo drums and milk. Milk is everywhere: a half-liter of red-capped whole on the floor, a quarter-filled bottle on a table, a near-empty plastic tumbler on the cheap rolling chair. Frankie speaks slow and falls asleep while talking. He's done a lot of dope. His building is a crack building and his neighbors don't like him much. He's been raided and he's due for another. Every now and then, his heels, standing on the backs of his slippers, crunch heroin syringes scattered on the floor. Neecy's fine and will be back soon, he says. She just went out.