Heroin (and Heartache)

A Young Couple Struggles With Love, Addiction, and Loyalty in Tompkins Square

Terry has two loves. One is Juliet, a pretty 25-year-old with a baby face and a voice like gravel. His other love is the white powder he shoots into his veins. Juliet has gone and come and is going again. Heroin doesn't give much love back, but if you've got $10 in Tompkins Square Park, it's always there for you.

Juliet loves Terry too, but she wants to be alone. She's been in relationships constantly since she was 16. She has frequently measured herself—defined herself—by a man. "I want to find out who I am now," she says. In early June, the couple parted ways, saying their goodbyes in Tompkins Square, where they met a year ago. He was supposed to be heading to Boston. She left for Jersey to see her family before traveling again ("I might hitchhike to Philly and hop a freight train to Wisconsin"). Believing Terry was long gone, she passed through New York one last time in mid June.

"They told me Terry was still here," she says. "I knew right away he was strung out." She found him on a park bench, dirty, thinner than ever, with a six-bag-a-day habit. "I have to get him clean before I leave," she says. "If I leave him now, he'll get in really deep." Getting him clean won't be easy—the sooner he kicks heroin, the sooner he loses her. Then he'll be left with no love at all.

Juliet (left) with Terry: "If I leave him now, he'll get in really deep."
photos: Michael Kamber
Juliet (left) with Terry: "If I leave him now, he'll get in really deep."

This is a story about four days in the lives of two individuals. They have much in common with New York's quarter-million heroin addicts, with thousands of homeless living on city sidewalks, with the hundreds more travelers stealing into the city each spring with the first warm breezes. Still, their lives and their story are unique; they are a young couple at a turning point in their struggle with love, loyalty, and addiction on the streets of the East Village.

Terry and Juliet

"Hey, you wanna come back to my sleeping bag?" Terry asked Juliet last May, in what passed for their courtship. He was a homeless gutter punk from the West Coast, a brawler and drinker, in and out of jail. She was an art school dropout from Jersey, hanging out with the travelers, punks, and wannabes who populate a narrow band of the East Village from 8th and Broadway over to the East River.

A few weeks later they were headed out on the road. "He taught me to hop trains," she says. "He took me all over the United States. I'm a lot more outgoing now—I was really quiet, shy when I met him." With Terry as her guide, she became part of a loosely connected nationwide community of young homeless travelers, many of whom are now her best friends.

She, in turn, nurtured and grounded him. "Before I met Juliet, I never had a reason to stay clean," says Terry. "I'd make it to a city and spend half my time in jail—resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, stupid shit." Since they met, he's spent only a few days in jail, in New Orleans. She panhandled to bail him out.

Juliet stands five feet tall. In a torn tank top, wisps of purple hair peeking out from under a bandanna, she looks like a vulnerable teenager. And there is a youthful sweetness to her (when, one afternoon, her friends want to dispatch a wounded pigeon by smashing its head against a tree, she spends half an hour tending to it before it dies). Yet she has been toughened by her time on the streets, the drugs and the violence, and the men who have tried to persuade her to trade her body for money or food or a ride down the highway. [see page 36]

Her face is punctuated by large rings through her nose and lower lip. In moments of quiet, she idly picks at an abscess on her right arm; a dozen other circular scars—self-inflicted cigarette burns—form a large horseshoe on her forearm. "It brings me clarity," she explains.

A middle-class kid from a stable family, she is on the streets, she says, because "I always rejected middle America. Nobody questions anything. Why are things the way they are? Everybody says it's so, so it is. I hate that. Me, I have no set way of thinking. I'm just gathering facts."

"I need a break from relationships in general," she says, speaking of her desire to leave Terry once she gets him clean. "I still love Terry, but . . . life is about new things. We had a lot of fun, getting drunk in the squats in Arizona, riding the freight trains—ending up in some bumfuck town in the South. He's looked out for me. I want the best for him. But he's completely self-destructive, he fucks up everything. Terry wants security and commitment. . . . I want to get better at my art, travel, see other countries."

"I really can't live without her," Terry says, sitting alone on a park bench one afternoon. "She's my other half. I've been with her every day for a year; we've shared everything. I married heroin first. But I love Juliet more than anything—I don't know how I'm going to go on without her."

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