Heroin (and Heartache)

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

Smart, funny, and charming, Terry is rail thin, with the energy of a clock wound too tight. In combat boots and a dirty undershirt, he exudes a combination of raw sexuality and fearlessness. His right forearm reads "Irish Pride," his knuckles say FUCK. A local college girl, smoking an unfiltered Camel, a vine tattooed around her ankle, stands near him one evening. "I see him around here all the time," she says. "I just want to take him home."

Terry's story is similar to many you hear on the streets: "My mom's an addict. I think my father's still in prison. They beat me and locked me in my room when I was a kid. I've been on and off the streets since I was 12." After his second shot at the ninth grade, he left school, and married at age 17. Now 22, he's got a wife and four-year-old son in L.A. "I'd have no problem e-mailing her," he says of his wife. "But she doesn't want to have any contact. She's tired of me getting high." The patch on his ripped camouflage pants reads, "No government can ever give you freedom." Then again, neither can a bad heroin habit.

Drugs

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Terry rattles off the drugs he's used over the years: "PCP, ketamine [an animal tranquilizer], nitrous, methamphetamine, Robitussin, marijuana, crack, alcohol—they all fuck up your brain." And, of course, heroin. "Heroin does not affect your brain at all," he claims. "It makes me feel so good, it's the best feeling in the world."

"The thing with heroin," says Juliet, "is you use it a couple days on and then take a couple days off, so you don't get hooked." Once Juliet left him, Terry started using every day. Now she's reducing his intake, the first step in getting him clean. By Monday, she has him down from six bags a day to two, and she's shooting half of each bag herself to further cut his intake. She has substituted pot, alcohol, downers, anything to keep him high and ease the comedown. "Last night we shot some really good coke," he says with a smile. If she can get him down to a bag of heroin a day, she can take him to her parents' house in New Jersey, far away from Tompkins Square. A week in the isolation of south Jersey and the worst of the cravings will pass.

A Summer Day

It is late on Tuesday afternoon. A hot breeze rustles the oak leaves above the aging homebums sprawled on the benches, wet circles under their armpits. Most days are spent like this: A loose circle of travelers, punks, and junkies lounges on the grass. Nic, a tall, introspective traveler, is lying against his pack, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, talking with Juliet about their days in New Orleans: "Those fuckin' kids from New Orleans were wild! They just drank all the time, stayed fucked up, fighting and acting stupid."

Charles, one of the few African Americans on the scene, saunters over with a bag of dope. Someone helps him hit a vein and he relaxes, his face flushed, and he begins to recite a poem he wrote about a black cat stalking him as he walks the streets. A paranoid woman dressed in black is complaining about the city shelters: "They treat you like a fucking baby. You gotta get up when they tell you, eat when they tell you."

"Just like a fuckin' baby, like a three-year-old," adds Juliet. "They make you pray, the Covenant House in New Orleans, they got all these rules you got to follow. I was there like two days and I left."

Terry is leaning against her, their hands and legs intertwined. Their packs with all their worldly possessions are on the ground nearby. Juliet decides he needs to shave, finds a razor and some soap, and together they walk to the fountain erected in 1891 by the Moderation Society. The four sides read, Charity, Faith, Hope, Temperance.

Juliet begins to lather up Terry's face when the patrol car pulls up. "You can't shave here," calls out a beefy female cop from the passenger seat. "This is a public water fountain, not a bathroom."

"The bathrooms are closed," says Juliet. "We're just trying to get cleaned up."

"You don't leave now, I'm gonna give you a summons. And you probably don't have ID on you, which means I run you through the system. You want to go to jail?"

"Hey, no problem, we're leaving," says Terry, then under his breath to Juliet, "I just got busted last week [for shooting up on the sidewalk]. I can't go back to jail."

"Where you from?" the cop demands of Juliet.

"New Jersey."

"Why don't you go back to Jersey if you don't like it here? Go back to Jersey."

On the grass Juliet gently shaves Terry using water from a kit given out by the local needle exchange. Two white kids from Vermont saunter over looking for someone to score for them. A few minutes later the girl is sitting alone, crying softly by herself. The Puerto Rican rumberos on a bench nearby are pounding out rhythms on their congas, their call and response to the spirits filtering through the air.

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