Heroin (and Heartache)

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

Terry had only half a bag that morning, his "wake-up bag." As Juliet cuts back his intake, he's getting dopesick; his head hurts, he's nauseous and irritable, walking in stutter steps, speed-talking in unfinished sentences. "Man, I really want . . . Pedro's out today, got good shit, Tornado, Bill did some earlier, says it's good. . . . Juliet, help me make up a $10 bag?" Juliet tries to calm him but he can't sit still. She pulls him close and gives him a hug. "All right, baby," she says, as she pulls on a filthy white thermal. "No good to show track marks when you panhandle."

They spange (beg for spare change) on opposite sides of 8th Street. They can cover twice the ground, and no one will give Juliet money if she's with a guy. "Could you spare some change?" Juliet begins to call out gently to the passing hipsters. She looks forlorn and harmless, a kewpie doll with a nose ring. Almost immediately a passerby puts some change in her hand; a moment later, another gives a dollar. She bums a cigarette from a man who stops to chat.

Across the street, Terry is a bundle of manic energy, his gutter-punk persona in overdrive, his illness making him desperate. "Hey man, hey man," he calls out, walking behind the passersby, "you got any change?" They look back in fear, or ignore him.

"Sorry," one man says softly.

"Yeah, you sure are sorry, but do you have any change?" Then, breaking into a rant: "I fucking hate that, they don't even look at me, like I don't fucking exist. I'm wasting my time here; they give the girls 10 times as much money. The guys get nothing."

Ten minutes later, Juliet has nine dollars, Terry's collected a buck-fifty. Juliet spends long minutes finding a place that will cash in the change—drug dealers don't accept quarters. In the park the heroin has been bad lately, nothing strong enough for a good nod, just enough "to get well" ("You should have been here last week, the whole park was nodding out," says Terry) and the dealers won't bring out the next batch until the old one has sold out. The dealer selling Tornado, "the good stuff," is nowhere to be found.

They buy a $10 bag of Headhunter from a woman with sores on her face and return to the grass. The white powder is emptied into two bottle caps, and water is added to each. Terry pulls the plunger from a rig (needle) and carefully mixes the heroin and water, then puts the needle back together and draws the milky solution up into the syringe, hunting around in the bottle cap for every last drop. He taps it carefully, pushes the air out, wraps a length of surgical tubing around his biceps. The vein on his forearm stands out like a swollen blue stream. He slides the needle in, pulls the blood into the syringe, then slams the mixture home.

At his side, Juliet is doing the same. She has chosen a vein in the top of her hand, but she goes too deep, piercing the underside of the vein. Her hand begins to swell with blood until there's a bulge half the size of a golf ball. She curses. Terry finds a vein in her arm and shoots her up. The needles are barely out of their arms when they undergo a pronounced shift; for the first time all day, Terry becomes calm and peaceful as he sits talking and laughing with his friends.

Fireflies glow gently about them when the female cop returns an hour later and shatters the drug-induced tranquility. "Off the grass, now!" she barks. "And take your garbage." One homeless punk doesn't move fast enough for her liking, and the cop demands the young woman's ID. In moments half a dozen officers are surrounding her, threatening arrest. After a lengthy interrogation, and after her ID is run through the computer, she is given a summons for "disorderly conduct."

Most of the punks and travelers average two to three run-ins a day with the police. The police hand out tickets like candy, running IDs at every opportunity, looking for outstanding warrants and keeping the pressure on the travelers to leave town. Rob, from Philadelphia, shows seven summonses he's received in as many days. A purple-haired woman shows a ticket for "failure to control an animal," the animal in question being the pet white rat she keeps in a box. Nic was ticketed for putting his backpack on the bench, an infraction defined in the summons as "obstructing a park bench."

On Wednesday night, Terry lay in his sleeping bag over in the park by the East River where he and Juliet sleep. As clear as day, he saw a man with an ax coming toward them through the trees. As the man drew near, he began to chop at the other travelers sleeping nearby. Terry heard their screams and saw the blood and body parts. But he was unable to move—"sleep paralysis," he calls it. He watched as the killer came closer, then stood over Juliet and raised the ax high in the air. It was then that he sat bolt upright.

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