Heroin (and Heartache)

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

He knows the time is near now, the time when they will be leaving the park. His enforced rehab in Jersey is closing in, and with it the end of the relationship. The night before, he had flown into a rage (for some reason that he can no longer fathom) and smashed his guitar to pieces. "I have this dream that we'll go out to Arizona. We'll live in a squat. I'll play my music and she'll do her art. I just wrecked my dream—where am I gonna get another guitar?" he asks.

The travelers ask little from society; they help each other "clean up" when necessary. Their low-cost alternative to an expensive stay in rehab is simply to go to a place where drugs are unavailable. So Juliet finds a phone booth and calls her father in New Jersey. He agrees to pick her up Thursday afternoon over on Broadway. She mentions that she has a friend she wants to bring home for a few days. Her family lives in rural New Jersey, three miles from the closest store.

The next day, Juliet again tries to get Terry through the day without dope; by early afternoon, he's jittery. "My head hurts, my stomach feels bad, I'm scared this is gonna be really bad. I'm trying to get some Klonopin [a powerful tranquilizer] or some methadone." Juliet helps him panhandle the money for one last bag.

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."

Saying Goodbye

Over on the grass, a group of hardcore travelers is gathered. Bodies, necks, and even faces are heavily inked and pierced. The air smells of sweat and beer. A tall, garrulous guy with a Mohawk is saying, "So my girlfriend gets locked up in New Orleans. While she's in, I get rid of my lice. She comes out, and I get them back. I get locked up in Arizona, I get rid of them again. I get out, she gives them back to me. I told her, 'Girl, get rid of your damn bugs.' "

"Hair lice is much harder to get rid of," says another in the group.

"Scabies," someone else calls out, "Scabies is the worst!" To this there is general agreement. Several others have scored, and they sit in a semi-circle with their needles, the row of spikes in their hands like a picket fence. Terry pulls his kit and begins to mix his dope, his hands working feverishly.

"Hey Terry, it's been a bad day," says a man with part of a syringe forced through each earlobe. "Can I get a corner of your bag—just a small shot?"

"It's my last before I kick, we're leaving for Jersey in half an hour."

"Oh, I totally understand. Try to take some pot to help you through it."

A sweet-faced kid from Boston, short on money for a fix, is sitting nearby saying plaintively to another traveler, "But I couldn't go panhandle, I had to baby-sit the rat." There's some friendly haggling over the dope, but they're friends; as bad as the need can be, they don't let it come between members of the community.

Almost in unison, Terry and the others pull back their plungers, sucking in the blood, then push the narcotic mixture smoothly into their arms. A purple-haired woman gets up to vomit casually on the grass a few feet away, then returns looking pleased.

Terry and Juliet pick up their packs. Others stand and offer embraces and advice. "Try to get a good whiskey binge going."

"Yeah, just stay drunk and smoke some weed for a few days."

"Klonopin and methadone helped me."

The couple work their way through the crowd, then walk out through the park with the light filtering softly through the trees, past the fountain reading Charity, Faith, Hope, Temperance, and head up 8th Street to meet her father. As they wait on the corner of Broadway, they're given one last summons. "Obstructing a sidewalk," this one reads, a final goodbye card from the NYPD.

"Others talk about 'the love of their lives,' " Juliet had said a few days earlier, as she stood on Avenue A. "I don't think things have to be lasting to be meaningful. It's not true that I don't love people—they're always with me, the connection is always there." If she can get Terry clean, she'll leave him with nothing, he says. Nothing but a fresh start and a broken heart. But then he never had much more than he carried on his back.

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