Vanessa, thirty-five, had three children with an abusive husband. She “lost her mind, started doing heroin,” after losing the children, who were taken away and given to her mother. The drugs led to homelessness and prostitution. She grew up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, but now spends her time in Hunts Point, “trying to survive everyday. Just doing whatever it takes.”
She was standing on the cold street corner looking for business, wearing only flip flops and smoking with her two friends. When I asked her how she wanted to be described, Mary Alice jumped in and said “She’s the sweetest woman I know. She will give you the shirt off her back, if she has one on.”
Garbage clustered along the side of the street, driven by the rain towards the drains. The scrap yards and auto shops were closed. Half the street-lamps were broken.
Jay sat alone. A yellow tag from a hospital visit long ago was attached to the handle of his wheelchair.
A white sheet hid him from nothing: Nobody had reason to turn down this street.
“Sir, are you ok? Do you need me to take you to a shelter?”
“No. I am fine. Just sitting here. This blanket and tarp keeping me dry.”
“You sure? I can call somebody to come take you to either the hospital or a place to stay dry.”
“No, please. I am fine. Really fine.”
A light went off underneath, throwing the shadow of a crack pipe onto the sheet.