Aida was once very beautiful. All the addicts say it. “If you don’t look at the hole in her neck, at the tube coming out of her stomach, and look at her eyes, you can still see the beauty.”
“She used to walk down the street with her sweet four year old, holding hands. Then she started using and she lost everything.”
Aida couldn’t talk, but gestured for money.
Her hospital band, still on her wrist, gave details. Admitted to a nursing home weeks ago, born forty years ago.
“She does this all the time. She leaves a hospital, does drugs for two or three days, then collapses and we call the ambulance. Don’t bother calling now, she won’t go.”
I took her picture. She insisted, and so did her friends. I didn’t want to.
Nikki, her friend of many years, “People need to see this. Need to see what our awful lives are like.”
I hugged Aida. Her fragile body was wet in my hands. The smell from her, of rotting flesh, overpowered me.
I went behind my car and vomited. Then I cried.
Aida is still beautiful.
4. J Lo
“I’m like a walking corpse. I just want it to end already. I don’t have dreams no more.”
J Lo, 40, was raised in a middle class home in Florida, where she was born to parents addicted to heroin, who both later died of AIDS. At 30, she journeyed to Hunts Point to bury a family member and stayed, where she began abusing drugs and doing sex work. Initially, she worked in a neighborhood factory. “I was coming out of the paper factory with a check for $68, when a guy pulled up and said ‘how much?’ I said, ‘how much do you usually fucking pay?’ He said, ‘$100.’ I said, ‘$125.’ And then he gave it to me, and I said, ‘oh shit, it’s this easy?'” Heroin followed, as did a long-term relationship with a man she calls her enabler.
“When I started doing heroin, I guess my body remembered it from my parents. It was easy for me to catch on. I’m at the point where I don’t understand it. I just want more.” About herself, she said, “I’m very kindhearted, naive at times. I’m lost and scared.”