Chris Arnade Photography

The Pain of Beauty

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It was dusk in early May.  The street was otherwise desolate, gray and dusty. Beauty stuck out, a splash of color, lime green tights fighting her sequined shirt for attention.

Her story was familiar, pimped early and often and a mother in and out of jail for crack. Still, she was different. She smiled almost all the time, a genuine optimism driven by hope not youth.

She was new and others were wary of her.  The community of addicts is a tight club convened by necessity and shared pain.

Beauty stayed in Hunts Point. She would sit on a wall across from a shelter, a crowd around her, talking, or walking the “track” looking for johns.

Beauty wanted love and to be loved. She wanted to trust. Anybody. Why couldn’t someone be straight, not lie? Why?

She was impulsive and driven to anger by the absurdity of authority. Consequences didn’t matter to Beauty. It made her funny as hell.

It also landed her in Rikers. She chafed until she found a girlfriend and a job in the kitchen.  She was proud to be complimented by her boss. Hell, she could even snatch a few packs of sugar to sell.

Jail brought up childhood memories in Oklahoma, of her mom braiding her hair on visiting days. She talked about going back, living with her aunt or sister. Maybe one of her boyfriends from Hunts Point would go.

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She was released clutching a bundle of letters: Men she met in jail offering to pimp her back in the Bronx. One from her sister, “Come home and see your nephew.”

As we crossed into Hunts Point, Beauty opened the window of my car and burst out, almost singing, “These are my people. The thick bitch is back!”

I offered to drive her to Oklahoma. “Maybe.”

Over a week later she sits on the wall, surrounded by friends, eyes blank, stoned. She is homeless and back to walking the streets. Beauty still smiles, but weakly.

I think back to May, when I asked her how she wanted to be described, “I’m a good person. I don’t like to see anyone down. I like to make people happy.”image


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