Chris Arnade Photography

How to turn a kitten into ten hits of heroin

image(Eric and Sonya with Boo Boo)

Before going into detox Eric and Sonya had asked me to watch their two cats. I took the kitten, Boo Boo, home and Cassie Rodenberg took the mother, Moba, to her apartment.  I was unsure when or if they would return.

For the next week Cassie and I would tiptoe through the muck accumulated in front of their basement apartment to see if they had returned. The smell was so overpowering that we would flip a coin to see who would have to go.

A week later I received a call. Eric was back and looking forward to seeing the cats.

I returned them the following day. My family had fallen for the kitten, and was worried about her safety. I had offered to pay to keep the cats but Eric was firm, “I hate to break your kids’ hearts, but no amount of money can separate us from our cats. She is special to us.” They had lost their three kids to the state, they were not going to lose their cats.

It was a positive sign. Maybe this time they were serious about getting clean and getting out of Hunts Point.  They also needed the kitten for money. Sonya panhandled with Boo Boo in her lap in front of an Upper East Side pet store.

When I came back after the detox the apartment was worse than when they had left it, worse than I had remembered it. Water dripping from above had accumulated in their absence; the entire front was under an inch of sewage.  A live wire dangled from the ceiling, giving off sparks. The bedroom was a tangle of dirty clothes, jars of urine, books, and needles. I left the cats. I had given my word.

Eric stayed clean for two days, or maybe only one.  Sonya never made it through detox. She was ejected after an altercation.

image(Ten packets of heroin)

Over the next two days Eric called to talk. He was focused on getting straight and was disappointed that Sonya was still using. He spoke of fixing the apartment.  He made some adjustments, turning the live wires into an entry light.

This Sunday night he called again. Did I still want the kitten? Yes. Can you come now? Really, well hurry please.

Sonya looked much better, her hair clean from a shower in detox. Eric was intense. He would alternate pounding a wall with a sledgehammer and holding the kitten. He showed me his birthday gift from the prior day, a collected works of Shakespeare.

I gave them the hundred dollars, their usual take for a day of hustling. I was overpaying, but I was hopeful that some might be used to get out.

Eric made a call then slipped outside. Five minutes later he had ten bags of heroin, a bundle. In five more minutes three of the bags were in his body.  Sonya followed, shooting three into her.  The speed was jarring. I had the kitten and Eric and Sonya had sixty dollars worth of sedatives in their blood.

Hopefully the rest will be saved. Eric spoke of trying to sell it. I doubt it lasted beyond the next hour.

image(Eric shooting up)

I drove the kitten home, leaving the mother cat with them. They needed her to get pregnant, to have more kittens to sell.

When my family wakes it will have a sweet kitten with a safer home.  When Eric and Sonya wake they will be strung out, wanting more dope, and without the kitten they loved so much.

I have been accused of exploitation in my work, on preying on the desperation of the addicted.  I don’t usually agree. This time I do.


Writings by Cassie Rodenberg: White Noise

My photo series on addiction: Faces of addiction



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