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FAY'S STORY

  When Fay had crack to sell she was like a kid whose father owned a candy store: suddenly, she was everybody's favorite. Hoping that she would favor them with a morsel of rock, the drug-hungry women on our block would flatter and pamper Fay. They would do her hair and nails, clean her apartment, or entertain her two-year-old son, Cordell.

  Fay was used to being spoiled. Her mother was a social worker, and unlike many of the other women in the neighborhood who got high, Fay did not have a history of abuse or neglect in her family. In Fay's stories of her childhood, her mother granted her every wish. Fay never had to clean her room, she had her own phone, she could come and go as she pleased. What Fay's mother thought of her now was a never a part of these stories.

  Fay couldn't be alone when she smoked, because she was prone to bouts of drug-induced paranoia, sometimes hiding under chairs and fighting off imaginary demons after taking a hit. Tata, or Moya, or one of the other women would have to comfort her until the high wore off. But Fay also hated the reflection of herself that she saw in the women she got high with. And so she would punish them and reassure herself by talking compulsively about her past, or her "real" friends, who always had money and light skin and good hair, like her mother. Fay's smoking companions tolerated her rants as long as goodies held out.

  Fay was often short the money that she owed her dealers, having traded away too much of her inventory in exchange for company. But the house would quickly empty out when suppliers came to collect. Sometimes, Fay would get beaten up; occasionally, her mother or her brother would come through with the money to pay her debts.

  Fay openly scorned the harsh disciplinary styles of ghetto parenting, openly modeling her own progressive attitudes on her own mother's. In the eyes of the authorities, however, letting Cordell run around with no clothes on and draw on the walls was indistinguishable from neglect. After a neighbor reported her to ACS, Fay tried to hide Cordell by farming him out to various women in the neighborhood when she knew social workers would be visiting. Fay found her son funny and smart and handsome, and she assumed that everyone else did, too. It never occurred to her that anyone would ever harm him. Eventually, he was put in foster care, pending Fay's completion of a drug-treatment program.

  Fay has made three unsuccessful attempts to get clean, once being asked to leave when she was only two months shy of graduation. In treatment, once again, she repeatedly refuses to accept that the rules that apply to other addicts apply to her as well. One behavior-modification program, in an attempt to get clients to focus on the inner life rather than rely on the impact of their outer appearance, required all female clients to deemphasize their sexuality, forgoing all tight clothing, fake fingernails, etc. Without the drugs to convince Fay that she was what she thought she should be, life without her other accessories was terrifying and unbearable. She dropped out of the program rather than relinquish her hair extensions.