Death on the streets is never certain. An absence, even after leaving in an ambulance, even after leaving in an ambulance in a coma, even after leaving in an ambulance in a coma after shooting up a damn good bag, has other explanations.
Gone to visit her parents, well not her birth parents, but her foster parents, the ones who treated her right and prayed. They were strict but good people.
Living upstate, married to a good man, a former trick, he had a house he wanted to take her to. He never did drugs himself.
When you die homeless, when you die on the streets, a bureaucracy that needs phones and computers and papers to deal with, swallows the reasons and rumors fill the void.
Jackie left Hunts Point late on August 8th, a Friday night, in an ambulance, after doing some heroin, or maybe it was only pills, or maybe both, or maybe none, or maybe who the fuck knows.
She died later that night.
Her body is at the city medical examiner waiting to be claimed, waiting for a toxicology report to determine exactly why she died.
In Hunts Point she died from asthma attack, died from overdose, died from the lupus she had, lupus that scarred her face with huge red patches (or was that just from a bag of bad shit?), died from everything. Or maybe she is in rehab. Maybe she is upstate with the trick.
Her body lays in a freezer, a small tag attached to her, BX #XXXX, the number a tally of all those who died before her in the Bronx in 2014. It will lie there until claimed by someone who has the right papers and knows the system.
It might be her mother, but nobody has told her because she is in a hospital. The news might kill her. No, she never had a mother. Maybe her sister who is trying to raise $300 to bury the body. That ain’t her sister that is her stepsister from a foster home — I know that cause we shared a cell together once. It won’t be her kids, they are all scattered, names changed, living their own lives. It won’t be P, her pimp, not yet. He is holding onto her papers so he can collect her checks.
In three months, if nobody claims her, she will be shipped to Hart Island and buried in a big trench with a million other unclaimed bodies.
Homes, the ones with electricity and computers and internet and TVs and people who cook you dinner and people who don’t steal your checks and people who don’t do drugs. When you die in those homes the people who cook your dinner, the people who don’t do drugs, after crying and mourning for you, they get on their computers and they use their phones and they claim your body and they bury you. Or cremate you. They tell newspapers and funeral homes and they write about you on facebook or maybe they tattoo your name on their arm. Your friends from high school, your relatives, co-workers, gather and remember you, telling stories over drinks. They respect you in whatever way they respect the dead.
Bodies gone become memorials. Memorials that solidify memories, that add a certainty to them, that helps them survive.
When you die on the streets, the material part, whatever little there was, is held temporarily in a public place that is private. Then it emptied onto an isolated island. It is entirely and absolutely gone.
With nothing to ground them, the memories dissipate, growing larger and more diffuse, expanding into nothingness. Only friends hold them. The memories, everything that was you, dies when they die.
PS: When I first met Jackie, over two years ago I asked her what her dream is. “I want to get my GED, become a nurse, and get my kids back. I just want my kids.”