As several of the quotes and fieldnotes have suggested, most of the young women construct their relationships romantically. They see themselves as falling in love. As Carla notes above at the end of her description of the injection risks faced by novice women, “everybody wants to be in love with someone.” Unlike most of their middle-class adolescent counterparts in the suburbs, girls in the Haight are not simply pursuing harmless crushes. Instead they are mired in abusive relationships that are cemented by physical and psychological addiction. Their surrounding environment is shaped by physical and sexual violence as well as by an inconsistent level of police enforcement that keeps them unstable and intermittently on the run. Romantic love, consequently, becomes a central mechanism of the symbolic violence that misrecognizes male domination and violence against women and renders it the woman’s fault.
Heather’s account of trying to break up with her boyfriend emphasizes how her choice becomes one of tolerating the direct physical violence of her lover versus chronic sexual harassment or rape from street-based acquaintances, but she still insists on asserting that she loves her boyfriend:
Prince’s Fieldnotes August 30’ 2001
Cad beat Heather up so badly last week that she actually left him. It was nighttime and she had no blankets. She eventually found someone willing to share his blankets with her, but she woke up halfway through the night with the guy’s hands up her shirt and had to run away.
The next morning she made up with Cad and when she told him about what happened the night before he went and beat up the guy, but his battered victim turned out to be the wrong person.
This then caused another huge fight between Cad and Heather, which took place right in front of me. They were yelling into one another’s faces.
At one point Cad turns to me and hisses, “I want to kill her.” Heather shouts back defiantly “You are crazy.” Worried that it was going to escalate to blows I manage to get Heather to walk away with me by offering her an ice cream cone.
She is upset repeating over and over “I love him, Bridget I really do”
When Prince visited Hurricane while she was in jail for burglary for six months they conducted a soul-searching interview about addiction, violence and recovering from drugs. Hurricane, however, made sure to periodically pepper the serious and otherwise moralistic interview with adolescent girl talk. Once again, if the stakes were not so high and the class setting so different she might sound like any of her middle class counterparts in the suburbs: a bored adolescent girl with boys on her mind:
Prince Fieldnotes December 5 2001
Hurricane is enrolled in a GED program in the jail and has earned the privilege of going to the Law Library twice a week. She seems excited by that and when I ask her to elaborate her eyes light up and she says “BOYS!”
Hurricane identifies as a strong woman who refuses to be controlled by her boyfriends. Nevertheless, she considers it to be a sign of love and commitment when one of her boyfriends beats her up for going off with a female friend to inject heroin without him. She speaks almost with pride about the fact that “He doesn’t like it if he catches sight of me with somebody else: Once he strangled me until I passed out. He grabbed my shirt and threw me on the ground and started choking me.” Even though Hurricane is often critical of the way other women submit to violence in their relationships she sees herself as deeply in love with her violent man. Her romantic vision is a contradictory survival strategy under conditions that make it difficult for her to leave the relationship. Being in love shields her from acknowledging the abuse of the relationship while simultaneously trapping her inside it.
The everyday interpersonal violence that all the young women participate in forces them to try to appear to be tough, streetwise addicts. Consequently it is easy to forget the adolescent emotional turmoil that embroils the youngest ones. For example, we watched Calamity’s substance abuse patterns change a half dozen times when she broke up with boyfriends. On one occasion, she actually ceased using drugs for several weeks by establishing a relationship with a boyfriend who violently disapproved of injection drug use:
But he wound up dumping me for this junkie prostitute named Duchess, who he met on Polk Street. Last I heard they had gotten married in Reno.
So there I am single again. I move back into my dads trailer. That’s when I met Lee and started using heroin on a regular basis…
In these love-torn abusive conflicts the women start to appear almost as though they deserve the violence of the men that they fall in love with because they do it over and over. It is easy to forget about their childhoods of abuse and economic marginalization; as well as their current context of addiction and the omnipresent imperative of police repression exacerbating their social isolation:
Prince’s Fieldnotes March 5 2002
I see Hurricane for the first time since my last visit to her in jail three months ago where she was stalking “boys” in the jail library. She has just bought heroin. She immediately tells me that she broke up with Cad because he blackened both her eyes; hit her over the head; and then held her at knifepoint in the camp for six hours.
“But I’m sort of thinking of going back to him. We’ve been hanging out together again. He knows now that I will leave him if he does it again. It was only the speed that made him do it.”
I tell her that she “deserves better than that” and I am about to discuss her pattern of violent lovers when a police car passes.
“See you, Bridget. I gotta get out of here right now before that cop car turns around. [Calling over her shoulder as she runs] Come see me in China Basin!”
Outreach workers often discuss with frustration the equation between love and violence that Calamity epitomized in the opening quote: “the harder he hits you, the more he loves you.” They often despair of being able to help women and girls who keep returning to abusive boyfriends in the name of love. It is easy in this context to give up and leave a woman to the self-destructive vagaries of her heart. It almost becomes a defense mechanism for social workers facing burnout (Connolly 2000
). When a woman or girl insists on remaining with an exceptionally violent man she is generally left alone because, as Prince is told in the opening epigram, “It’s her fight, that’s the deal. We can’t get involved.”