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Tuesday, May 19, 2015





Amanda, 29, is from Brownville, NJ, population 2,383. It’s an hour from Manhattan and an hour and twenty minutes from Philly. Amanda got married at 16, then at 19, she tried to join the Army and scored 92 on her ASVAB test. Two days later, Amanda discovered that she was pregnant, however, so with her military career aborted, Amanda became a nurse and lasted as one for eight years, “I was a good nurse too.”

When Amanda was 24, her four-year-old son died of leukemia at Children’s Hospital in Camden. An intern nurse had injected him with an antibiotic to which he was allergic. "'Mommy, I’m going to die,' my son told me. 'I don’t want to die,' he said. I kept hearing that over and over and over, and that’s why I did drugs, because when you’re high, the pain goes away."

“How long have you been on heroin?”

“Three years.”

“So you only got on it when you came to Camden?”


“Did you do drugs before? Did you do coke?”

“I only smoked weed. I tried coke but I don’t like uppers.”

A year ago, Amanda’s husband of 12-years finally left her. Living on Camden streets for nearly four years, Amanda sells herself to score heroin. Since she has an aunt in Toms River, someone she can stay with, I gave her money for the bus ticket. An hour and a half later, though, I still saw Amanda wandering up and down Broadway, so I said, “I thought you were going to Toms River!”

“I bought food. I hadn’t eaten in three days.”

“There’s The Cathedral,” a soup kitchen. “You know about that. Come’on.”

“That’s where I just went, on Friday.”

“You don’t starve for three days. You can always go to The Cathedral.”

“I couldn’t go.”


“I was too busy that day.”

“Doing what?”

“Getting high,” she said rather sheepishly. We cracked up.

“You’ve got to get your priorities straight!”

“I know.” Then, “Hey, are you going to take pictures of the President?”

“No. Obama is in town?”


“I didn’t even know. Why is he coming here?!”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s coming here to hang out with you!”

“Yeah, right.”

“Where will you take him?”

“Somewhere where I can pick his pockets,” Amanda laughed.

“You should put him in a headlock.”

“Yeah, right. I’m going to fuckin’ have the fuckin’ secret service fuck me up! Beat down my ass!”

“I just heard a black woman say, ‘Obama is sexy as hell!’”

“Fuckin’ no! He’s fuckin’ definitely not!”

“You wouldn’t fuck him?”

“No, he has gray hair, and I don’t go with black guys.”

I laughed. “You don’t like black guys? But he’s half white.”

“I don’t care. There’s still the other half.”

All around us, black people were walking back and forth. Later, Amanda repeated, “I don’t like black people.”

“But you’re in Camden! There’s nothing but black people here.”

“I know.”

“You should go to Toms River and chill. Get out of this shit. Your luck is going to run out.”

“My luck is going to run out.”

“One of these days, you’re gonna be, you know, dead. This city is so fucked up.”

“That’s right.”

“It doesn’t matter how tough you are.”

“You ain’t tougher than a gun or a knife.”

“Some crazy motherfucker! Some loser!”

“Desperation is a motherfucker!”

Amanda has been beaten, stabbed and raped on the streets of Camden. She has also been locked up twice, for six and eight months.

Though I gave her money for another ticket to Toms River, I’m certain she’s still in Camden tonight, and tomorrow night.

“You know what you should do? You should write a story. You should write about three different girls and make it a book. Sex sells.”

“I just want to hear stories of how people are getting by.”

“Hey, you should take pictures of my tits! I have beautiful tits!”

For this, we had to get off Broadway. Seeing the image on my camera’s view finder, Amanda commented, “I like all the trees in the background.”

“You look like a nature girl.”

“Yeah!” Amanda laughed.



Elizabeth said...

Whoah, Linh, you have a genius for finding all the great women. They say all the wrong people are in prison. I'd say the same is true of universities.

Anonymous said...

Depends on what the objective of the university is supposed to be. Given what counts as important these days, I'd say all the right people are in universities.

Ali said...

Is that a stab wound on the left side of her belly (image right)?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ali,

I didn't ask Amanda but it sure looks that way. In fact, I see two stab wounds.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Speaking of interesting women, here are Harriet, Beth and Bonnie.


Ali said...

Do you think she'll ever leave Camden to be with her aunt?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Ali,

Even if she goes there, she'll probably come back. She was able to stay off heroin during her two stays in jail, however.

She has her network of people on the streets, and I saw her talking to several white guys. I suppose they provide her with some degree of protection.


CC said...

Pardon me for sounding like an armchair quarterback, but why didn't you buy her the bus ticket?

Not that I wouldn't have done what you did because it's a lot easier to give money than to make the effort to get a beggar what s/he really needs. I've done it many times for people who ask me for spare change, even though I knew they'd most likely spend it on drugs or booze.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi CC,

Though Amanda likely bought heroin, that's OK with me, since she would have had to sell herself to do it otherwise. And she did use some of the money to buy food.



About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I lived mostly in the US from 1975 until 2018, and have returned to my native Saigon. I've also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), a novel, Love Like Hate (2010), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six collections of poems, with a Collected Poems soon to be released from Chax Press. I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in Tokyo, London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.