Walk Down Misery Street

This twisted philosophy makes it very challenging to treat drug addicts. A counselor is faced with two opposite personalities embodied in one—an oversensitive sheep and a heartless wolf. Any strong voice intonation or direct words trigger the sheep, the victim mentality—the addict is easily offended and puts his guard up. By contrast, too soft and sympathetic an approach can provoke the addict’s wolf instinct, as he becomes sneaky and angry.

Imagine the challenge of treating someone like that!

Now back to Liza.

She told me her parents used to lock her in the house so she couldn’t go out with her friends. The temptation of drugs boosted her strength and pushed her to heroic acts: Liza broke the glass windows to jump through them, she sold drugs, and she danced in a strip club. Three times, loan sharks and dealers caught her on the street and put a gun to her head.

As I listened to Liza, I imagined the streets of the New York of her youth, the areas where Italians lived, having arrived half-starved from post-war Sicily. Parents worked long and hard in pizzerias and bakeries, and their children . . . some went to college (like our director Francesca) while others became street urchins and hooligans, swelling the ranks of the well-known New York Italian mafia. Notwithstanding her years and professional achievements, Liza still retained recognizable signs of the “mischievous girl,” with prominent battle scars from growing up on the rough streets of New York.

When our mutual trust increased, she showed me the thin white lines on her arms—tracks from abscesses. The same mementos could also be seen, from her ankles to her knees, on her dark, strong legs.

Liza could be very inconstant in her relations with colleagues. She would see them as true friends, go out to lunch with them, and open up. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, she would change her mind about them and add them to her enemy list.

She was not timid, of course. I remember one evening in the middle of autumn, we had left work at the same time and walked toward the subway. The weather was lousy, with slush and a chill wind. We talked about work and complained about our director Francesca, with whom Liza had begun to clash: