I've posted about Tina many times. I've said that she is small; she is sick; she doesn't back down from a fist fight; she believes in revenge, and she believes in family. I've said that she and her cousin Liz remind me of a pair of leathery old cowboys, bones smashed almost to dust from all the hard falls they've taken, still riding the same sad, few streets of Baltimore with death, for each of them, almost visible on the horizon.
Somewhat more prosaically, I've also said that Tina's mother tried to hang her when she was still in elementary school and that Tina believes she was infected with HIV by the aunt who regularly injected her with heroin when she was 14. I haven't written how she became a prostitute because I've never asked her that. Anyway, I think I already know. A poor family like Tina's doesn't spend daily heroin money on little girls without a reason, and what more efficient, economical reason can there be than to keep them compliant for their tricks?
Another thing I haven't written about was how much Tina loves her sister. They're close in age, and although the sister was the favored child, she was still abused more than enough for Tina to cling to her and love her. Tina's sister got the heroin injections too, of course, prostituted, got HIV and then AIDS, got sick, gotten beaten, was in and out of comas. After her children were born, she went off heroin and onto methadone so she could care for them. She married, drove a car, lived in a Section 8 house with her mother and her family. Her husband was a drug dealer and violent, but he didn't hit her or their children. On the whole, Tina's sister seemed far healthier than Tina. Still, she spent a long time in the hospital, seemed to get better, then developed some sort of strange lung infection and rapidly died. Tina's reaction has been an enormous surprise.
Tina's using fewer drugs, often far fewer, so that she can care for her nieces. Drug dealer dad is still on the scene, but Tina doesn't think too much of his parenting abilities. She's sure she can do better. The Section 8 house has already been transferred to Tina's name because, in Baltimore at least, people with HIV get faster city services. She's afraid to live there with him, but she does so anyway for the sake of the children. To a very large extent, Tina has stepped into her sister's shoes and has begun living a healthier life. I had thought her sister's death might just kill her instead.
Tina herself seems to have at least a fair understanding of how much she is helping herself by helping her nieces. She told us one day that she didn't worry too much about her own daughter because she knew her child was happy and safe being cared for by her (paternal) grandmother. All of Tina's focus now was on her sister's daughters. Then Tina said she knew she was being selfish. Of course, we assured her that she was not. It might be more accurate to say that she was being the best sort of selfish, protecting and strengthening herself through a worthwhile mission. She may have been the last sort of person Ms. Rand and Mr. Brandon were thinking of when they wrote the "Virtue of Selfishness," but she's a living example of some of their better ideals.
Faced with tragedy, Tina did not give in. She did not accept merely surviving from day to day, hoping only to avoid greater pain. Tina has a project. She has love. She has a deep desire to impose her will on her own ugly little corner of the world and make it a better place. Despite all her many wounds, Tina is just plain strong. She makes me feel the way I did when I was 14: that there will always be a great love to be had, something important to do, a big fight to be won. All those romantics who used to write about the indomitable human spirit should be so lucky as to meet someone like Tina.