I wrote this about a year ago. After my friend and comrade Trey died of an overdose.
Last week I was taking to comrades who, like me, are around 30 about our radicalization.
9/11 jolted me into awareness of the fact that the world is a big place and that history is something that is always happening. I soon learned, in the imperialist adventures in the Middle East that America is not the good guy. And the decade was bookended by Occupy Wall Street, which cemented my passage into socialism.
I met Trey there. We talked briefly, once he questioned me and another comrade when we set up an ISO table at the encampment, but we didn’t get to know each there too well. He was dedicated, but, as happened a lot in occupy, once we were evicted we lost him.
Occupy taught me that it’s one thing to be a socialist, but you need theory and organization to be effective. Occupy lacked both of those things. Over the course of the next few years, alongside some new comrades, I started to learn what that was.
About halfway through 2012, when I had finally resigned myself to the movement’s demise, I began to talk with Trey again, first online and then in person. He was very interested in his own radicalization and full of regret over wasting any time as a liberal. He devoured book after book and always wanted to talk or debate. I had to work hard to keep up with him.
And, at the risk of glamorizing his life, he had a unique attachment to the struggle. On and off drugs and alcohol, always housing and job insecure, something he stupidly valorized, he had a material appreciation for the grind that those at the bottom of our society face. In his sober stretches, this all made him a formidable activist and a challenging comrade.
It was also in those days that he became most introspective, most plagued by the shame and guilt of the trouble that he sometimes caused others. I wasn’t there when he was at his worst, and I know that others have different memories of him because of what he put them through thanks to his addiction and illness. He confessed to me that it was these thoughts that inevitably pushed him back to drinking and using drugs.
Probably homeless or in and out of treatment for a quarter of the time I knew him, he often needed a place to crash, and he slept on my couch more times than I can count. In the mornings, as I would leave for work, he would leave too even though he knew he could stay, not wanting to be a burden if he could help it. So he would leave and give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek like he did and I wouldn’t hear from him for a few days.
As payment, he would cook, which he was pretty good at, and we would sit out on the fire escape at my place in Corryville and talk about stuff. Politics, music, Trayvon, addiction and treatment, what to learn from Occupy, Godard films, MLM. We would probably eat ice cream. He taught me my first chords on the guitar, taught me some basic scales and progressions that are still probably 90% of what I know. “I’ll teach you to play rock songs.”
Once I visited him in a halfway house on vine. He has just gotten back from a treatment center after ODing and was in good spirits. That was a time when I was going through some hard stuff in my life–a mixture of political burnout, having to abruptly move, several deaths of people around me in succession and job issues–and my friends will remember it as a time when they barely saw me in the course of a few months, the worst stretch of depression I have ever felt.
We spent an afternoon talking about what he was going through and he was interested in how I was too. The first person to directly ask about what I was going through. He told me not to fee shame over mental illness, something he was relearning with the 12 step program. I was so relieved just to tell someone what I faced and to get validation and a hug at the end of it helped immensely.
Trey is one of the few people I felt comfortable enough to talk to about those things. He was completely open and disarming and used his own vulnerability to relate to whatever it was you were going through. He helped pull me back from the edge in a real way, and I made some real changes in my life after that to become healthier.
And that winter it was Trey who helped pull me back into political work. The last major organizing we did together was around tenant work in OTR. We pulled together some very militant fliers and put up maybe 1000 of them, talked to a lot of people in the street and had a meeting where I ended up losing my shit on a landlord who came and said we were attacking him. I would not consider this successful but it was a bridge to BLM and later SA and without it, I may have never returned to active politics.
He moved away soon after and we since he was without a phone, we lost touch aside from occasionally catching up on Facebook.
Trey was furious at the conditions he saw around him and demanded that we all fight to fix it. He was a revolutionary, but he ended up being as much a victim of the system and the times as anybody else. Even so, he was beautiful and funny and kind. We became comrades together. I love him and will miss him every day.
He had the fire in him.