Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 4.3]

Because of Trey, I returned to school the next fall. I’d gotten a position as a resident assistant and was excited to be taking three advanced psychology classes. Trey didn’t start off on the best foot academically. He had to retake many of his first-year classes and his lack of interest in them hadn’t changed. Soon, Trey was skipping classes again and ratcheting up his partying antics. One party I attended mid-semester, in his new apartment, was a pretty good representation of the lot of them.

I arrived late and the first thing I saw when I walked through the door was Trey in the middle of the living room—obviously very drunk—and dancing wildly to “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Everyone at the party was jumping too and egging him on. Trey, biting his lower lip, frowning in deep concentration, squatting and bobbing with his arms straight out in front of him… never saw me enter. In a startling second, Trey dropped his pants to the floor—including his underwear—and began gyrating and popping his hips up and down so that his penis and balls flopped high in the air, then down again. Up, down, up, down, then all around in circles. Everyone was laughing hysterically and cheering. A girl looked at me with hysterical tears in her eyes and said, “He’s so hilarious!”

I suppose I could see the hilarity in Trey’s actions…maybe…if it was somebody else’s boyfriend. Stunned, mortified, and slightly frightened of who Trey was becoming, I tried to think objectively. For some reason, Seinfeld’s show came to mind. I loved that show the first season, especially Kramer; he was quirky and pretty adorable in my opinion. But, by season two, the movements and expressions that got him the most laughs had become so exaggerated and over–the-top, he’d become a caricature of himself. All the characters had eventually done that, and I stopped watching the show because it started feeling so inauthentic. I got the same uneasy feeling watching comedians who tried too hard to get laughs. They seemed kind of desperate and a little pathetic.

Sadly, I got the same feeling right then watching Trey, who by now was chasing his roommate around the room, trying to pull his pants down, too. His roommate took a sharp right, evading Trey’s grasp, and ran past me in a frenzy to lock himself in the bathroom. Trey stayed in the center of his audience. I left before he’d pulled his pants up.

I tried calling him that whole next day and finally, around 6 p.m., my phone rang. It was Trey’s roommate saying Trey had passed out in the bathroom after the party last night and hadn’t come out since. The door was locked and every time they yelled in to him to see if he was okay, Trey just yelled back to “leave him alone.” I drove right over. His bedroom reeked. There was puke on the bed and on the wall behind it and a wadded-up ball of jeans with pee and poop all over them on the floor. I stood at the bathroom door, gently pleading with him at first. When he didn’t answer, I threatened to stay outside that door forever. I threatened to call an ambulance. Finally, he opened it, walked past me to his bed, and threw himself rather dramatically onto it face down.

He cried and cried, repeating “I‘m so sorry,” and “I love you, don‘t leave me.” I managed to get him into the shower and I scrubbed him off with a washcloth as he leaned against the wall. Then I cleaned his bed and floor and took him out for something to eat. He said he was “lost” and clearly distraught because his parents were utterly disappointed in him. He then admitted he was further stressed because he’d racked up thousands of dollars on his credit card over the past year, mostly decorating his room with excessive amounts of neon, supplying liquor for everyone, and buying new clothes.

I spent a lot of time that semester giving Trey pep talks about his abilities and encouraging him to follow his graphic-design interests. I even offered to tutor him in his science classes. But he stuck with his parents’ pre-med wishes and couldn’t keep his head above water academically. I caught him lying to me on several occasions about going to class and having parties on nights he’d told me he was studying. He somehow managed to hang on and continue to the second semester. But I began losing my patience with his excuses and reluctantly distanced myself from him somewhat for the rest of the year.

Two weeks before the summer break, I broke it off with him. We spoke a bit over the summer, but his parents weren’t letting him return to school in the fall. They would let him take classes at the local community college, and if he got decent grades, they might let him come back the following year. Two others from the “Brotherhood” had flunked out their first year as well, so he spent the summer with them making up for lost “partying” time. I waitressed and took math and chemistry classes at the local community college that summer so I could take more interesting classes when I returned to school in the fall.

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