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  • Joanna

When Trey Tried His Best


A note to our fellow Anxiety Addicts: please don’t get worried about this story, nobody gets hurt and Trey never gets caught and he actually does live happily ever after.

Trey doesn’t pretend that he was making particularly terrific life decisions in his late teens and early twenties. He’d had a tough childhood without much in the way of good role models. But, he was a tenacious kid. He’d scraped his way through adolescence and even managed to get his associate degree in the two years that Roxbury Community College promised. He’d worked in restaurants since he was fifteen and had found a legit calling in a professional kitchen. That realization gave him a sense of purpose that he’d never known existed and he’d sincerely committed the last three years to becoming an improved version of himself. But, it wasn’t easy.

So, we meet him here, in Philly, as a twenty-five-year-old man turning over a new leaf. He’d gotten further than he’d ever imagined. He was accepted into a well-respected culinary academy, had bought a brick townhouse in an up-and-coming neighborhood, and was a year into a relationship with Chelsea,  a taller-than-him musician whom everyone agreed was “fabulous.” There was just one piece of his old life that he couldn’t quite shake. And, for good reason: it paid for his comforting and comfortable world. It was the early 2000s. And Trey was selling weed.

He wasn’t some insane kingpin, knocking down people’s doors with handguns or henchmen, but, his business revolved around, at least by the laws of the federal government, a substantial amount of ganja. 

Life was better than ever. His dream was to finish school, find a job as a pastry chef, and then make his mark on the industry. He liked to daydream about starring in his own cooking show and traveling to France with a secret chocolate recipe, sure to blow the minds of the famous pastry chefs in Paris. Sure, that would have been a wildly successful trajectory for a poor kid from Dorchester but that was the thing about Trey: he knew how to dream his way through tough circumstances. Smoking very high-quality bud didn’t hurt, either. And, despite growing up with parents who couldn’t be in the same room together, his personal life was thriving. 

Chelsea was everything he could have asked for and more: a talented violinist with the drive to get her Real Estate license and pay off her student loans three times faster than she originally thought. They were young adults, spending their weekends going out to brunch and fixing things around the house, and, upon Chelsea’s insistence, going to animal shelters to find their perfect fur baby. Life was peaceful, predictable, and cozy; exactly what they both needed. It would have been absolutely idyllic if you didn’t think about Trey’s business needs.

Now, pot smokers are not exactly hard-core drug users. This was before legalization and dispensaries. Trey managed to cultivate a very safe-feeling clientele. Mostly, they were Boomers his parents’ age, college professors, and graduate students. It’s not like he was meeting shady people in dark alleys or needed to carry a Luger for protection. No. The majority of Trey’s transactions happened in living rooms and libraries and he was often invited into the kitchen for an espresso and a smoke. Other than it being, like, super illegal, it was a great gig. Minus the drives a few hours North to re-up with his main supplier, Trey was able to stick to the greater Philadelphia area, pay off his mortgage, and keep himself in culinary school. Did Chelsea know about this?

Look, Chelsea was coming off of a tough few years herself and Trey was her knight in shining armor. He had the build of someone who spent a lot more time in the gym than he actually did. He projected an easy smile and was a homebody like herself. Nothing made Trey happier than cooking her dinner and checking the mailbox for the latest Netflix DVD. He was the perfect cuddler, his long, strong arms wrapping around her on their plaid Macy’s sofa. He loved The Cartoon Network and they’d eat his perfect rigatoni bolognese sitting in front of Family Guy. Yes, of course, this sounds like the ideal activity for a perpetual stoner. But it was also exactly what Chelsea needed. There was only one hiccup:

While Chelsea saw her boyfriend through perfectly rose-tinted glasses, her parents did not. They’d been around the block a few more times than their wide-eyed daughter and didn’t share Chelsea’s view of her boyfriend. It was clear to them that this young man was a tough kid from a tough neighborhood looking to reinvent himself. They saw his issues magnified as if they were flags being pulled behind the Goodyear Blimp. (Not exactly subtle.) They worried their daughter was trying to fix Trey into the perfect guy. And we all know how that situation turns out. It was November which meant Thanksgiving which meant a trip to Chelsea’s hometown outside of New Haven.

The young couple hopped into their shared Ford Explorer to make the drive up the coast, getting up at the crack of dawn to avoid the holiday traffic.

“So, listen,” Trey began as he pulled onto 91, “I have to make a stop on the way and replenish my stock.” Chelsea did such a thorough and excellent job of compartmentalizing her boyfriend’s extracurricular activities that it took her a few seconds to acknowledge what exactly he was trying to say.

Oh yeah, she thought to herself, the weed.

“Oh, that’s fine!” Chelsea replied, way, way, WAY too affirmatively. She told herself and her friends and her parents and really anyone who asked or didn’t ask that Trey was in sales as a way to fund his education and who could fault him for that? He never acted like a creepy drug dealer and she knew that one of his “clients” was recovering from cancer which made him, in her eyes, nothing less than a modern-day Robin Hood. Saving lives. Almost a doctor. Actually, better than a doctor because he was giving people a medicine that even a licensed physician couldn’t prescribe.  

Wow, Chelsea could justify anything. What young love will do to a person…

After a few minutes of driving, the more rational part of her brain overruled the love-obsessed side,

“But, that’s like, safe… right?” 

Trey looked over at Chelsea who looked like a young Yasmine Bleeth from the original Baywatch, and gave her the smile that had gotten him out of more sticky situations than he could count. 

“It’s totally safe. It will be in a suitcase in the back of the trunk. Maybe two.”

“Oh, ok, great!” Chelsea sang with a smile on her face and a very uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.

But this was their relationship. Trey mostly protected his girlfriend from his, well, sales, and she pretended that their life was perfect. It had worked for a while. And she was determined to show the absolute best parts of both of them and their relationship to her family. She would win their approval no matter what it took. And, as we already told you about Chelsea McPhearson, she was nothing if not a determined young woman.

The large drug deal pit stop took place at nothing more than a modest split-level ranch home in a quiet suburban neighborhood a few miles off of the highway exit. Trey pulled the Ford into a two-car garage after pressing a code on the side of the building. Once inside, the dark, dank smell of the skunky herb was impossible to ignore. Chelsea felt her entire body freeze as a man with a very 90s Luke Perry look walked in and gave Trey a nod. Trey got out of the car, did one of those handshake, back-pat things that guys do, and went to-  what Chelsea guessed was- to inspect the merchandise.

Chelsea sat in the car, trying her best to look both nonchalant and relaxed about what was happening in her trunk.  Should she get out? Introduce herself?  This was, really, Trey’s business associate… right? Maybe he was even… his boss? Chelsea realized that she didn’t know how employer relations worked on the black market. From what she could surmise, the men seemed friendly-ish and comfortable around each other. They slammed the trunk shut, came around to the front of the car, and Chelsea watched her boyfriend pull out the thickest stack of hundred dollar bills that she had ever seen in her life.

She gasped involuntarily. 

Oh.. this is what he does? 

Yes, she was smart, educated, and had endured her own hardships so had some knowledge of the real world, but she had never seen this side of Trey and was stunned by the transaction. She tried to check herself.

Wasn’t Trey using this work to make his life better? Wasn’t he creating a life for them? Why was it up to the lawmakers to decide how this sweet, sexy, gentle man made his money?

Before Chelsea could force herself to honestly reckon with any of these questions, Trey was back in the driver’s seat, backing out of the garage. He reached over and squeezed his girlfriend’s knee. She threw on a gigantic smile and spastically waved goodbye to the drug dealer standing in the driveway as if he were a grade school buddy with whom she’d just finished a playdate.  

They made it up to New Haven in, well,  not exactly record time. Clearly aware of the consequences of a cop pulling them over, Trey went exactly the speed limit, spending more time in the right-hand lane than he did when he wasn’t hauling an enormous amount of contraband in his Explorer. Chelsea tried very hard to reassure herself that they didn’t reek of marijuana, and her anxiety imagined her and Trey pulling up to her parent’s house with a visible green stench trailing behind them. This didn’t happen. Something else did.

When they finally arrived, it was clear to Chelsea that possibly both of her parents, but, most definitely her father, had an agenda. The way he shook Trey’s hand in the vestibule of the old house conveyed zero warmth and a huge amount of, “this is my house and my daughter and don’t-fuck-with-me” -type energy. Trey was sensitive to other people’s emotions. Even if he wasn’t, the parental disapproval was pretty obvious. Chelsea silently prayed that everyone would loosen up as the long weekend got underway.

That night, the conversation at the dinner table sounded more like an interrogation room at the headquarters of the FBI. 

“Where do you see yourself in five years? And what did you get your degree in? And what kind of placement does the culinary school offer after graduation? And.. Do you even have a job right now?”

Chelsea dug her nails into her palms under the table, unable to touch her mother’s roast for the first time in her life. She tried not to look at Trey, as it would just make the whole room even more uncomfortable. She willed someone to change the subject. But, Trey kept his calm. Maybe because he was secure, confident, and full of love for his girlfriend. Or maybe it was because he was high as fuck. Who knows?

“I’m on track to have quite a few employment options,” Trey responded in his gravelly drawl that sounded so, so sexy to Chelsea but clearly irritated the people who brought her into this world. 

“I’m the top of my class for pastries and my instructor has already made some great introductions. I was in sales before culinary school, made some good investments, and that’s paying my mortgage now. Everything is great,” he smiled and reached over to hold Chelsea’s hand that was now close to bleeding from her nails.

“Well, that sounds like a great plan. Who would like some more pot roast?” Chelsea’s mom jumped in with an overly positive tone. 

And that’s how dinner went. Chelsea insisted that she clean up as the rest of the table retreated to the den to watch the news, and, then, of course, Planes, Trains, And Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy, which the family had watched every Thanksgiving for as long as Chelsea could remember. Trey was definitely in the right mindset to enjoy this film.

As her parents were dusting off the DVD and getting the movie-watching blankets out of the storage ottoman, Trey wandered into the kitchen to help Chelsea. She handed him the dried platters and dishes and he looked through cabinets trying to put them away in their correct home. 

“Over there,” she laughed as he opened the wrong drawer for the sixth time. “No, there,” and she pointed to the cabinet above the oven. Instead of space for the roast pan, there was a cookie tin. Trey pulled it out to make room for the dish in his hands. And then, because he was high, he opened it, looking for a cookie. But there were no cookies in the tin. There was weed. And, because Trey was basically an expert when it came to this specific plant, he knew that it was really old, really gross, and really shitty bud.

Without a word to his girlfriend, he put the roast pan exactly where she directed and placed the cookie tin over it. The family then settled in to laugh comfortably at Steve Martin’s constant exasperation with his traveling companion and then said goodnight which consisted of big hugs and kisses for Chelsea and another stern handshake for Trey. But Trey wasn’t worried. He’d gotten this far in life by perfecting a couple of life skills. One was reading people. And the other was always having a plan. And that Wednesday night of Thanksgiving weekend, Trey The Stoner Pastry Chef had both.

Around midnight, when everyone else in the house was asleep, he gently pulled his arm out from under Chelsea, made his way over to his duffel bag, and then crept downstairs. 

Now, this is a good time to note the layout of the house because Chelsea’s parent’s bedroom was on the first floor, right off of the kitchen. His proximity to them and the metal cookie tin on top of the metal roast pan was not a recipe for silent success. But Trey was calm, he was patient, and a few minutes later had managed to complete his task and pad his way back to Chelsea’s bedroom without waking her anyone in the house.

Thanksgiving Day was no more comfortable than the dinner the night before. Chelsea’s dad continued with his questions and was unfortunately rooting for the opposing football team to Trey. 

Finally, noon rolled around. Chelsea’s brother and his wife showed up from Connecticut, her mother put some holiday music on their stereo, and the tensions melted a bit between her boyfriend and father. But, it still wasn’t great. Chelsea tried to enjoy herself, her time in her childhood home, her family, but the ball of anxiety taking up space in her stomach just wouldn’t go away. She busied herself with helping her mother set the table, make the sides, keep the constant eye on the turkey, and maybe drank a little more wine than she’d planned. By the time her mother called that dinner was ready, Chelsea was emotionally exhausted.

She showed Trey where to sit, told everyone that the casserole dish was burning hot, and brought over some seltzer for her pregnant sister-in-law. Then, she finally sat down herself.

“Where is your father?” Her mother asked loudly, holding the carving knife and fork.

“I’ll be right there,” her dad called seemingly from the master bathroom. Chelsea’s brother laughed. Their father had a reputation for going to the bathroom at the most inconvenient of family times.

“Let’s all go around the table and all say what we’re thankful for.” Said her mom.

Chelsea’s father took his seat at the head while her brother got emotional about his gratitude for his soon-to-be-born son. Then it was Trey’s turn.

“I’m grateful for Chelsea, for you welcoming me into your home. And… I’m grateful for chocolate.” And with that, Chelsea’s dad burst out laughing. He cracked up until he had to wipe his eyes, finally catching his breath to say,

“Good one, Trey,” and then proceeded to carve the turkey and pile a huge amount of food onto his plate. And then... the dinner could not have gone better. Chelsea’s family took absolute delight in telling Trey all the stories of the dumb things that she did growing up. And Trey loved hearing them.

Chelsea’s father was gregarious, friendly, and a bottomless pit, eating seconds and then thirds, even high-fiving Trey when he told a joke about New Haven politics. Chelsea looked around the table. This camaraderie, this laughing, this happiness was all she wanted. And yet, something felt off. That night, in bed, she told Trey how wonderful it was seeing him get along so well with her family,

“You finally cracked my dad,” she said, snuggling into his muscular arms. Trey smiled in the dark.

“Yep, yep I did.”

Chelsea and Trey got back into the car and drove home on Friday. They had some things planned in Philly and, because of the holiday weekend, Trey’s clients were blowing up his phone asking for deliveries.

They said goodbye to her family, and the ease that Chelsea had enjoyed disappeared when she remembered what was stored in the back of their trunk. She was quiet on the ride home.

Chelsea and Trey made it almost another year together after that Thanksgiving. But she never felt the same after watching the weed deal go down in the suburban garage. When she finally broke up with Trey, she had such a hard time articulating why she was moving out. 

“I just, I just, it doesn’t feel right. I don’t know how to explain it.” But Trey got it. He knew that their lives were going in different directions and he didn’t fault Chelsea for looking for something else. And for wanting to leave Philly. But that’s where his life, his work, and his clients were. That’s right, even though he’d graduated and gotten a great position at his dream restaurant, his clients were still his clients, and Trey wasn’t yet in a place where he knew how to say no to easy money.

“Well, your dad is going to be bummed,” Trey said with a smirk as Chelsea wiped her nose.

“I know, he really liked you,” she sniffed.

Trey got up and walked over to where she sat at the kitchen table, putting his hands on her shoulders and giving them a rub. This was a mistake. Because he never got to see Chelsea’s face when he said,

“No, he just liked my weed.”

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