middle aged man standing near a cement wall, black and white

July 7, 2022

ODE TO TROY

This one is heavy, so be prepared.

. . .

a neighbor

Troy moved into my apartment complex about four years ago. I can’t remember the exact day I met him—it may have been at a potluck gathering or out by the dumpster in our 12-car parking lot. Either way, my first impression was that he seemed like a genuine people person. He was lively and interested in getting to know me. Although his affiliations were different from my own, he was fearless in reaching across the aisle to embrace the humanity of others, no matter one’s orientation, age, gender or creed. Troy eventually became a magnet in our community, drawing people to him from all walks of life. 

. . .

a storyteller

People were drawn to Troy because, well, according to him, life was a gift. He had scars on his neck from an untreated tooth infection years before, causing a months-long hospital stay where he almost died. Troy didn’t mind talking about his scars though. In fact, he was somewhat proud of them; they reminded him to never take a single day for granted and to always treat others with kindness and hospitality. Troy had many other scars as well, both visible and invisible—each with a story to tell.  

. . .

a host

Troy was known for his creativity, and for using that creativity to bring people closer together. He loved holidays and special occasions and any reason to celebrate. He hosted pumpkin carving events for tenants during the Halloween season, always being thoughtful to supply extra pumpkins and beverages for any last minute attendees. Every Thanksgiving, he would squeeze about 20 people into his 600 square foot apartment for a harvest meal. In the winters, he would invite a handful of us to the mountain in search of Christmas trees, followed by decorating parties with copious amounts of eggnog. Last New Year’s Eve Troy invited me and our neighbor Rob to his apartment for a movie night. The movie was terrible but we had fun anyway and laughed about it for many months after that. 

Summers at our apartment complex were a slice of heaven, with Troy spearheading the set up of lawn games such as croquet and badminton. One summer he even set up an outdoor board game station and hosted a Scrabble tournament that lasted for weeks and weeks (he always seemed to beat everyone at Scrabble). He was proud of his barbecuing skills; when I turned 33 he took advantage of the mid-July weather by throwing me a surprise picnic and cooking up some very tasty ribs. Last August two of our neighbors got engaged, and yet again Troy brought out his grill to celebrate the happy couple.

. . .

a friend

As the years went on, Troy’s and my friendship grew the more we discovered just how much we had in common. We found out that both of us had lived in San Diego and San Francisco in our pasts, and both had strong ties to New Orleans as well. We called ourselves old souls. We shared a dislike for technology and a love for free things. I still remember the day when Troy found a fully functional (albeit somewhat ugly) air conditioner unit on the side of the road during Washington’s hottest summer on record. We both got excited about serendipitous moments like that. 

Troy was a bit more impulsive than me though; it seemed like every week he would come home with a new find. Whether it be a ping pong table, a massive cactus, or an abstract art piece, the free section on Craigslist was his go-to. Once in awhile he would call me to help him carry stuff in from his car; other times he would keep things a secret until the grand reveal.  As a one-time interior decorator, Troy would spend hours each week rearranging the furnishings in his apartment to make room for his novel additions. Our manager described Troy’s place as a glacier—always shifting.

. . .

a companion

Not only was Troy my friend, but he quickly became my companion, especially during the COVID pandemic. He had a way of always seeing light and being light, even in the darkest of times. His opinions about the politics of our nation and the state of our world aligned with mine, yet he was always more optimistic than me about the future.

During the early stages of quarantine, Troy and I would find ways to hang out, whether that was going on bike rides to the waterfront or taking walks around our neighborhood together. As businesses opened back up, we started getting coffee together, going to Dairy Queen, and visiting restaurants. We would take turns cooking dinners for each other, but most of the time it was Troy who did the cooking. We would work on puzzles together while watching reruns of Jeopardy! on Netflix. We took each other to our favorite spots in Vancouver; he showed me a secret beach access area and I introduced him to paddle boarding. When it snowed, the two of us made the biggest snowman we possibly could; it was a towering 6 feet tall, not including its top hat. 

Every now and then, Troy and I would go the movies together. Troy wasn’t the best at staying quiet during movies though. The last movie we saw together was Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, and we were the only two people in the entire theater. Troy kept interrupting during the serious parts of the movie to interject his opinion about something, talking as loudly as he wanted. 

One thing Troy was good at though: trivia. His brain was full of facts. He knew a lot about pop culture and history—at least more so than me. Whenever we did trivia together, we often won or got close to winning. Our team name was “Troy-cy,” and we laughed every single time the trivia leader called out our name into the microphone. 

. . .

a helper

Troy was helpful and generous to a fault. Needed a ride from the airport at 4am during a snow storm? Troy was there. Needed someone to re-dress your wounds after having back surgery? Troy did that too. Needed a cool drink and a friend to chat with after a long day? That was Troy’s specialty. Troy was reliable and predictable, but sometimes I worried about if he cared a little too much.  

Like me, Troy gushed over cute animals and enjoyed having pets (his cat, Jules, is the sweetest). Well, one Friday evening our friend Hector found an orphaned baby squirrel on the front lawn. After calling various wildlife rescue groups and getting discouraged by their after-hours automated answering systems, Troy suggested we keep the squirrel as a pet. I was upset with him because the squirrel needed critical care, but Troy was distracted by its cuteness and letting it sit on his shoulder. To his credit, he did eventually realize the seriousness of owning a malnourished wild animal, but the work involved to rehabilitate the rodent, he learned, would be an around-the-clock job. “I was just trying to help,” Troy told me shamefully. The squirrel died two days later.

Probably one of the most helpful things Troy did for our apartment community was when he warned everyone about a dead oak tree that was about to fall near the property. Him and a few others noticed the tree was cracked, so they posted signs on the tree that said “DO NOT PARK NEXT TO THIS TREE. IT IS DEAD AND ABOUT TO FALL OVER.” People spent the next day moving their cars away from the tree. When it fell over a couple days later, no one was hurt and everyone’s cars remained untouched, thanks in part to Troy. As the whole street came out to admire the hollowed casualty, Troy’s big idea was to have a block party. “Do you want a margarita?” he asked me, smiling and laughing. We spent that whole evening on the front lawn, sipping margaritas and eating snacks, all the while enjoying the show brought on by the city’s tree clean-up crew.

. . .

a human

Troy lived his life for the benefit of others. From my description of him so far, it may seem like his foundation was solid . . . and I believe it was most of the time. Like all humans however, Troy had his struggles. A couple months ago, during a time of relentless rainy weather, Troy opened up to me about some unhealthy thoughts he was having. They scared him because they reminded him of his hospital stay long ago, when being in a coma sounded more desirable to him than waking up from one.

My heart broke into a million pieces for Troy that day. I am never surprised when someone tells me they are depressed—as depression is very common and good at hiding itself—but Troy’s depression was concerning to me. I visited him that evening and tried to keep the mood light. We laughed a little and talked about making plans to see each other again. I promised him my care and was serious about wanting to help him. I made sure there was nothing in his apartment that could harm him. He told me he was thankful for our friendship and gave me a hug, but there was barely a spark in his eyes. I could tell he felt burdened and alone, as if under attack by something much greater and more powerful than himself. At that moment I started to grieve the loss of a friend I once knew.

The months that ensued were challenging and dark, but I will spare many details for the sake of Troy’s dignity. I will say this though: Despite his rapid and steady decline, he seemed to be doing everything right in his journey towards mental health—at least as much as he could handle on any given day. He communicated and reached out to multiple friends. He received medical attention and got professional help. He got up each morning. He went to work. He kept a tidy home. He made good decisions and tried hard. And, although there will always be those nagging “What if?”s from all of us who cared deeply and tried to help Troy, I think in his heart he knew that we were doing everything right, too. 

. . .

a legacy

The world lost Troy one week ago today.

In this life, I will never understand why God allows people to suffer the way Troy suffered. I will never understand why God allows any suffering at all, for that matter. I know God loves people. I know this full well. I know in heaven there will be no suffering, and I know that part of my purpose on earth is to live my life in such a way where people might see glimpses of heaven in me. I cannot eliminate suffering though.

Before he became a victim to that terrible and dark voice, I saw glimpses of heaven in Troy. I believe the world saw it too. We all saw it—his kindness, his hospitality, his gratitude, his inclusiveness, his loyalty, his artistry, his thoughtfulness, his humor . . . along with many other good and wonderful traits. That is what I hope others will think about when they think of Troy.

The truth is, however, Troy wore a variety of hats. He was many things to many people, and I only saw him when he wasn’t working or with his family. He was a tremendously hard worker, no doubt, with his own community of colleagues who thought very highly of him (he was currently a real estate agent and a ride-share driver, but also had a vast skillset from previous jobs in his life). Perhaps his family ties will be his most lasting legacy though. Troy was a son, and a loyal son at that. He was also a brother, and a nephew, as well as an uncle. Funny enough, however, Troy was blessed with two families. He had been adopted as a baby, but had recently met his entire living biological family through an ancestry website, which brought tremendous joy to everyone involved.

Saying goodbye to Troy has been hard. Most days I toggle between feeling numb and feeling angry, with brief outbursts of overwhelming lament and sadness. I keep replaying scenarios in my head and come to this conclusion every time: “If only.” Oh, how I wish I could rewind time. I wish he was still here. I wish I could talk to him again. If only. If only.

Alas, grief is good, and to shove it down would be a grave mistake. Writing is my way of processing through grief; it always has been. I will never understand why life happens as it does—how our loved ones must be snatched from us so cruelly—but I’ve been here before and find a strange comfort its familiarity. In my experience of grief, I’ve found that memories fade quickly unless written down. So it is in this moment, when memories of Troy are fresh and alive, that I need to tell his story.

There are serious lessons and conversations to be had about Troy’s death, to be sure, and I hope with all my might to be involved in lowering the statistics. For now, however, I just want the world to know about his life. I want Troy to be mourned but also celebrated, by the countless lives he touched and also by those he never met. That is why I wrote this post—so that you may see the beauty in Troy’s smile (great headshots, don’t you think?!), and understand his emanating warmth. 

Be encouraged, whoever and wherever you are. Slow down and love each other well, because tomorrow is not promised.

. . .

man smiling

Please don’t wait to talk to a friend who is considering suicide. Find support here.

. . .

  1. Rob Aldridge says:

    Thanks for that Tracy. It brings Troy to life. I’ll never understand how fast the deep anxiety and sadness enveloped him…why was it fast? He was a good guy and I miss him very much.
    There’s a good organization that can help people process their sadness regarding Troys death, its: National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI and there’s a close by office https://nami.org/Home

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