Grayson House (by Grant Bentley)

Grayson House

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

Warren is convinced he is unlovable after being severely burned and disfigured.

I found myself standing on the sidewalk, in front of what had been the only home I had ever known, staring at the closed front door, my suitcase and backpack at my feet. I was in such a state of shock I couldn’t even cry. I just stood there. I was seventeen, almost halfway through my senior year in high school and I had no where to go and no idea what I was going to do.

As I stood there, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned slowly and found myself looking into the face of Randall Wilson. Randall, or Mr. Wilson, was our next door neighbour. He was a quiet man about my father’s age. What little I knew about him had come from neighbourhood gossip. He was apparently gay and the guy living with him was his partner. He was a social worker for some gay charity organization and that was about all I knew. He and his partner always said hello if they met you on the street, but other than that, they always kept to themselves. They never took part in community events like the annual neighbourhood bar-b-que. They went to work every morning and came home every night. That was it.

As I looked into his eyes, I could feel the tears starting to build. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the sofa in his living room, his arm around me, crying my eyes out. Apparently, he had heard my father’s initial ranting and raving. I think the whole neighbourhood heard it. It had gone on for fifteen minutes and he sure as hell hadn’t been quiet about it.

When I finally began to settle down, I looked at him and asked, “What am I going to do?”

“Don’t you worry,” he replied, “You’re not alone in this. I’ll see to it that you get the help you need.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I heard your father’s little tirade,” he replied.

“Oh, yeah,” I responded, “I think the whole neighbourhood heard it.”

I then discovered that the organization he was with was called Safe Haven. It was a recognized charity that took in and worked with homeless gay youth. A couple of hours and several phone calls later, including one to my dad, one to child services, and one to a Marg Grayson, we were walking up the front walk of Grayson House. It looked like it had been built in the early eighteenth century. It was a huge three-story colonial style house that sat on what was obviously a triple size lot. It was very impressive.

On the way over, I learned that Grayson House was one of several ‘safe houses’ for LGBT youth. I had walked past the house a hundred times on my way to school and back, but I had no idea what it was other than impressive. I even knew a couple of the kids from school that I had seen entering or leaving the house, Billy West and Gary Fulton. As we knocked on the front door, we were met by a very nice lady who introduced herself to me as Marg. We were invited into the kitchen and offered coffee or milk and squares. I decided on coffee, thanked her, and dug into the squares.

About a half hour later, another lady arrived and joined us. She was Elise Carter, a social worker with child services. We talked about what had happened earlier with my dad. We talked about the conversation and reaction to Randall’s phone call. We talked about the conversation and reaction to Elise’s visit to the house. We talked about my new home, Grayson House. And, we talked about me being one of the lucky ones. Thanks to my dad’s shouting and Randall living next door, I didn’t have to spend a minute living on the streets.

After Randall and Elise left, Marg told me to grab my stuff and she would show me to my room. ‘My room’ was on the third floor. In fact, it was the third floor and it was huge. It had four giant dormers and also had three other beds besides mine. Since all my life, I had had my own private room, I wasn’t too sure about sharing a room with three other guys, but I figured I’d survive. It was a hell of a lot better than sharing an alley with three other guys.

Marg showed me which bed and dresser were mine. She also pointed out my desk which had a laptop computer on it and pencil holder full of new pens and pencils. She then left me to unpack my stuff and told me she’d give me a yell when dinner was ready. I had just finished putting the last of my clothes away when Billy walked in.

He just stood there for several seconds staring at me before he said, “Oh wow. Caleb…uh…welcome.”

“Thanks,” I replied quietly.

“Holy fuck,” he said still looking surprised, “I never expected to see you here.”

“Neither did I,” I replied.

“So…how…what happened?” he asked.

“I made the mistake of thinking my parents loved me,” I replied as tears started to form.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry man,” he said as he stepped over and pulled me into a hug, “I know exactly how you feel. Been there done that.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “I guess everyone here has.”

“Pretty much,” he said as he stepped back, “But you’re going to love it here man. Marg is the greatest and all the guys are way cool. It’s like having ten brothers, well eleven now. And not just brothers, but brothers who have been there and who will be there whenever you need them.”

“Like you just now,” I said, “Thanks.”

“You gotta see the view we got from up here,” he said excitedly as he grabbed my hand and led me over to one of the dormers.

“Holy shit,” I exclaimed, “You can see for miles.”

“Yeah, isn’t it cool?” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, very,” I replied.

As we were admiring the view, we heard a noise behind us. When we turned around, I almost gasped. Standing there was a young guy I assumed was probably our age. It was hard to tell because he was like one giant mass of burn scars. He had no hair, no ears, a prosthetic nose, cause it wasn’t scarred, partial lips and his eyelids seemed to be fused shut. His arms were also scarred but not his hands.

“Hey man,” Billy greeted him happily. “This is Warren,” he announced to me, and then turning, “This is our newest brother, Caleb,” he announced to Warren.

“Hi Caleb. Welcome,” Warren said as he held out his hand.

“Thanks,” I responded as I reached out towards his hand. After a few seconds when he didn’t respond, I finally clued in that he was obviously blind and made the extra effort to grab his hand and shake it.

“Sorry,” he said with what I think was a smile, “You’ll get used to me after a while.”

“Not to worry,” I responded, “Inattentively stunned is my normal state. You’ll get used to me too…after a while.”

“I’m going to like you,” he said with what was more obviously a smile. I think it would have been a grin without the scar tissue.

We got the call from downstairs that dinner was ready. We quickly washed our hands and headed for the stairs. It was actually quite amazing to watch Warren. He knew where everything was in the bathroom, where every stair was, how many steps from our staircase to the next one, how many steps to the dining room, where to turn and where his chair was. If I hadn’t known he was blind, I might never have guessed by watching him, except maybe for the fact that he never looked at where he was going.

I got introduced to everyone at the table. Well, not everyone, because I knew most of them from school. I had no idea half of them were gay though. Dinner was awesome and once we were done, it was our room’s turn to clean up. That’s when I found out my other roommate was Benny. Benny was just a little guy and funnier than shit. He was also the youngest one in the house. He was fourteen and had actually lived on the street for three months. He had been picked up by the police one night and when they took him home, his parents refused to take him. They told the police to take the little faggot and get off their property. When it was all said and done, they were charged with child abandonment and a few other things. His dad was still in jail and his mom was in a halfway house.

It was Billy’s, Benny’s, and my job to put away all the leftovers and put the dishes in the dishwasher, add soap and turn it on. It was Warren’s job to wash the kitchen counter and the dining room table. I noticed that everyone was careful to push their chairs in and take everything off the table. Once we had everything off the kitchen counter and either in the dishwasher, in the cupboard, or fridge, we let Warren know and he went to work. He half-filled the sink with warm water, added dish soap and stirred it all up. He washed the dining room table, then the counter, rinsed the dishcloth, drained the sink and hung the dish cloth on the small towel rack above the sink. He did it just as thoroughly and just as quickly as anyone else would have. I was impressed.

Talking to Billy later, I discovered that Warren’s mom had been heating a pot of oil on the stove to make French fries. She had turned her back for a minute to do something and when she turned back, the oil was on fire with flames almost reaching the ceiling. Warren heard her scream and ran into the kitchen. He saw the pot of flaming oil, grabbed some oven mitts, picked up the pot and ran for the back door. As he did, he tripped over the cat and his entire upper body was covered in hot burning oil. Their neighbour had heard the screams, ran over, and had somehow managed to put out the flames. But not before Warren had 3rd degree burns or worse to most of his upper body.

He had spent close to a year in hospital and had moved into Grayson House six months ago. The reason he was in Grayson House was because his mother had had a massive nervous breakdown. She couldn’t deal with the image of her only child in flames and blamed herself. She was in a long-term mental facility. Since his dad had been killed when he was young and his only aunt and uncle felt they were in no position to help him, he was here.

A couple of days after I arrived, I was working on my math homework. I was having trouble figuring a couple of questions out and got pretty vocal about it. Almost immediately, Warren was standing behind my chair asking what I was having trouble with. I explained the problem to him and a minute later it was done. Without even being able to see the problem, he had been able to explain it to me so I understood it. One more thing about him that impressed me. I was even able to get the next problem done using the steps he had explained to me.

Life got into a normal routine pretty fast. We came home, relaxed or did our chores until dinner. After our chores and homework were done, we were free to watch television, go out, visit, whatever we wanted to do. It was like being at home, except there were twelve of us and one mom. I guess because we were roommates and neither Warren nor I were into watching the crap on TV, we spent a lot of time just lying around our room or the backyard chatting. Warren was a very interesting guy. He had opinions about almost anything and we got into some pretty lively discussions.

He talked about taking his courses online as the reactions he got when he returned to school were too much for him. We also got into some pretty emotional discussions about the fairness of life or why people hate for the most stupid reasons. He also told me he was scheduled for more reconstructive surgery over the next several years. Watching him, I quickly realized that anything I got upset about, like my hair never doing what I wanted it to do, or wishing I could afford more fashionable clothes, were insignificant.

The better I got to know him the more I liked him. I fantasized about going back in time. I would take Warren back to the day before his accident and buy his mom a proper deep fryer or put a fire extinguisher by the stove. I cried myself to sleep more than once looking across at him lying in his bed.

I guess I had been at Grayson for about three months when I woke up one night and heard what sounded like crying. It was obviously coming from Warren’s bed. I got up and quietly made my way over. I sat on the edge of his bed, reached for his hand and whispered his name. I would have run the fingers of my other hand through his hair, but instead I gently stroked his forehead.

“Warren,” I whispered, “You okay man? What’s wrong.”

“It’s nothing,” he whispered back, “I just get this way sometimes.”

“Any time you wanna talk,’ I whispered, “I’m here for ya. Okay? Day or night.”

“Thanks man,” he whispered back as he tightened his grip on my hand, “It’s just that sometimes it gets to me and I can’t help but wonder why me? What did I do to deserve this?”

“I don’t know why,” I replied quietly, “But there’s no way you deserved this man.”

“What’s the rest of my life going to be like?” he asked, “I mean, look at me. I can’t go anywhere without hearing people gasp or start talking about how I look. I have no eyes, so I’m blind. I have no ears so they think I’m deaf too. I know they’re staring at me and pointing…probably trying not to throw up. It hurts so much. I don’t even want to leave the house most of the time. There are days when I just don’t want to be here anymore. I mean what’s the point? Except for you guys, most people can hardly stand to look at me. Who’s ever going to love me?”

It wasn’t like I hadn’t already noticed what a strong, sweet, gentle, caring, person he was. It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed his quiet vulnerability either. But at that moment, sitting there, in the dark, holding his hand and gently stroking his forehead, I realized that I could spend a lifetime searching, and I would never find someone as genuinely beautiful as he was. Someone totally undemanding. Someone who appreciated every kindness, every thoughtful word sent his way. I realized that he had all the human qualities that make a person loveable. And…I realized that I had gradually been falling in love with him since the day I met him.

I guess my silence, as all the thoughts played through my mind, made him think I couldn’t respond to his question because I agreed with him. He was blind. He was disfigured. He was unlovable. I felt his grip on my hand relax.

“Look Caleb,” he said, “I’m sorry I woke you up. You should probably go back to bed and get some sleep. I’ll be okay.”

Instead of letting go of his hand, getting up, and returning to my bed, I let go of his hand, hearing him give a quiet sigh of resignation, pulled his covers back a bit, slid into bed beside him, took hold of his hand again, wrapped my other arm around him, kissed him on the cheek and cuddled in for the night. As I did, I felt his body go rigid.

He didn’t move or utter a sound for a minute or more. Then, he very quietly whispered, “Caleb.”

“Yeah?” I questioned.

“Don’t pity me…please,” he almost begged, “If this isn’t for real, you should go back to your bed and get some sleep.”

I just cuddled in tighter to his body and nestled my face in against his neck. When I did that, I felt his free arm wrap around me and pull me closer. I felt him kiss me gently on my forehead. Then I felt his body relax against mine. Nothing more was said. We woke up the next morning in exactly the same position except we had two boys sitting on the floor beside his bed grinning from ear to ear.

I felt Warren jump when Benny exclaimed, “Fuckin’ took you guys long enough.”

“Yeah,” Billy added, “Geez.”

“What are you talking about?” Warren asked.

“You two,” Benny replied, “You guys have been so obvious, you might as well have been wearing neon signs.”

“We even got a pool going. Whoever guessed closest wins twenty bucks,” Billy said laughing.

“What?” I exclaimed.

“You fuckers made a bet that we’d get together?” Warren asked.

“Well yeah,” Billy replied, “It was obvious you liked each other from the first time you met. Then after a while, it was obvious that you more than really liked Caleb. And the way Caleb would look at you and spend as much time as possible close to you and talking to you, it was too easy. We just didn’t know when the two of you would figure it out.”

“Yeah,” Benny agreed before chuckling, then giving the blankets a little tug, he asked, “You got your briefs on under there?”

Before he had a chance to move, Warren’s hand shot out and gave him a cuff across the side of the head.

“Ow,” Benny exclaimed, “How’d you do that?”

“I might not be able to see,” Warren said laughing, “But my hearing is perfect.”

Breakfast was anything but normal that morning. We were getting congratulations or razzed constantly. Marco did thank us for making him twenty dollars richer. When Tom decided to start a new pool, he got a cuff from Marg as she laughed and told him to leave us alone. We didn’t need ten shitheads making bets and spying on our every move. You see, this pool was based on the day we’d first do IT.

If the guys thought we spent a lot of time together before, that was nothing compared to after. Except for school we were together all the time. One Monday, during a teacher’s conference, Billy, Benny, Mark, and I decided to go to the mall, but I wouldn’t go unless Warren went with us. He told us to go ahead, he’d just stay home. He didn’t mind me going but he didn’t want to slow us down and he wasn’t sure he could handle all the comments from people, even if some of them were trying to be sympathetic. That’s when I had this idea.

When I told him my idea, he smiled and said, “You know, that just might work.”

So our first stop was a custom t-shirt shop on 17th avenue where Warren bought a t-shirt. Although probably not the most appropriate thing we could come up with, we had the words ‘I have no eyes I cannot see I have no ears But I can hear every FUCKING word you say.’ emblazoned on the front and back of the shirt. Then we went to the mall. People pointed and people stared, but they kept their comments to themselves…until they were out of our hearing range at least. Well except for the odd little kid, but little kids are little kids. First, they can’t read, and second, they haven’t had ‘political correctness’ pounded into them yet and they say what they think. “What happened to him?” or “Why is he all wrinkly?” or “Why doesn’t he have ears?” being typical. We did get one “Why are those guys holding hands?” from one little guy.

The only older guy who said anything was probably our age. As we walked by he grinned and said, “Fuckin’ awesome shirt man. Love it.”

“You’re brilliant,” Warren exclaimed as we left the mall, “Three whole hours and only a few questions from some little kids and one adult comment, a good one.”
“It’s not like people are trying to be cruel,” Mark responded, “It’s just that they don’t think before opening their mouths and that shirt screamed, ‘Shut the fuck up,’ loud and clear.”

“And I have Caleb to thank for that,” Warren said as he pulled me into a hug.

“I wonder what that mom said when her kid asked ‘Why are those guys holding hands?’” Benny asked laughing.

“I don’t know,” Warren replied with a chuckle, “But I wouldn’t have minded hearing that one.”

When we got on the bus to head home, I noticed a couple of people kinda slide down their seat away from Warren as we sat down. I wanted to just grab them and scream, ‘He’s not contagious you assholes,’ but I thought better of it. When the bus stopped at the next bus stop, a little old lady got on. As soon as she saw Warren and me she made a bee-line straight for us and sat down next to Warren.

“On your way home from the mall?” she asked as she patted Warren’s Urban Planet bag.

“Yes we are,” Warren replied.

Then she kinda giggled and said, “Your boyfriend’s a cute little bugger isn’t he?”

When Warren could finally stop laughing, he replied, “Yes he is.”

“You know, getting old is a bitch,” she said, “All I can do now is look.” Then after a short pause, she added, “But it seems all the really cute ones are gay anyway.”

“There are a few cute ones who aren’t gay,” Billy remarked with a grin.

“Show me one,” she challenged as she glanced at the five of us.

“Okay, so maybe not on this bus,” Billy replied, laughing.

“Oops, this is my stop,” she said as the bus started to slow down, “You only live once, so you boys be good to each other.”

“We will,” Warren replied as the bus stopped and she stood up and headed for the door.

As the door opened, she turned towards us and gave us a big smile and said, “I know you will.”

“Take care,” Warren said as she disappeared out the door, “And thanks.”

“Oh my God,” Benny said, “How cool was that?”

“Yeah, what a sweetheart,” Warren responded.

We got home just as dinner was ready to be served. When Marg and the guys saw Warren’s shirt, they just burst out laughing.

“That’s telling ‘em,” Tom said through his laughter.

“Let me guess,” Marg said, “Caleb.”

“Yep,” Warren replied, “And it worked too.”

Over dinner, we told them several stories of our encounters, including the little guy who wanted to know why we were holding hands and the little old lady on the bus, which kept everyone laughing most of the way through dinner. Marg asked us if the little old lady got off the bus at the corner by Hull Estates. We thought about it for bit and replied that yes she did. It turns out that she was a retired nurse and had spent most of her career working in the burn unit of C.S. Memorial Hospital.

Warren and I went to the mall regularly after that first excursion together, and it wasn’t long before he became oblivious to the reactions of people. He rapidly became the confidant outgoing person he had been before. Of course the mall wasn’t the only place we went to. We made it to the park, the river, the wave pool, and even the skating rink. Warren was an excellent skater. I just had to guide him around a lot of people who weren’t. But that just gave me another excuse to hold his hand. We became regular visitors at Maria’s too. Maria being the little old lady. The little old lady who could bake cookies and pastries better than any one I’ve ever known.

About three months after we had officially been declared a couple, Warren went into the hospital for more reconstructive surgery. It was just the beginning of similar surgeries over the next several years. They did make a difference, a big difference, but that didn’t matter to me. I fell in love with the Warren I saw on the inside, not the Warren I saw on the outside, just like he fell in love with the Caleb he saw on the inside not the Caleb he couldn’t see on the outside.

We also visited his mom regularly. For months, she just sat and stared at her hands. Then one day, she looked up at me and a tear rolled down her cheek. It almost made me break down and cry. I didn’t think much of it, other than how sad it was, but the staff at the hospital were thrilled. It was the first time she had shown any emotion or done anything, other than stare at her hands for a year and a half. It took almost another month before she looked at Warren. This time there was more than a tear. She broke down sobbing and Warren immediately pulled her into his arms and held her.

When she eventually pulled back and looked into his face she whispered, “Oh God Warren, I’m so sorry. Look what I’ve done to you.”

“You did nothing to me,” he replied with a smile, “If we need to blame anyone, let’s blame the cat.”

She simply responded, “Oh God Warren,” before she pulled him back into a hug and quietly cried.

That was the beginning of Warren getting his mom back and me getting a new mom. We continued on in Grayson House until the end of the school year and into July. After a month, Mom was transferred to 2south in CareWest. 2south is the unit that works with people dealing with, or recovering from, depression and/or anxiety issues. The staff work one-on-one with patients and have group sessions where patients talk through their issues and help each other, often as much as the therapists do. They also have teaching or discussion sessions in which they explain all sorts of things like coping strategies and patients can ask questions or express opinions. It is really an amazing unit as are the people working there.

After about three weeks, she was allowed to go home on weekends. They required that Warren and I be there with her as they didn’t want her there alone. The house had been cleaned up and repaired so there was no sign that anything had happened. It was a little bit tense the first day as his mom kept looking at the stove and the spot where warren had fallen. Those things couldn’t be changed, but we tried to keep things cheerful and positive and did manage to keep his mom’s mind off what happened most of the time. The next several weekends though were normal, regular weekends. We talked, joked, laughed, listened to music, watched TV, just like any other family.          

On the 16th of July, Mom was released from CareWest and allowed to return home permanently, and on the 16th of July Warren and I moved home to be with her.

That evening, after dinner, and as we were getting ready for dessert, Warren sat back and with a big smile on his face said, “You know what? Life really is great.” 

Mom and I glanced at each other for a second or two before smiling and responding, “Yes it is.”


Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.