A New Year-A New Life (by Grant Bentley)

image by Nuttakit

A New Year—A New Life

By Grant Bentley

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

One more day…one more day and it would be Christmas…the most anticipated, wonderful day of the year. Or it had been. I thought back to last Christmas: the excitement, the gifts, and the wonderful smell of turkey roasting. Although Christmas in our home was never quite what it was for other kids, it was still an exciting time; my mother saw to that. This year, however, I saw nothing to look forward to. There were no presents waiting to be opened, there was no tree in the corner of the living room. In fact, there was no living room. There was just a dirty, smelly, cold, empty warehouse…the place that, for the last five months, I had called home. What a difference a year makes.

Being the son of a hard-drinking, hard-living redneck was one thing. Being the GAY son of that hard-drinking, hard-living redneck was quite another. Then, when he joined some Neo-Nazi militia organization, it became even more frightening. There were very often several really big, really scary guys around the house in the evenings getting very drunk and very loud. Plus there were enough guns in our basement to start a war. Home was no longer home, the safe haven it should have been, not that it ever really was for me, but now it was about the scariest place on earth.

I was never seen as anything but a weak, skinny, worthless little worm by my father at the best of times. After he joined up with these guys, I was demoted from worm to faggot. When his buddies were over I seldom left my room. Whenever I did make an appearance, he would slap me around and make some remark about ‘the skinny faggot’ and humiliate me any way he could. So you can imagine how terrifying it was for me when I came to the realization I was, in fact, a skinny faggot. For almost a year, I made sure nobody, and I do mean nobody, found out. It was my deepest, darkest secret, known only to me and my journal, which I kept very well hidden under the carpet, under the bottom drawer of my dresser.

Then, for some inexplicable reason, I felt the need to confide in someone, someone I could trust. I was fifteen when I told Charlie, my best friend of eleven years. Instead of the understanding and acceptance I expected, he stormed out of my room and out of my life, slamming doors on the way. Several minutes later, when my father came into my room to find out what the hell was going on, he found me sitting on my bed, crying, with my journal in my hand. He tore it out of my hand, and after glancing through the last few pages, he went insane. He threw it at me and then proceeded to nearly beat me to death. Sometime after I lost consciousness, he threw me in the trunk of his car, drove me to some deserted old farmyard in the middle of nowhere, and left me there, presumably to die. I didn’t.

Sometime after he had pushed me out of his car, I regained consciousness and dragged myself into a half-collapsed old barn. I drank water from a nearly rusted out old cattle trough, ate wild mushrooms, berries, and even grass to stay alive. I don’t know how long it was before I could stand and walk again. Once I could, I walked for three days along gravel backroads until I found a highway. I walked for two more days until I reached the city again. When I got to the city, there was obviously no way I was going home. I thought of going to the police or Family Services, but I was afraid they wouldn’t believe me. I guess maybe I was being paranoid, but I was so terrified of my father, there was no way I was going to risk being sent home. So I begged, borrowed, or stole whatever it took to stay alive. At one point, I even considered going to ‘the strip’, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

I hadn’t had clean clothes or a bath for more than a month. There was a rain barrel outside the warehouse that I used to wash my clothes and myself in, but now it was frozen solid. My shoes had worn through to the point where I may as well have been barefoot. I hadn’t had a pair of socks to wear for probably four months. I did have a toque and parka though, courtesy of an apartment building dumpster. I hadn’t eaten for three days, except for some fries left on a table in the mall food court. I didn’t have time for anything else because a guard saw me and I had to run for my life to get out of there.

Today, I had been downtown checking out the dining options behind The Marquee, a local restaurant, but came up empty-handed. I did, however, catch the weather forecast on the televisions displayed in the window of the Sony Store. I knew it was going to go down to at least -30C (-22F) tonight. The only reason I had survived this long was the fact that the coldest it had been was -20C (-4F). Tonight, however, would be a different story.

Once I was back at the warehouse, I tried desperately to get warm. I wrapped myself up in the ragged, torn old sleeping bag I had found in another apartment dumpster several weeks ago. As I lay there, I couldn’t help but think of how I had had so many dreams, so many things I wanted to do…to accomplish. I had fought so hard to stay alive. I had endured months of loneliness, fear, hunger, pain, and cold…so much cold. But tonight, my dreams would be extinguished. Since it was going down to -30C, I resigned myself to the fact that I would fall asleep and never wake up. I would simply freeze to death, alone, in an old deserted warehouse, on the edge of the city, on Christmas Eve.

“Merry Christmas,” I said to myself as I pulled the sleeping bag tighter around my body, curled up, and slowly fell asleep…a tear frozen to my cheek.

When I eventually stirred, there was a slow realization. There was music playing quietly and there was a wonderful, sweet floral aroma. I was nice and warm. I was naked and in a bed…a warm, comfortable bed, covered by the softest, warmest duvet you could imagine.

‘Is this heaven?’ I wondered. It was certainly the total opposite of what my last few weeks on earth had been like. There was no smell of fire or burning brimstone, just this sweet floral aroma, so what else could it be?

After a few minutes, there was a movement and I realized I was not alone. For several minutes I was afraid to open my eyes. When I did, I saw the smiling face of a boy about my age looking down at me.

“Whe…where am I?” I managed to squeak out.

“You’re at 1221 Westmount Drive,” he replied.

“Wha…?” was my intelligent response.

“You’re at my grandpa’s. I found you in one of Dad’s old warehouses,” he answered.

Slowly beginning to regain some of my senses, I asked, “How?”

“We open our gifts on Christmas Eve and I got new cross-country skis for Christmas. Grandpa took me out there to try them out. I saw your tracks in the snow,” he replied. “I’m Ben, by the way.”

“Jeremiah,” I replied.

“I know. Jeremiah Abrams,” he said. “I looked in your wallet. A few months ago, you were front-page news. Your father said you were abducted from right in front of your house. He said he saw two guys grab you and pull you into a blue Ford van and speed off.”

“No,” I stated.

“I kinda figured that,” he said. “If you’d been abducted and escaped, you would’ve gone straight home or to the police. You wouldn’t have holed up in some freezing cold warehouse.”

“No,” I repeated, still trying to sort things out in my mind.

“Grandpa said another hour or so and you would have been dead. You were in his emergency clinic for two days,” he told me.

“You mean it’s past Christmas already?” I asked, as my mind slowly began to sort things out.

“Yeah, Boxing Day was yesterday,” he replied.

“Ahh, you’re awake,” a voice announced. I glanced over and saw a very distinguished looking older gentleman standing in the doorway.

“That’s my grandpa,” Ben said to me. “He just woke up,” he said to his grandpa.

“You look a lot better than you did when we found you,” he said with a smile.

“Thank you,” I responded.

“I’m Dr. Owens,” he said. “You’ve been through quite an ordeal. We weren’t sure you were going to make it. Many in your condition wouldn’t have. You are a very strong-willed young man.”

“Thank you,” I repeated.

“Give me a few minutes to check him over, okay Ben?” he said.

“Do you think you could eat a little?” Ben asked.

“Yes please,” I replied, as I suddenly realized how hungry I was.

“Be right back,” he said.

As soon as Ben was gone, his grandpa pulled the comforter down a bit. He looked into my eyes, listened to my heart and lungs and basically checked me all over.

“You won’t be needing this anymore,” he said as he removed some tape and then an intravenous needle from the back of my hand. I hadn’t even realized it was there. Obviously I wasn’t quite ‘with it’ yet.

After about ten minutes, Ben was back with small plate of turkey, dressing, potatoes, and corn.

“It’s not much,” his grandpa said, “but you haven’t eaten for a while so you shouldn’t eat too much right away. You need to work your way up to a full meal. And you need to eat it slowly. Don’t wolf it down.”

“Thanks,” I said as I dug into the first actual meal I’d had in a long while that hadn’t come from a dumpster. I did eat it slowly, too. Not because it was supposed to, but because I wanted to savour every mouthful. It was awesome.

Once I had finished eating, he asked me if I wanted to explain how I ended up in the warehouse. I explained everything that had happened to me since the moment I trusted Charlie with my secret. It wasn’t until after I blurted it out that I realized I had given myself away again. I paused at that point, but he just smiled and told me to go on.

“Okay Jeremiah, thank you. I don’t know how you survived, young man. And I will never understand the stupidity of people, nor the depth of their hate,” he said. “Tomorrow, if you feel up to it, we’ll be talking to the police.”

Even though that scared the hell out of me, I said, “Okay.”

Don’t ask me why, but somehow I knew Ben and his grandpa would protect me. I knew they believed me and somehow I knew that with them by my side, the police would believe me too and I wouldn’t be sent back to my father.

“Why didn’t you go to the police before?” Ben asked after his grandpa left.

“Because who was going to believe me?” I replied. “It would be his word against mine. I didn’t think I stood a chance. He’d just tell them I ran away because I didn’t like his rules or something. And, if they sent me home, he would have finished what he started, or worse.”

“I guess,” he said. “But I can’t believe you didn’t go to someone for help.”

“I was too scared to,” I said. “I just hope they believe me now.”

“Trust me, they’ll believe you,” he said. “You lived on the street for five months and nearly froze to death in that warehouse. You wouldn’t have done that if you’d been abducted.”

“I didn’t even know about the abduction story,” I said.

“Actually, I bet him manufacturing that abduction story will be the thing that nails his ass,” he said. “If he had said you ran away, then everything that has happened to you would fit, but he said you were abducted. Living on the street after escaping from kidnappers doesn’t make sense.”

“No, I guess not,” I said.

“Hey, you want to get up and look around a bit?” he asked.

I just grinned and replied, “You know how long it’s been since I slept in a bed? Or how awesomely warm and comfortable this bed is? I don’t want to do anything except cuddle up under this duvet.”

“Well don’t count on any cuddling from me,” he said, grinning. “My girlfriend might not understand.”

“I didn’t mean cuddle with you,” I said with a chuckle. “I just meant cuddle up by myself and simply enjoy being warm.”

“Good, ‘cause Amanda will be here in about twenty minutes,” he said, laughing. “Which means I should go shower. We’ll be up later to see you.”

It had been so long since I felt warm and comfortable or safe that no more than five minutes after he left I was asleep again. I slept for another three hours. When I did finally wake up, it was almost dinnertime. Dr. Owens popped his head in and when he noticed I was awake, asked me if I wanted to get up, have a shower and join them for dinner. I decided I would really like that. As comfortable as I was, I knew I couldn’t stay in bed forever. He even brought some of Ben’s clothes for me to wear. He apologized that they might be a little big, as even though Ben and I were the same height, he outweighed me by thirty or forty pounds. I guess you could say I had become just a tad slim at 6’1” and 124lbs.

The shower felt absolutely wonderful and I must have spent fifteen minutes just standing under the warm spray. Even though it was obvious someone had given me a good bath or something, I decided to make good use of the soap and shampoo and get thoroughly clean. Once I was dried off, I brushed my teeth with a new toothbrush Dr. Owens had given me, combed my hair, put on some deodorant and got dressed. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I almost broke down. It had been months since the last time I looked and felt this good. I knew I couldn’t begin to thank these people for what they had done for me. They had saved my life, accepted me, and made me feel whole again.

Once I was done staring at myself in the mirror, I gingerly made my way down the stairs to the main floor. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The house was palatial with a huge winding staircase into a massive entryway and front room. As soon as he saw me, Ben called me over and introduced me to his girlfriend Amanda. When I saw her, I had to laugh, because Amanda had been my lab partner in Chemistry.

“Jerry, oh my God, it is you!” she exclaimed as she gave me a big hug. “Everyone at school thinks you were abducted and murdered or something.”

“Hi Amanda,” I said. “Almost murdered, yes, abducted, no.”

“Ben told me about finding you and some of what happened,” she said, “but I never guessed it was you. I mean, you’ve always been Jerry, not Jeremiah. Living on the street and in that warehouse must have been terrifying, especially in this weather. God, I’m so glad Ben found you.”

“Yeah, me too,” I replied with a grin. “Today is the first day I’ve felt safe or warm in months. It’s also the first day I haven’t smelled like something died in my shorts. It’s so good to feel clean again.”

“Well you won’t ever have to go through anything like that again,” Ben reassured me. “Grandpa will make sure of that. He’s already talked to Judge Roberts, Jack Thompson, the head of Children’s Services, and Chief Masters of the City Police. Your dad’s screwed big time.”

“Good. I hope he rots in jail for the rest of his life,” I stated.

Just then, Dr. Owens called us to come to dinner. The three of us quickly made our way into the dining room for what had to be the most unbelievable steak dinner I’ve ever eaten. I also met Ben’s grandma, who is one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever met. She fussed over me and made sure I got everything I wanted. A couple of times, Dr. Owens warned her not to overfeed me or I would get sick…I don’t think she was listening.

After cleaning up, the five of us just sat around and talked for the rest of the evening. It was during our conversation that I learned that Ben wasn’t just visiting, but actually lived with his grandparents. His mom and dad were divorced and neither one of them was particularly interested in raising a kid. Apparently they were too busy with their careers and social agendas and simply ‘didn’t have the time’. I said something about being sorry, but Ben just laughed and said this was the happiest he had ever been, so there was nothing to be sorry about. We quickly changed topics and chatted a bit more about whatever came to mind until I began to get tired. Dr. Owens took me upstairs to bed and checked me over one more time before I went to sleep.

The next morning I was up early. I had a shower and brushed my teeth before going downstairs to the kitchen. Now I know this may sound weird, but it was just so cool to actually be able to do that…get out of a real bed, have a shower, brush my teeth, and walk into a kitchen filled with the aroma of freshly brewing coffee. Something that six or seven months ago I had taken for granted.

The coffee was brewed and Mrs. Owens was just starting breakfast. I offered to help, but she handed me a coffee and told me to sit and relax. She would put me to work some other time, but for now, what I needed was to rest and relax. It wasn’t long before Ben and his grandpa came down and we all sat down to breakfast. God, it was so good to eat something hot, steaming, and freshly cooked…two days in a row.

About half an hour after breakfast, the doorbell rang. It was a representative from Children’s services and two police officers. Dr. Owens led us to his study and we sat down around a small table. Two hours later, I had told my story in as minute detail as I could. During the interview, it was obvious that the social worker and the police officers were shocked by parts of my story. I also learned from Dr. Owens that I had had two broken ribs and a hairline fracture of my left arm. Thankfully, everything had healed nicely and I wouldn’t have to have anything re-broken and realigned. He told them it was an absolute miracle that I had survived everything I had been through. When the social worker left, I was officially a ward of the province, Dr. and Mrs. Owens’ new foster son and Ben’s new ‘uncle’. I had never believed in miracles before, but after the last couple of days, maybe.

When the police officers left, they said they felt they had more than enough evidence to make an arrest and they would be on their way to my father’s. I warned them that arresting my father might not be all that easy. He was quite probably not going to be alone, and he and the guys with him would be heavily armed, including automatic weapons. About an hour later, a headline story flashed across the bottom of the TV screen about an armed standoff and everyone was being warned to avoid the 400 block of 14th avenue southeast. Guess who lives in that part of the city.

Later, on the actual news broadcast, we learned that three entire blocks of the east end had been blocked off and everyone in the area had been evacuated from their homes. The SWAT team and police helicopter had been called in. After about three hours, the police did, in fact, arrest my father and charge him with child abandonment, attempted murder, and several other offences related to the armed standoff. Although he was probably armed better than the police were, thankfully he was alone. My mother wasn’t even in the house with him, as she had apparently left shortly after I disappeared and, as we learned later, returned to England or Scotland. He did fire a couple of shots into the air, but gave himself up after the police got tired of negotiating and fired enough tear gas into the house to make an entire city cry. I don’t know what might have happened if his insane buddies had been there, though. Probably a full out war.

Needless to say, I was linked to my father and the standoff. My attempted murder, near-death experience in the warehouse and rescue by Ben somehow or other became headline news. So much for confidentiality. Thankfully, it was in the middle of Christmas break so there would be a cool-off period before I returned to school and, hopefully, I wouldn’t be mobbed by kids wanting to hear my story. I did have one other concern about returning to school, other than the news making me a bit of a celebrity. I was afraid that Charlie might have made my sexual preference common knowledge…at least to our mutual friends. I was therefore a little nervous about the reception I might receive. I had comfort in knowing I wouldn’t be alone though, as Ben and Amanda would be with me. Speaking of school, I was now a full semester behind, but that was okay. I was alive and warm, I would be back in school, I would get to graduate, and I would get to go to college. I couldn’t have been happier. Or I didn’t think so.

About a half an hour after the news broadcast, the doorbell rang and Ben got up and to answer it. A minute or so later, he walked back into the family room with Charlie right behind him. I was a little shocked, to say the least. The last person I expected to see at the Owens’ was Charlie. I just stared at him for a few seconds before standing up. Before I had a chance to take a step, he had crossed the room, I was in his arms and he was sobbing his heart out. Some five minutes later, after he calmed down, I realized we were alone. I sat down on the sofa and pulled Charlie down beside me. We just sat there for a few minutes. It was a while before Charlie calmed down enough for us to have an actual conversation.

“Oh God, Jer, I thought you were dead,” he choked out. “Then the news tonight. They said Ben found you, so I came here. I figured Ben would know where you were. I had to see you.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” I replied.

“I’m so sorry. When you told me you were gay, I didn’t know what to do,” he finally said. “I mean it wasn’t something I was expecting…you know. I needed to think. I mean you were still my best friend but…gay…I wasn’t ready for gay. Then that same day, they said you’d been abducted on the news.”

“Well I wasn’t abducted, and you had no idea that my dad was going to do anything that,” I responded.

“Yeah, but the last thing I did was walk out on you,” he stated. “I left you alone. I can’t imagine how much I hurt you and then you were gone. I didn’t get a chance to say I was sorry. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye…nothing. It hurt so much.”

“Well, I didn’t die and I’m here and you’re here and we’re still best friends, so what more could we ask for?” I said.

“You forgive me?” he asked.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I replied. “You would have been back. You just needed time to think. You had no idea all this other shit was going to go down.”

“I’ll never let you down again, I swear,” he stated with conviction.

“You never let me down before either. It was my dad, not you who fucked me up,” I said.

“But if I hadn’t been such an ass, you would have felt safe to come to me for help,” he said as the tears started up again. “Instead you nearly froze to death in that warehouse. So part of that IS my fault.”

“No it’s not. It’s all my dad’s fault…all of it.” I told him. “And it’s over. It’s done. I’m alive. You’re alive. Let’s just move on.”

I finally got a smile from him as he looked intently at me. It slowly became a grin as he said, “God it’s so good to have you back.”

“You have no idea,” I replied, grinning back.

I spent the next couple of days hanging out with Ben or Charlie, or Ben and Charlie, or Ben and Charlie and Amanda, playing video games, watching the odd movie, or just sitting and chatting about everything and nothing. They tried to get me outside for a snowball fight, but for the first time in months I was enjoying being warm and there was absolutely no way I was going outside to play in the snow.

Tonight, I’m curled up in front of the TV, wrapped in a blanket and all toasty warm. I have a steaming mug of hot chocolate complete with tiny marshmallows. I’m clean. I’m content. I’m not hungry. I’m not alone and I’m not scared. I’m with Dr. Owens (Dad), Mrs. Owens (Mom), Amanda, Ben, and Charlie, waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square.

This year, the words ‘Happy New Year’ will mean just that…and more. I have a new family. I have my best friend back. I have so much to look forward to. It will not be just the start of a new year, but the start of a new life…a life filled with love, acceptance and respect. And I will never have to explore the inside of a dumpster again.

“Happy New Year y’all!”

A very special thanks to Azy for his time and hard work editing this story for me.