Looking Back

Looking Back

By Grant Bentley

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

I was in my senior year of high school. I had good marks. I had lots of friends. I had it made. Nothing bothered me. Well, I shouldn’t say that. One thing did bother me…a lot. Shelby Morrison bothered me. He represented everything I hated. Everything that triggered an overwhelming anger in me.

He was in a couple of my classes. He seldom talked to me. In fact he tried to avoid me as much as possible. But just the sight of him, even at the other end of the hall, exasperated me. His existence exasperated me. He was, in my mind, the typical gay boy, tall, skinny, and always dressed to kill. He changed his hair colour regularly, anything from white-blond, to blue, to black. He was self-confident and comfortable in himself. He was gay, he was out and he didn’t give a damn who knew.

For the last four weeks of our junior year when he first came out, and the first three weeks of our senior year, I regularly expressed that exasperation by calling him every name I could think of, by knocking his books all over the floor, or by occasionally flipping his food tray so his lunch ended up all over his expensive shirts. Since the last thing I needed was a suspension, I was always very careful to make sure no staff were anywhere around. The one time a teacher did see me, I was all apologetic and helped him pick up his books. One thing I will say is, I never physically harmed him. I never hit him, pushed him, tripped him, or anything like that. But that didn’t make it any less hurtful.

There were a couple of other boys I occasionally called names, but Shelby was unique. He was the focal point of my anger. Why did he anger me so much you ask. Was it based on my religious beliefs…no. Was it based on my friends distain for gays…no. Did I believe he chose to be gay and might try to hit on me or recruit me…no. Was it because he was so ‘out there’…not really. So, what was my problem with him? 

I guess you could say my problem was two-fold, and it was MY problem. One, I couldn't be a gay boy, I just couldn’t. And two, I sure as hell couldn’t be falling in love with one. 

But there was no escaping that, to me, totally unacceptable reality; not as long as Shelby Morrison was around every day.

As time passed, my feelings for him grew, and my exasperation with him grew. He was making me insane. My only hope seemed to be: the more I bullied him, the easier it was to deny who I was; and, the more I bullied the gay boy , the less likely it was that I would become the gay boy being bullied. Make sense? No? Well, in my youthful naïvety, it did to me. 

Then, three weeks into our senior year, the unthinkable happened. Monday morning on the fifteenth of September 1997, at 8:43AM, the principal, Mr. Ross, announced a general assembly for 9:00AM. Once we were all in the gym, we knew something was wrong. Every member of the staff plus several other people were there and, as soon we settled down, they seemed to station themselves throughout the mass of students. Then Mr. Ross walked slowly up to the podium and switched on the mike.

“Students and staff,” he said solemnly, “Shelby Morrison has been a classmate of many of you since grade school. Saturday, sometime before midnight, he was brutally beaten on his way home from the theatre and left for dead. He spent six hours in surgery and is in intensive care at the Mountain View Health Centre in critical life-threatening condition. If you believe in prayer, please pray for him. If not, please keep him in your thoughts. Staff and counsellors are standing by throughout the gym if any of you feel you need someone to talk to and help you through this.”

It was total bedlam for the next thirty minutes. I didn’t see it though, because I didn’t get past ‘critical life-threatening condition’. I just ran. I ran out of the school and all the way home. I threw myself on my bed and sobbed my heart out. I finally pulled myself together a bit, but I still cried on and off for the whole morning. About noon, I got cleaned up and made my way to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. I sat in a corner of the waiting room all afternoon and evening, sometimes crying quietly, and always thinking about Shelby fighting for his life on the other side of those big doors.

To make matters worse, because of my treatment of Shelby at school, a number of students came forward and I became a prime suspect. I was questioned by the police more than once. Thankfully, I had been home with my parents watching a movie on TV at the time of the attack. Even so, I did catch supreme hell for bullying Shelby at school. Both my parents said they thought they had taught me better than that. They both also made it very clear they were ashamed of me for my actions. That, of course, just made me feel even more distraught.

For the first two weeks, I went to school every day but I couldn’t tell you a single thing that went on there. Then, after school, I would sit quietly, often crying, outside the ICU all evening and cry myself to sleep every night. After the first few days, my parents started questioning my after school activities. Not only my activities, but my sudden moodiness. I was always despondent, and often annoyed, or outright angry. Something wasn’t right and they wanted to know what. Why didn’t I come home from school every day like usual ? Why was I missing dinner? Why didn’t I leave my room when I was at home? Was it drugs? Was I having trouble with a girlfriend? What? I made up some lame excuses I can’t remember anymore. I don’t think they bought any of it, but since I had never been in trouble of any kind before, they gave me the benefit of the doubt…for the moment.

But, after the first weekend when I was gone all day Saturday and all day Sunday their questioning intensified. Again, I had plausible reasons, but I know they weren’t satisfied. Then the school contacted them because I had become inattentive in class and was falling behind in my work. That was the last straw. They sat me down in the living room and read me the riot act. Either I told them what the hell was going on or I would be grounded. Mom would drive me to school in the morning, pick me up after school, and I would be confined to my room until my grades came up. I couldn’t let that happen because that meant I couldn’t go to the hospital to be near Shelby.

I told them that I was going to the hospital every day to visit Shelby. Well that didn’t fly very well because they knew he was still in intensive care. That meant I wouldn’t be allowed to even see him let alone visit him. I admitted I wasn’t visiting him but sitting in the waiting room outside the ICU. Since they knew about the bullying, they questioned why. If I was telling the truth about visiting the hospital, why was I sitting outside the ICU for someone that I bullied and obviously despised ? It didn’t make sense…unless I was somehow involved in his being bashed and felt guilty.

I couldn’t believe it. I was being called a liar. I was being threatened with being grounded, with being confined to my room and with being kept away from Shelby. And, even worse, I was even being accused of feeling guilty because I was somehow involved in Shelby’s attack.

Finally, in frustration, I shouted, “I love him! Okay! Your son is a Goddamned faggot and in love with another guy. Okay, you happy now,” and the body-wracking sobs began.

Once they got me calmed down, which wasn’t easy, we talked and everything came out. The fear of admitting I was gay even to myself, the anger because I couldn’t look at Shelby without being forced to admit to myself I was gay, the anger because as long as he was around the gayness would never go away, the bullying to try to prove to myself I wasn’t gay, the bullying to divert attention away from me, the frustration because I couldn’t help but think of him as I was lying awake in bed at night, because in spite of everything I was feeling and doing, I was falling madly in love with him. I told them everything…everything.

When it was all said and done, and the dust had settled, Mom and Dad were not thrilled. But they loved me unconditionally. If I was gay, then they would find it in their hearts to be accepting of having a gay son. Not surprisingly, they were also not thrilled with my behaviour in trying to cover it up. Thankfully, they didn’t lay all the blame on my shoulders. They did understand that with all the societal anti-gay, homophobic rhetoric, that it was not necessarily an unexpected reaction for a kid my age. Together, we set up some times with the school counsellor to help me cope with everything and we set up a manageable homework-hospital schedule that I could live with.

During my time at the hospital, I got to know Shelby’s parents. In fact you could say that we had become quite fond of each other. However, I was lying to them, just as I had been lying to myself and my own parents. I decided I should come clean with them too. I wanted them to know who I was and what I was. That, in spite of my unforgivable behaviour, I was falling deeply, madly, in love with their son. Mom and Dad invited them over for dinner one Saturday. After which, through numerous pauses and countless tears, I told them everything.

“Oh my,” was his mom’s reaction as tears flowed down her face.

His dad seemed to have no reaction at all at first. He just listened. Finally he said, “Do you have any idea how much pain you caused my son?”

My simple response was, “Yes.”

Even though I’d told them everything, he asked, “Why then.”

“I was scared,” I replied.

“Scared?” he asked, “Scared of what.”

“Scared of being gay,” I responded, “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I was terrified of being gay. I thought by being mean to other guys I knew were gay, it would go away. But with Shelby, it wouldn’t go away, so I was meaner to him.”

“Oh God, Shawn,” his mom exclaimed as she got up and hugged me, “You poor dear. When will people realize the pain and suffering they cause children with their ill-conceived bigotry?”

When she finally let go of me, his dad called me over and he too gave me a hug. “There is nothing wrong with being gay son. God created you in his image and if he chose to create you gay, how can that be wrong?”

“I don’t know,” I responded through my tears.

Then after several seconds, I asked, “Will Shelby ever forgive me?”

“You’ll find that Shelby has a very big heart dear,” his mom replied, “If anyone can forgive you he can.”

I felt so much better at this point, not good, but better. Mom and Dad forgave, accepted and still loved me. Shelby’s mom and dad forgave and still liked me. Now the big question was, if he recovered…no, when he recovered, would Shelby forgive me and learn to love me. Unfortunately, it would be a nearly two more weeks before I could even begin to ask that question.

The time passed so slowly, but each day his condition improved. Each day we were given a reason to celebrate. The day that Shelby would be moved out of intensive care and into his own private room, I was thrilled and absolutely terrified at the same time. It would be the first day I would see Shelby since I had dumped his lunch all over him. Would it be the day he tpld me to get out of his life and stay out? Would it be the day he told me to go to hell and don’t come back? Or would it be the day he gave me a second chance and allowed me to try to make it up to him?

“Shelby dear,” his mom said, “There’s a young man here who has been at the hospital every day since you were hurt waiting to see you. Would you like me to invite him in?”

“Every day?” he questioned.

“Yes dear, every day,” she replied.

“Yes please,” he responded sounding very curious, “Ask him in.”

His mom beckoned me in and when I entered the room, he just stared at me.

“I’ll leave you two to get caught up,” his mom said cheerfully and disappeared down the hall.

“You?” he asked sounding totally astonished…then totally angry, “You?”

I just stood there inside the door and the tears started. For the next several minutes, I cried and he stared.

“Why?” he finally asked.

“Because I’m sorry,” I replied.

“Sorry?” he queried.

“I’m sorry…for everything I have ever said to you…for everything I have ever done to you,” I managed to say between sniffles, “I’m so, so, very sorry.”

He didn’t say anything, just looked at me like he was trying to figure out if I was for real. Finally, he asked, “Why now?”

Before I could think about it, I found myself saying, “Because I though I lost you.”

“Lost me? What the hell are you talking about. You never had me.” he asked, a distinct edge to his voice.

I figured he probably hated me anyway and I had nothing to lose, so I replied, “I know, and I know you probably hate me…and you should…but I love you.”

This time he actually laughed. “You love me?” he asked with an astonished tone.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“You’ve got a funny fuckin’ way of showing it,” he responded, the edge back in his voice in full force, “How do you treat people you don’t love?”

“I’m sorry. I’ve been so scared and so angry and so fucked up lately,” I replied, “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Try me,” he snapped.

Okay, like I said I had nothing to lose so, in one big rush, I told him everything…from the slow realization that I was gay, to the fear of admitting it, even to myself. I told him how I prayed for it to go away but as long as he was around it would never go away. That’s why I was so angry with him because I couldn’t look at him without having to admit to myself I was gay. I told him how, somehow, I figured that bullying him because he was gay would prove to me I wasn’t. I finished my little attempt at justification by explaining the added frustration I felt because I couldn’t help but think of him every night in bed. That, in spite of everything, I was madly in love with him. 

Throughout my ramblings, he watched me intently. He watched my expressions, my body language, my eyes. It was like he was trying to see beyond the words.

“Damn, you are one fucked up dude,” he said after I was done.

And, that was pretty much it. I’d like to say he smiled, held out his hand to me and forgave me right there. Then confessed his undying love for me, but he didn’t. After a long uncomfortable silence, I decided maybe it was best I leave. Let him think about everything I had said. Maybe tomorrow we could actually have a real conversation…if he’d let me come back that is.

When I asked if I could come by to see him tomorrow, he replied rather coldly, “As long as you don’t dump food on me, yeah sure, why not?”

“Thanks,” I said quietly, “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

I think if it had been me, I would have told myself to never come back. He had left me with ‘you are one fucked up dude’, not even said in anger. And, although not very enthusiastically, he had said I could come back. That was more than I felt I deserved. I smiled, turned and slowly walked out the door and down the hall.

When his mom got back to his room some fifteen minutes later, he asked again, “He’s been here every day since I got bashed?”

“Every day from the time school got out until 8:00 and sometimes as late as 10:00,” she replied.

“What did he do?” he asked.

“Early on, he just sat quietly in the waiting room crying,” she said, “It was actually a while before your dad and I realized he was here for you. Then your dad and I would talk with him, but he stayed pretty quiet. Once we knew you were going to be okay though, he talked more.”

“God, I don’t know…Shawn?” he questioned.

“We’ve gotten to know him quite well,” she said with a smile, “He’s a very sweet boy.”

“You do know who he is and what he’s done to me?” he questioned.

“Yes dear, I do,” she replied, “His parents had us over for dinner one night and he confessed everything…including his love for you.”

“This is like the twilight zone,” he responded, “He said he has always loved me but he’s always treated me like he hated me. I don’t get it. This is just way too weird.”

“Remember when you first began to realize you were gay…or different…as you called it?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied thoughtfully, “I guess I was pretty scared.”

“Just give him a chance,” she suggested, “Even if you never become more than just friends. Friends are always good to have.”

As soon as school was out the next day, I was on my way to the hospital. This time as I knocked on his door, I was not met with instant anger.

“Hi,” he greeted.

“Hey,” I returned, “How’re you feeling?”

“Better,” he replied, “every day is a bit better than the last.”

“That’s good,” I responded, “You had me so scared there for a while.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “But I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said quietly, dropping my eyes to look down at the floor.

“Don’t go all guilt trip on me Shawn,” he said, “It’s just this is gonna take some getting used to. I mean you spent weeks dumping food on me when what you really wanted to do was kiss me. That is some seriously disturbed shit and isn’t going to be easy for me to forget.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m probably the last person you want to have visiting.”

“Close,” he said, “There are a few others I would like to see less of than you. Well the old you.”

“So maybe the new me is okay then?” I questioned hopefully.

“I don’t know,” he said, “We'll have to wait and see.”

We got into talking about the kids at school. I told him about the chaos, or what I’d been told of it, when we learned what happened. We talked about our courses and how he would have to catch up. He was seriously afraid he would have to repeat the semester. I promised to do anything I could to help him get through. Again, I got this weird look from him as he shook his head. We eventually got off into more general topics. I think we both had had enough of the drama of the last several weeks, before and since he was hurt. It was so good to be able to simply talk to him…to have him talk to me…to shed a tear…or even share a laugh.

After about an hour or so, four kids from school, Jason, Will, Cathy, and Scott walked into the room. As soon as they saw me they froze. Jason actually began to turn red as he clenched his fists.

Before anything could go down, Shelby said, “Hey guys, you all know Shawn right? He’s been here every day since I got bashed.”

There was silence for about thirty seconds, until Will looked at me, then back to Shelby, and asked, “Every day? Like even when you were in ICU?”

“Yeah, every day,” Shelby replied.

“Okay you lost me,” Jason said still trying to stay calm.

“It’s a long story,” I responded, “A long closet story.”

A sudden look of realization appeared on their faces and Will kinda stuttered, “You mean…you’re…uh…”

“Gay?” I finished for him, “Yeah.”

“So pick on the gay kid to avoid being the gay kid who gets picked on,” Jason remarked.

“Yeah, that was part of it,” I replied, “Pretty fuckin’ stupid, eh?”

“Part of it?” Cathy asked.

I gave the short version of being in denial and my frustration with Shelby and got the same initial reaction from them as I did from him. I didn’t get, “Damn, you are one fucked up dude,” but I’m sure that’s what they were thinking. We did actually have a pretty good chat after that, and, best of all, they included me. They seemed to understand where I was coming from, and they were able to let it go. Even when I saw them in school the next day, they were friendly to me.

They left as Shelby’s dinner arrived. I watched him eat whatever it was they had brought him. Soon after he started, his mom and dad showed up. After a few minutes visiting with them I decided to give them some time and excused myself to go grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria. I forced myself to spend an hour downstairs before heading back up to his room.

“I was beginning to think you’d deserted us,” his mom said as I walked back into the room.

“No,” I replied, “I just wanted to give you some time alone.”

“Don’t you worry about giving us time alone,” she responded, “After seventeen years, I’m sure Shelby is happy to have someone to talk to besides us.”

“I’ll never get tired of talking to you, Mom,” Shelby said with a grin.

“Liar,” his mom said grinning back at him.

Before we knew it, it was 8:00 and visiting hours were over and we had to say goodnight to Shelby. As we left, his mom and dad offered me a ride home. Since I still had a ton of homework, I readily accepted.

“So, how are you and Shelby getting along?” his mom asked.

“Actually we’re getting along fine,” I replied, “I can’t believe he’s willing to even talk to me though.” 

“That’s just the way Shelby is,” she said, “He’s always been quick to forgive and forget. Just don’t ever hurt Charlie. It might be a different story then.”

“Who’s Charlie?” I asked.

“Charlie is his best friend,” she said, “He’s just the sweetest little thing…so cute too.”

“Oh?” I questioned with a touch of apprehension.  

“Don’t worry Shawn,” his dad said laughing, “Charlie’s a Chihuahua.”

“Oh,” I repeated, this time sounding very relieved, which made them both laugh.

It was two weeks after Shelby was released from the ICU that he was allowed to go home. I was up to see him every day after school for those two weeks. We must have covered almost every topic two kids could cover in that time. When he explained the injuries he had sustained, and showed me some of his scars, I couldn’t believe he had survived. I had tears running down my face by the time he got done. Jason and Will, and Cathy and Scott, were in almost every day too. I also met several of his other friends. I got the same reaction from Randy and Tom, as I did from Jason. I’m not sure they were quite as forgiving though. Thankfully, the word soon got around that Shelby and I were now friends, or at least talking to each other, and most kids didn’t react to seeing me there at all.

Shelby and his parents decided he would complete the first semester at home. He had completed the first three weeks of the semester, missed about five weeks, and still had about nine weeks left. He would have to work at a fairly fast pace but it would be easier than going to classes and trying to catch up at the same time. He would start where he left off and do basically fourteen weeks of the semester in nine weeks. After he was released, his teachers were fantastic. They sent him copies of their notes back to when he got bashed. They sent and marked all the assignments as well. A couple of them even came to the house a number of times to help him. Usually though, I picked up his assignments and notes from his teachers and turned his work in to them. Once he caught up to where they were in class, he managed to persuade his dad to let him go back to school. By the end of the semester he was as ready for finals as anyone.

I was at his place almost every night doing my homework. I’m still not sure if he allowed me to come over because he was starting to like me, or because he was just too nice a guy to tell me to fuck off. At any rate, since he was doing his catching up and I had done most of it, I was able to help him with some of the stuff he was having trouble with. Charlie and I had become best buds within the first week. Every time I came over, he would wiggle and jump up and down until I picked him up. Then he would shower me with kisses until I put him down again. I couldn’t say the same for Shelby however. Winning Shelby over was going to be a lot slower than winning Charlie over. Still, the more we got to know each other, the more we seemed to appreciate each other, and the closer we seemed to become.

One of the keys to our developing relationship was that I had decided I couldn’t hide anymore. Our parents and Shelby’s friends knew about me, but that clearly wasn’t good enough. My friends needed to know. I really didn’t have anyone close, like a best friend or anything, just lots of casual friends. Having close friends or a best friend would have made me too vulnerable. I’m sure that several of them, close or not, were seriously wondering about me. Every time they had wanted to get together and do something, I had opted out. At first I made up some excuse or another. Later, I simply told them I was at the hospital waiting to hear how Shelby was doing, when he got out of ICU, I was visiting Shelby in the hospital and when he was home, I was helping him get caught up with his school work. It shouldn’t have been too difficult to figure out, but I had never made it official. And, obviously, assuming it was even possible, there was no way Shelby was going to give me his trust if he thought there was any chance that I would abuse it.

The only friend who said anything was Vic. One day during lunch break, shortly after Shelby came home, it was just the two of us at a corner table. 

“You know, the other guys are still trying to figure out this whole Shelby thing with you,” he said quietly, “You’re not that hard to figure out though.”

“Oh really?” I questioned.

“I saw the look on your face at the assembly after Shelby was bashed,” he replied, “I saw you run out of the gym. And I watched your zombie routine for the first couple of weeks afterwards. Even if you hadn’t started spending every possible minute near him or with him, it wasn’t hard to figure you out.”

When I looked at him I guess I had a stunned look on my face, because he just laughed.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“You,” he replied, “I know how hard it can be when you first start to realize boobs don’t do it for ya.”

“Excuse me?” I questioned.

“Your homophobic act,” he said, “It fooled pretty much everyone. I don’t think you realized it though, but sometimes…you gave him the look.”

“The look?” I asked.

Instead of answering me, he just grinned and said, “You’re in love with him aren’t you?”

“I…uh..,” I stuttered.

“It’s cool Shawn,” he said with a smile.

“Oh?” I queried.

“Yeah,” he responded, “You think you, Shelby, and his buds are the only ones in school?”

“No, I guess not,” I said as a smile began to form.

“I so hope it works out for you two…he’s a total sweetheart,” he said smiling, “And so are you when you’re not in denial.”

I felt my whole body start to relax as we sat there. It was really kinda cool. I mean Shelby’s friends knew about us and hung out with us, but this was the first friend of mine who knew, or admitted he knew. Okay, admittedly, he was gay, but he was my friend, not Shelby’s. That afternoon when I went over to Shelby’s, Vic and his boyfriend Brady came with me. Jason and Will were there too and we had a great time. In fact we lost track of time and the five of us ended up running home, as we were all late for dinner.

Vic and Brady were the extra stimulus I needed. The next day, I stopped at a small jewellery store I had seen on 17th avenue with a rainbow sticker in the window. I bought two matching rainbow pendants, one for me and one for Shelby. The next day I wore mine to school. I got comments from Vic and Brady and a couple of Shelby’s friends. Unfortunately, it seemed like few other kids even noticed. Nevertheless, I continued to wear it from that day on. The most important thing was that Shelby knew I was wearing it. He knew I wasn’t hiding anymore. And, he knew I wouldn’t deny him and hurt him if challenged.

Our friendship grew stronger every day and when he returned to school, except for the classes we didn’t share, if you saw Shelby, you saw me. But we were still just friends…good friends…but friends.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that Shelby and I shared our first kiss. Right before he said the three words I was so dying to hear him say…“I love you.”

It was the best New Year’s Eve anyone, anywhere, anytime, has had or ever will have.

That was fourteen years ago. Shelby and I are still together. Our love for each other increases every day. We traded our matching pendants for matching rings. We will have been married for ten years this July 2nd. We have two children. Gregg who will be seventeen in October and Jennifer who will be thirteen in March. They are biological brother and sister and were removed from an abusive home when Gregg was nine and Jennifer was five. Both of them are very proud to say they have two dads. Gregg is going into his senior year in high school this fall. He has been dating Jordan for the past year. Jordan is a girl in case you’re interested. Jennifer is going into grade eight. Hopefully she will hold off on the dating thing for a couple more years yet. Of course, thanks to the curse of the grandparents, they are both thoroughly spoiled.

We still see Vic and Brady quite regularly, however it’s Vic and Ethan now and Brady and Ryan. I guess ‘Vic and Brady’ just wasn’t meant to be. They’re still very good friends though. Jason and Will are now in Vancouver. We do see them occasionally but not as much as we’d like to. Randy and Tom moved to Toronto, parted ways and have unfortunately disappeared off our radar. We’re still very close to Cathy and Scott. In fact, they live just down the street from us and have three kids, Shelby who is seven, Shawn who is four, and Jamie who is two.

Life is good, and no matter what goes well or what goes wrong, every day is a good day because Shelby is in it. Needless to say though, my favourite day of the year is and always will be New Year’s Eve. And, needless to say, every New Year’s Eve, we share a loving kiss right before we tell each other what we both already know…“I love you.”


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