No Fixed Address (by Grant Bentley)

No Fixed Address

By Grant Bentley

I was moving once again. What was this…foster family number fifteen, seventeen, maybe eighteen? I wasn’t sure. I lost count somewhere around ten or twelve. I had been in the foster care system since I was five. That’s when both my parents were killed in a head-on collision. My father had pulled out to pass a snowplough. God knows why, because the snowplough was kicking up so much snow, it was impossible to see if there were any oncoming vehicles. But he did, and a gravel truck was coming the other way. They were both pronounced dead at the scene.

All I remember of the night they were killed was a cop and a lady coming to the house. They talked to Kathy, my babysitter, and made her cry. That really scared the hell out of me. Then the cop knelt down in front of me and told me my dad and mom had been in a car accident. He told me that he was very, very sorry, but they had been killed. That, of course, didn’t mean anything to me. I saw people get killed on TV all the time and they always came back.

While he was talking to me, the lady went to my room and packed up some of my stuff. When she came back to the living room, she told me I would have to go with her. Since my mom had always told me not to go with strangers, I told her I wasn’t allowed to and my mom would get mad at me. She told me that my mom would think it was okay this time. She said my mom wouldn’t want me to be left here by myself. I told her 'Kathy would stay with me until Mommy and Daddy came back.' Then she told me that they would not be coming back. I said didn’t believe her because they always came back. That’s when she took my hand and basically dragged me kicking and screaming all to way to her car.

I obviously had no idea at the time, but my life was about to change drastically. Sometimes in a good way, but too often, in a bad way. All I knew was that I wanted my mom and I was desperately wondering why she wasn’t here to stop this lady from taking me away. But, because my dad was the only child in his family and his parents had died before I was born, and my mom had been in foster care most of her life, I had no relatives who could take me in. So, like my mom, I would now become a permanent ward of the province until I turned eighteen. 

That first night, she took me to some people’s place, talked to them for a few minutes, and left me there. I was scared half to death and was still crying my eyes out when she left. What was happening? Why was I made to come here? Who were these people? Where was my mom? Crying and scared was just the beginning. As soon as she was gone, a big man came to the doorway where I was still standing. He slapped me real hard across the face and told me to stop being such a little pussy and to shut the fuck up. I was completely stunned...literally. No one had ever hit me before. I did stop crying though, and just stared at him. I had never known what real fear was until that moment and I was absolutely terrified.

Thank God I was only there one night. When the lady came to see me the next day, she noticed that my face was swollen and bruised. When she asked me what happened, I told her. I guess the people she left me with thought I would be there for a while and didn’t expect her to come back the next morning. She tore a strip off both of them, then got my things and we left, but not before she made sure they understood she would be back.

This time, I was taken to a place that had lots of other kids. I didn’t mind being there. Actually, it was kind of a fun place. I had kids to play with and the people were nice. No one hit me. I stayed with them until I was ready to start school. I guess it was about six months but I had no idea about time at that age. I still didn’t know where my mom and dad were. Every time someone came to the door, I would run to see if it was them coming to get me. They never did. 

I was then taken to a new home. These people lived right across the street from the school I was going to go to. They were also very nice. There was a mom and a dad and three other kids. The kids were much older than me though. One of them, his name was Mark was really good to me. He would play ball with me and showed me how to play video games. One I thought was a really cool was a game called Mario Brothers. It was during this time that I began to understand what death was and why my mom and dad would never come to get me. I began to realize that TV was simply fantasy and in real life when people died, they didn’t come back.

I lived with Mark’s family until almost the end of grade three. Then Shirley, the mom, got real sick and I was moved to a new home. Life was very different in this home. There were no other kids and I was not allowed to watch TV or play any video games. Actually they didn't have any video games. When I got home from school I was to go to my room. I was allowed out of my room for meals and to go to the bathroom, but that was all. The rest of the time I was to stay in my room. That might not have been so bad if I had had toys or something to play with, but I had nothing. When I asked why I had to stay in my room all the time, I got a spanking and was told they didn’t take little shits like me in so they could entertain us. I should be happy they gave me a place to sleep and food to eat. They said if I didn’t stop being such a selfish, demanding little prick, they would make me sleep in the back yard under the deck. I didn’t ask again.

During the summer after the end of grade three, the lady, who I now knew was my social worker, came to visit. When I told her I was not allowed to leave my room or even go outside and play, she got into a real loud argument with the foster mom. I was taken to my room, we packed all my stuff and, once again, I was on my way to a new home. Although I was allowed out of my room and allowed to go out and play, the next home really wasn’t much better. Nor was the one after that or the one after that. I was never made to feel a part of the family, or even made to feel welcome. I was a burden they were forced to put up with and, too often, they made no attempt to hide how they felt. I wasn’t beaten or abused, but at the same time, since my early years with Mark's family, I was never cuddled, hugged, or made to feel like anyone cared about me. I was most certainly never loved. 

By the time I was entering junior high, I was beginning to develop an attitude, as my foster mother called it, and I was becoming surly and disobedient. By her request, I was removed from their home and moved to another foster home. That home wasn’t much different. Although it was probably more due to my attitude than theirs. Things got progressively worse as I moved through junior high. I got involved with a group of boys who were experimenting with drugs. It wasn’t long before I was spending more time on the streets than in the foster homes. Within less than two years, I went through eight foster homes. 

Several of them tried, tried very hard to make me feel welcome, even like part of the family. But I was having none of it. I had reached the point where I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought anymore. I hated my life and I hated the people in it. The longest I stayed in any one home was four months and most of that time I was never there. Apparently they didn’t care where I was and the only reason my social worker even found out what was going on was because the school contacted her. I guess I had missed thirty-five out of forty-six days and they weren't getting much cooperation from the foster parents. When she went to the home, they had to confess that they hadn’t seen me for almost two weeks.

About a week after her visit, the police picked me up. Next stop was a group home. There were ten boys between the ages of fourteen and seventeen staying there. All had spent time on the streets, all had been involved in some form of drug and / or alcohol abuse, and all had sold what they had to in order to survive. Yes, I said all. One of the first things that happened after arriving at the group home was a trip to the doctor for a check-up, and to be tested for STD’s and HIV. I was, thankfully, negative on all counts.

It didn’t take long to come to the realization that this was not a regular group home. Not unlike a jail, the home, at least for me, was under lockdown and I was not going anywhere. For several months, I was involved in some pretty intense ‘catch-up’. I did school work from eight in the morning until five in the evening. I also spent a lot more time than I wanted to in counselling. During the first couple of months, I’m sure I wasn’t their favourite resident. I resented being there in so many ways. The counselling pissed me off, the school work pissed me off, and being under lockdown really pissed me off. However, I slowly and begrudgingly began to come around. I was treated well. I was treated with respect. And, most importantly, I began to see things with a clear head and began to see hope for a better, maybe even normal life.

Once I was more or less caught up to where I needed to be. I was taken to the local junior high school and registered in grade nine. I would be dropped off and picked up by one of the caregivers every day. If I wasn’t there to be picked up after school, once they caught up with me, I wouldn’t be going anywhere until my eighteenth birthday. That was a little more than two years away. Needless to say, I was always there ready to be picked up.

On my third day, I was sitting under a tree in the common area, eating lunch, when a group of boys surrounded another boy just a few yards away from me. Apparently they had found themselves a faggot and decided to use him for their entertainment. I watched for a minute or so as they pushed him around and called him every name they could think of. Of course, it didn’t take long for a large group of kids to move in to watch the show. It appeared as if there were only three boys actually involved in the harassment. The rest were simply spineless observers who, instead of stepping up and helping the kid, preferred to watch and be entertained by his humiliation. I gave them a few minutes before I decided enough was enough.

Now I don’t have to tell you that, if you spend a lot of time on the streets, you either learn how to defend yourself or you don’t survive. Obviously I learned, because I survived. I got up and pushed my way through the crowd that had gathered and stood between the victim and his tormentors. When they told me to mind my own business and fuck off, I just laughed at them.

“This your boyfriend or something?” one of them sneered.

“No,” I replied with a grin, “But I wouldn’t mind playing with your ass.”

After that remark, not surprisingly, he came flying at me. I had one down and two to go. In less than a minute, there were three down. I didn’t injure any of them. I just saw to that they felt enough pain to remember me. I then reached out to the boy they were tormenting. He looked at my hand, then looked up to see me smiling at him, reached out, took my hand and I pulled him up.

“You finished your lunch yet?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“Wanna join me then?” I asked, “I’m Sean by the way.”

“Yeah sure, thanks, I’m Colby,” he responded, “And thanks for helping me. Those guys have been giving me shit since the semester started.”

“Well, if they even look at you funny from now on, let me know,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said, “But they’re typical bullies. If they know I’m not alone anymore, they’ll back off.”

“Yeah probably,” I said.

“Where the hell did you learn to fight like that?” he asked, “I’ve never seen anyone move that fast before. That was brilliant.”

“When you spend time on the streets, you learn to protect yourself or you die out there,” I replied.

“You lived on the streets?” he questioned.

“Yeah, on and off for a while,” I told him.

We didn’t see his tormentors again, except at a distance. As he predicted, they now left him alone. Over the next several days, Colby and I became almost inseparable. I hadn’t realized it before, but we had three of four classes together. We had lunch together every day and met up after school and hung out until my ride arrived. He turned out to be the coolest guy I think I’ve ever met. He had a wicked sense of humour and was funnier than hell…and he was cuter than hell too. He was also the first person I felt actually cared about me…since Mark and his family.

Over the weeks, we talked about everything, his life, my life, school, friends, everything. We even brought up the topic of homosexuality. It appeared we had both come to the same conclusion when it came to that particular topic. We both liked boys. We thought girls were nice to talk to, but that was about it. When we got into some serious discussion about my life one day, I could see the tears forming in his eyes as he listened to my story. He even slid over and wrapped his arm around me at one point and leaned his head against mine. It was my first hug that I could remember since, again, Mark and his family, and I melted into him.

Colby did more than become my friend. He was my comfort when I was down. He was my inspiration to work hard in school. He was the reason I got up in the morning. And, he was the sole reason for my transformation; something that did not go unnoticed in the group home. I was happier. I was kinder. I was gentler. I was even tempered. I did my homework. I even volunteered to help out around the house.

I got some good-humoured flack from the other guys of course…who was she…was she cute…you know the routine. It wasn’t until a few weeks had gone by that Chris, one of the older guys, was doing dishes with me in the kitchen and asked, “What’s his name?”

Without thinking, I replied, “Colby.” 

When I realized what I had said, I braced for the worst. Instead, Chris gave me a big grin and responded, “I knew it.”

After a few seconds pause, his hand shot out towards my face and I stepped back flinching. But, instead of the punch I was expecting, he ruffled my hair and said, “I'm really happy for you. You deserve to have someone good in your life Sean.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I didn't for sure, but I had a good idea,” he replied, “I know Colby pretty good cause he and I are in the same theatre class. I've noticed he seems a whole lot happier lately and I’ve seen you guys eating lunch together everyday and hanging together until John picks us up after school.”

All I did was grin back and say, “Yeah.”

Chris didn’t out me to any of the others, however he did give me an evil little grin every so often when no one was around. He and I became good friends over the next few weeks. Something I was very grateful for. I not only had Colby at school, but now I had Chris at the home. Whenever I needed someone to talk to or to comfort me, someone was always there. It had been years since I had felt cared for, or felt that I mattered in someone else’s life. I was finally beginning to feel good about myself.

Of course, because of the changes the caregivers in the group home were seeing in me, I was called into the office one day. Jason, the administrator of the group home told me that, due to my progress, they felt I was ready to leave the group home. Ready to go into foster care once again.

The first words out of my mouth were, “No fucking way. Why do you think I ended up here in the first place?”

“I know the foster system has failed you at almost every turn, and I’m truly sorry that happened to you Sean. No kid should ever have to go through what you’ve been through,” Jason replied.

“So why are you sending me back?” I asked, “I like it here. I’m happy here. I finally have real friends. I’ll have to change schools and lose everything. I can’t go through that again.”

“I know you’re happy here,” he said, “But, if I promise you won’t have to change schools, and if I promise you can come back if this family doesn’t work out, will you give it a try?”

“Can I think about it?” I asked.

“How about you meet them first and then think about it?” he suggested.

“Okay,” I responded apprehensively.

I actually, for the first time in years, cried myself to sleep that night.

The next day a couple, maybe in their mid-thirties, came to visit me. They introduced themselves as Ron and Lisa and seemed like very nice people, almost too nice to be true. We visited for more than an hour and I have to say I felt very comfortable and at ease with them. One thing puzzled me as we were talking though. Ron looked very familiar. I felt like I knew him from somewhere, but I just couldn’t place him and that bothered me.

After they left, Jason called me into his office and asked me what I thought. I told him they seemed very nice. I also told him they seemed too nice and that usually meant they shouldn’t be trusted. He assured me that that was not the case. He had done a thorough background check on them and they could definitely be trusted. After a good half hour of exchanging thoughts and opinions, I finally decided I would take one more chance. This time I had Jason’s absolute promise that I could come back to the group home, no questions asked, if things didn’t work out.

Friday, after school, they were to come and pick me up. Thursday, I packed all my stuff so I was ready to go when they got here. About four thirty on Friday, I was called to the office. I said goodbye to the guys and gave Chris a hug. I made him promise we would get together regularly, even if it was only at school for now. When I got to the office, Ron and Lisa were there. They greeted me with big smiles and asked me if I was ready to go. Lisa even gave me a hug, which brought a smile to my face. I said goodbye to Jason and we were off.

We only drove for about five minutes before Ron turned into the driveway of a very nice two-story house. That’s when I saw him sitting on the front steps. The car hadn’t even stopped and he was already opening my door, reaching in, grabbing my hand, and pulling me out of the car. He had tears running down his face and was grinning from ear to ear as he pulled me into a tight hug.

It was Colby.

“Welcome home Sean,” he said as he squeezed the breath out of me.

I immediately wrapped my arms around him and, considering I could hardly breathe, managed to squeak out a rather stunned, “Hi. Thanks.”

When we finally broke our hug and stepped back, Ron and Lisa were standing there watching us with grins on their faces almost as big as ours.

“You’ve met my mom and dad,” Colby said as we turned to look at them.

“Yeah,” I replied to him before laughing and saying, “Hi,” to them.

“Well, I have to get dinner ready, so why don’t you grab Sean’s stuff, take it to his room, and then show him around?” Lisa said to Colby.

“Ready?” Colby asked me.

“Oh yeah,” I replied.

Colby grabbed one of my bags, and I grabbed the other one. As we were walking up the stairs, I gave him a little bump. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe YOU. I mean you got your parents to do this for me,” I said.

“Why is that so hard to believe?” he asked.

“I dunno, it’s just nobody’s ever done anything like this for me before. How did you talk your mom and dad into it?” I responded.

“That part was easy. I just told them about how you saved me from those assholes, that we were best friends, that things hadn’t been so good for you growing up, and you needed a break. Simple,” he relied.

“You didn’t tell them everything I hope,” I said.

“Of course not. I just told them what they needed to know,” he said with a grin.

It wasn’t until then that I realized we were already in my new room. It was all set up with a double bed, desk, and everything. I just stood and stared. There were a couple of posters on one of the walls but the other walls were bare.

“I found a couple of posters I thought you’d like,” he said, “Tomorrow we can go to the mall if you want, and you can pick out some new posters and stuff.”

“I don’t have any money,” I said.

“Yes you do,” he replied, “You’ll get an allowance just like I do.”

“You serious?” I asked.

“Of course,” he replied and then added with a grin, “Just wait till you find out what your chores are before you get too excited.”

We put my bags at the foot of my bed and Colby grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the bed and we both flopped down across it. We were lying there for several seconds when I realized we were still holding hands. I turned my head towards him to find him grinning at me. I just grinned back. 

“There's something I've wanted to do for weeks,” Colby whispered as his face moved closer to mine and our lips met. It was short, sweet, and gentle. When he pulled back, he was smiling and there was a sparkle in his eyes that could only have been interpreted as love.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” he whispered, “I’ve dreamed of this since the first day I saw you when you kicked those guys’ asses and asked me to eat lunch with you.”

“I can’t believe I’m here either,” I whispered back as I moved in for another gentle kiss.

Just then, we got the call from downstairs, “Wash up boys. Dinner’s ready.”

We both jumped up and hurried to the bathroom to wash our hands and then made our way down to the kitchen.

We were having steak, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and garden salad. It was awesome and I told Lisa so. She just smiled and thanked me. Ron just laughed and said something about flattery being the way to a woman’s heart. 

“Shows how little you know,” she responded laughing.

The rest of the conversation was about everyday stuff, like how was school and did I like sports. When I said I wasn’t interested in sports at all, Ron said that was probably good because neither was Colby. At no point did they ask me any questions about my past or why I was in the group home, for which I was very grateful. As we were sitting and eating, it hit me why Ron had looked so familiar and I started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Colby asked me.

“I guess it’s not all that funny,” I replied as I turned to his dad and said, “When I first met you, you looked so familiar. I spent hours trying to figure out where I’d met you before. Then just now I realized you look familiar because you look like Colby, or Colby looks like you.”

“I noticed you kinda staring at me,” Ron said with a chuckle, “I began to wonder if I had food on my chin or stuck between my teeth.”

“Sorry,” I said with a grin.

I think that evening I had the best meal I have ever eaten. Not just because the food was good, but because I was made to feel I belonged. I was part of the family, just like Colby was. And just like Colby, when dinner was finished, I helped clear the table, wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Colby’s chores had now become our chores. He was definitely happy to have help and I was more than happy to be able to help.

Once we were done, we went up to my room and Colby helped me unpack and put everything away. He was kind of surprised at how little I had. Just clothes and a couple of books…no CD’s, no mp3 player or iPod, no Gameboy, nothing. Once I was all unpacked, we decided we should do our homework first. Then the weekend was ours to enjoy. Colby gave me a quick kiss and headed off to his room. He was a little faster than I was and, as soon as he was done, he came back to my room, quietly walked up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders and leaned down to give me a kiss on the cheek. He then sat on the edge of my desk until I was done, which thankfully, only took about ten more minutes. He then pulled me up wrapped his arms around me and gave me a kiss that could have curled my hair. When he pulled back, we just grinned and gazed into each other’s eyes.

“Homework all done,” Ron’s voice asked, scaring the crap out of me and causing me to jump back about two feet.

“Y…yeah,” I replied as I heard Ron’s gentle laugh and I turned to look at him.

“Now we’re even for you staring at me,” he chuckled before adding, “Sean, you don’t have to be nervous here, son. You can be yourself. We’ve known about Colby for two years now. My younger brother Jeff is gay and so is my Uncle Raymond. Okay?”

I was still shaking, but I managed to smile and reply, “Okay.”

“Good,” he responded before going on, “Since the three of us are here, there are just a couple of things we should probably get out of the way early. That way, there will be no misunderstandings later. One, Lisa and I want you to know that you are as much a part of this family as I am, Lisa is, or Colby is. Two, there are not a lot of rules around here. We rely on common sense and mutual respect. What rules we do have, Colby is well aware of, so if you are unsure, just ask any one of us, although some of the questions you might be more comfortable asking Colby.”

“Thanks,” I said with a much more relaxed smile, “You have no idea what this means to me. And, I promise, if I’m not sure about something, I will ask.”

“Perfect,” he said smiling, “And, homework IS done...both of you?”

“Yes, sir,” Colby replied with a grin.

At that, he just grinned and walked on down the hall.

“Hey, wanna play some Xbox?” Colby asked, “I have Star Wars, Shrek, Spiderman, Halo...”

“I haven’t played Xbox before, but yeah," I replied, “How about Star Wars?”

For the next hour, with Colby's help, I learned how the controller worked. I was actually surprised at how quickly I learned how to play. Soon, we were totally engrossed in the game. Before we knew it, two hours had passed and Lisa was calling up to see if we wanted a snack. She didn't have to ask twice. We were both downstairs and sitting on a stool at the breakfast nook in ten seconds flat. 

"I take it this means yes," she said laughing.

"Yes, please Mom," Colby said with a grin, "Sorry." 

After we finished our snack, we went back up to his room.

“I’m pretty much video gamed out,” Colby stated, “So, what do you want to do now?”

“You know what I really want to do?” I asked.

He looked at me for a couple of seconds before grinning. “Cuddle and watch something romantic on TV,” he suggested.

“I’d be happy just to cuddle,” I replied quietly.

“Come here,” he whispered as he sat on the edge of his bed.

When I walked over, he took my hand and pulled me down and we stretched out on his bed. He then wrapped his arms around me, pulled me into him. I simply cuddled up to him and delighted in the warmth of our closeness. A single tear escaped my eye and slowly trickled into my ear. For the first time that I could really remember, I felt truly happy and at peace.   

About half an hour later, as we were laying there talking, I took out my wallet and pulled out my student ID card. After looking at it for a second, I asked Colby if he had an eraser and a pen.

“Yeah, why?” he responded as he got up and walked to his desk.

“I need to change this,” I said as I followed him over.

Colby handed me the eraser. “What’s our address?” I asked as I took the eraser from him and began to erase the address I had previously written on the card.

We glanced at each other and smiled as the words ‘No Fixed Address' gradually disappeared.