No one, especially kids and teens, should be homeless at Christmas.
I’m Alexandre Benoir, born July 3rd 1996, in Versailles, France. Immigrated to Montréal, Canada on September 5th 1997. Needless to say, the move to Canada was not my idea. I certainly can’t say I’m glad or sorry my parents chose to move here. I grew up here and this is the only life I know. I don’t know what my life would have been like had we stayed in France. That said; I have to admit my life here has been good, very good. My parents bought a four-story townhouse just four blocks from the gay village. I know they didn’t realize that at the time, but it proved to be a blessing, at least for me. Why you ask. Well, a little over thirteen years after moving here, I came to the realization that I am, in fact, gay. So, being so close to the Village is perfect. I can go out and be surrounded by others like me. I don’t have to hide who I am. I don’t have to play mind games. I don’t have to lie. I can be me. So can my boyfriend of three years, Denis.
This year, I am in my final year of high school. I am currently enrolled in all AP courses or advanced placement courses, which will basically allow me to start university as a second year student. Denis is also in the AP program, which means we will both have our Bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four. We are both also total computer geeks. However, I want to make it very clear right here and now, we do not just excel at academics. We are both members of the school’s swim team and have competed provincially with our local swim club. We both also have black belts in karate. Denis plays with our local soccer club. I would too if I could kick a ball in a straight line. Unfortunately that is not a skill I have been able to master. I still go to every game, but my role is limited to yelling, shouting, jumping up and down, waving my arms, and cheering.
Both Denis and I have been out since we were thirteen. Living close to the village and attending school close to the village is a definite confidence booster. Also, being close to the village gives other students more exposure to gay people and, for the most part, creates a greater tolerance and acceptance. We are not some weird, obscure group of freaks they seldom see. We are there, doing the same things everyone else does, with one exception. We don’t walk down the street holding hands with girls.
So there you have some of my background to kinda know who I am and how I operate. Being gay is good, living next to the Gay Village is good, having a boyfriend like Denis is very good, knowing self defense is good, working and studying hard is good, and computers are good. Holidays and celebrations are good too. Just to name a few, summer is good, Halloween is good, Thanksgiving is good, Canada Day is good, Remembrance Day is good, and any others you can think of.
There are holidays I wonder about however, Christmas and Easter are totally weird. Partly because I’m not sure what they’re about. Christmas is on December 25th, but the crappy Christmas songs start, and crappy store decorations go up in early November. Some people even put their Christmas tree up in November. Not to mention December 25th isn’t even Christ’s birthday. We changed the date for some unknown reason… at least to me anyway.
So… my first question I guess is, what was the most important thing that supposedly happened that we are to celebrate? Was it the birth of Christ or the wise men bringing gifts? Obviously it must be the wise men bringing gifts, and that is why spending half our year’s salary buying people Christmas gifts is so important.
My second question is, how did a decorated coniferous tree came to symbolize Christmas? I’m thinking there are not a lot of spruce, pine, or fir trees in Bethlehem or anywhere in the Middle East… and why decorated? More than half the world’s population have never seen a spruce or a pine, or any coniferous tree.
And my third question, Santa Claus or Father Christmas, or whatever this fat guy’s name is, with his sleigh and flying reindeer… please. Like the coniferous tree, more than half the world’s population have never seen snow, so the north pole, a sleigh and reindeer? Why not somewhere near the equator like Belém Brazil, a carroça and flying unicorns? Also, why does he have to come down the chimney… like what’s wrong with using the door, especially considering he needs to go on a six-year carbohydrate-free diet? And I’m guessing more than half the world’s population don’t have a chimney either.
Not to leave out Easter, I thought it was to remember Christ being crucified, coming back to life, and rising up to Heaven, wherever that is. If that’s the case, then a rabbit delivering coloured Easter eggs… seriously? Was there a rabbit sitting on an egg under the cross? If so they should depict that in their paintings and drawings, otherwise it’s very confusing. Oh, sorry, bunny.
Don’t get me wrong, the ten day holidays at Christmas and Easter are awesome, and in no way would I want them to disappear, but I have to question why they exist, because they in fact have nothing to do with Christ. Well, I guess a few well-meaning people go to church those two days every year. And of course the fundamentalist right-wing bigots take those two days seriously, because that allows them to pretend to be Christians, which gives them the excuse to hate people they don’t like… like Denis and me.
Since it’s now the end of November, “tis’ the season” has been going on for nearly a month. Like the last three years, Denis and I aren’t buying each other gifts or accepting gifts. Instead, we will give our gift money to Reach Out, an organization that reaches out to homeless teens, in particular LGBT teens. They will get a Christmas dinner and a gift. Denis and I will be there, along with many other volunteers, to try to give them a happy Christmas. Thankfully, this winter has been reasonably nice so far, and I hope it continues. Many of the kids are underage and are afraid to go to a shelter because they’re afraid of being picked up and taken home, where they’ll be beaten, or thrown out again, or put in a group home, where they become the resident fag and…. In any case, they’ll end up back on the street. For that reason, they face winter’s wrath and spend their nights on the street. Of course they don’t sleep at night because it’s too dangerous, which has nothing to do with the cold.
Denis and I and six other high school kids get to be the shoppers this year. It will be our job to find appropriate gifts and wrap them. Speaking of shopping, I guess if I were to ask for a gift for Christmas, it would be to shut that damn Christmas music off in the malls and stores. When there’s six of you discussing whether or not a gift is appropriate for say a thirteen-year-old boy, it would be rude to be listening to your iPod. Still, for close to three weeks, every night after school, we shopped and on Saturdays we wrapped. We didn’t go near the malls or stores on the weekends simply because we’re not insane.
Then, on the 23rd of December a crew of about twenty of us went grocery shopping. That was fun. Explain to me why every idiot in the city puts their tree up on the 10th of November but leaves their Christmas grocery shopping until the 23rd of December… please. When there are 12 checkouts and the lineup for each checkout goes around a corner at the back of the store, someone left their shopping way too late. We do have an excuse. Except for one small fridge, we don’t have places to store food at the drop-in centre.
Bright and early on Christmas Eve, we all gathered at the drop-in centre and the meal preparations began. I can honestly tell you there is no way I’m ever going to become a cook or a chef. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of the day. But, by 4:00 PM we were ready to go and by 4:30, we had about forty kids lining up for Christmas dinner. We had five volunteers at one end of the centre handing out parkas, toques, gloves, even winter boots to anyone who asked. Beside them, Denis and I had our ‘pick your own present’ booth. We simply labelled the stacks of gifts as boys or girls and they picked from whichever stack they wanted.
About the third kid, who appeared to be much younger than any of the others, came over to pick a gift. He sat on the end of our table, opened his gift, and looked at it for a few seconds before tears began to roll down his face. It was a watch and wallet gift-set. After a minute or so, he wiped away his tears and told us that he had never had a watch before and loved it. We got an awesome half-price deal on them from the store too when we told them who they were for. The watch was even solar powered so no need to replace batteries.
After he sat on the end of our table for about a half hour, we invited him to help us give out the gifts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a smile that big before, and he was over the table standing with us in about two seconds. That’s when we started to learn all about him. He was thirteen and a runaway. He ran because his step-father basically hated him and beat the crap out of him on an almost daily basis. Even if he hadn’t done anything wrong the guy would make something up. When he finally reached the point where he felt he simply couldn’t take it anymore, he tried to kill himself with his mother’s sleeping pills. She found him and called an ambulance. The hospital was able to do whatever they had to do in order to save him. When he got home though, he got the worst beating he’d ever received. It had cost them money to replace his mother’s pills and for the ambulance. Even his mother didn’t seem happy to see him home. That night, he packed everything he could carry and he ran.
Of course that isn’t all we talked about, and he turned out to be the sweetest, funniest, most loveable kid imaginable, especially considering his circumstances. He had been living hard on the street for three months. Sleeping in the park or in a corner of one of the malls in the day and walking the streets all night. His lunch and dinner was whatever found its way into the food court bins that didn’t look totally gross. He said, if it didn’t move by itself, he ate it. He also mentioned that if his step father had figured out he was gay, he wouldn’t have needed the sleeping pills.
As the evening progressed, a lot of the kids got their gift and left so they would be able to find a bed in one of the shelters. Danny, as we now knew him, of course didn’t. He was going to stay where he was warm and safe for as long as he could. When we finally started to clean up and pack up, he was right in there helping us. Then it came time to close the doors and lock up. Danny stayed close as we left the centre and walked down the street towards home. He never said a word, just sort of walked along a few steps behind us.
Yeah, yeah, you know what’s going to happen already, I know you do, but there was no way either one of us was going to walk into a warm house and leave him outside to wander the streets all night in the cold. I have no doubt that was also Danny’s hope. In the two or three hours we were together, we had, I guess you could say, become friends, and Danny felt it.
Denis was staying over at my place that night, and Christmas dinner would be at my house at noon, and in the evening at Denis’ house. When we turned up the front walk to the house, Danny hesitated and started to walk on by. That is until I asked him where he thought he was going on Christmas Eve. This time there was a bigger smile than the one we saw before… and tears, lots of tears. He threw himself into my arms and squeezed the crap out of me, well not literally. He then dropped down, turned, and did the same to Denis.
As soon as we stepped in the door, his shoes came off exposing some slightly dirty bare feet. He lined his shoes up carefully beside ours. Then his coat came off leaving a rather discoloured short sleeve shirt. Again, he carefully hung it up next to ours, trying to be as neat as possible. We then wandered into the kitchen to get some before-bed milk and cookies. Mom and Dad were sitting at the table having their before-bed cup of tea and we introduced them to Danny. We chit chatted for a bit before Denis headed upstairs to my room with Danny right behind him.
As soon as my bedroom door closed, Dad looked at me and said, “Do I want to ask?”
I gave them a brief rundown of Danny’s story as they glanced back and forth at each other. When I finished, Dad smiled at Mom, then looked at me and said, “I knew I shouldn’t have asked.”
Of course Mom’s first reaction was, “Oh dear, there has to be something under the tree for him in the morning,” and she was gone.
Dad and I talked things over for quite a while before Dad said, “You know there’s no way we could live with ourselves if we force him back onto the street now don’t you?”
“Or even a group home. A group home would kill him,” I responded, “He’s like Denis and me and he’d never survive. Plus, we felt the same way you do now when we left the shelter. The little guy kinda worked his way into our hearts during the evening and there was no way we could have just left him.”
“You worked your way into his too. Every time he looked at either of you there was nothing but love in his eyes,” Dad said with a smile.
I knew where this was going, and all I could think at that moment was that I have the best parents in the world. This is what I had hoped for all the way home, and I leaned over and gave Dad a huge hug. “How did I get so lucky?” I thought to myself.
“I always used to bring stray dogs home with me. It drove my parents crazy,” he said laughing as we broke the hug, “But I never once brought any stray kids home.”
Just then we heard the shower start upstairs. “I think Denis has started the cleanup process,” I said laughing, “I should probably go up and help him.”
“Good idea,” Dad said, “And we’ll get all this sorted out next week.”
All I could say was, “Thanks Dad, you and Mom are the best,” as I gave him another hug and a tear rolled down my cheek.
I also found Mom and gave her a big hug as she dug through the box of my cousins’ undeclared gifts. “I love you and Dad so much,” I said.
She kinda squeaked out a thanks, as a tear or two appeared in her eyes too.
“I really hope your Mom kept some of your old clothes,” Denis said laughing, holding up Danny’s shirt and holding his nose, as I walked in the room.
It just happened that she did keep my old clothes, to hand down to my younger cousins, and I knew just where they were, in the spare room in the basement. I ran down there, found the box marked 12-13 and ran back up. I didn’t even get told to slow down by either Dad or Mom.
Of course Danny came out of the bathroom stark naked drying his hair. I looked at Denis and we both burst out laughing.
“What?” Danny asked.
“You’re not shy at all, are you,” I asked grinning.
“Nope,” was his reply, “Besides I don’t got anything you don’t got.”
We immediately started rummaging through the box from downstairs. I found a pair of old running shorts I’d hardly ever worn which I gave him to put on in the place of boxers. Thankfully I was almost as skinny back then as he was now, and they fit perfectly.
By now it was well past midnight so we all sat on the floor beside my bed and started on our milk and cookies that somehow never got eaten downstairs. I guess Denis had brought them upstairs. Anyway, however they got here, they were here. That was also the time Dad came in dragging a single mattress from the spare room with Mom right behind him with a pillow, sheets, and some blankets. They both thought Danny would prefer to be close to us his first night.
Danny teared up again as he said, “I haven’t slept on a bed since September sometime.”
Mom just looked at him, shook her head, and then smiled. He gave her a big smile back, got up and gave both her and Dad a hug, and then plunked himself down between Denis and me again.
After Mom and Dad left, and we’d finished our milk and cookies, he dragged the mattress over beside my bed, crawled under the covers, looked at me, and quietly said, “Things are gonna get better, aren’t they?”
I simply smiled at him and nodded. I got a big grin as he rolled on his side and prepared to go to sleep. Probably his first good sleep in three months.
Denis gave me a long loving kiss, whispered some sweet nothings in my ear, and I returned his kiss.
We heard a little giggle and a very quiet, “You two should get a room.”
“We’ve got a room,” I replied.
“I mean one without me in it,” he said with another giggle.
That’s about the time we discovered that Danny is ticklish, very ticklish. We were totally kind though and turned him loose in about twenty seconds. He would have fought with us all night if we’d continued, but we knew he was really looking forward to sleeping in an almost real bed for the night, and we weren’t going to spoil it for him.
I leaned down and gave him a kiss on his forehead, and said, “Good night Danny,” as did Denis. We then crawled into bed, turned off the light, cuddled up, and settled in for a good night’s sleep.
Finally somewhere around 9:30 Denis began to stir, which means he poked me in the ribs and asked me if I was awake yet. I replied, “No,” and pushed him off the bed onto the floor. But oops, there was no floor to land on…there was only Danny down there on the mattress. Thankfully he was already awake, so having someone suddenly land on him didn’t scare him half to death.
“Fuck guys,” he exclaimed, “There are better ways to wake a guy up you know. And Denis, if you wanted a kiss, you should have at least asked. I think I got a broken lip now.”
“Not my fault,” Denis responded, “Alex pushed me off the bed.”
“Sorry Danny,” I said in my most apologetic tone.
“What the hell were you doing?” he asked, “Or am I too young to know about that kinda stuff?”
“We weren’t doing anything weird,” I said, “Denis poked me in the ribs so I pushed him off the bed.”
“On top of me? What did I do?” he asked, laughing at this point.
“You moved the mattress into the danger zone last night,” Denis answered.
“Oops,” was his response.
“Shower time,” I announced.
“Yeah!” Danny exclaimed.
“Sorry,” I replied, “It’s one at a time.”
“But you might need someone to hold the soap,” he suggested.
“You’re ticklish aren’t you?” I asked him.
“Okay, okay, but I get to pee first,” he said, as he jumped up and ran for the bathroom.
“Nothing will ever be the same,” Denis said laughing, as he gave me a quick kiss.
By 10:00 we were all dressed and on our way downstairs. Danny looked very presentable in my old clothes. Mom was busy in the kitchen, but we did manage to get the cereal and milk and move to the living room. I noticed Danny glance at the tree and the gifts under it a couple of times. Of course he knew there wouldn’t be anything there for him. I mean we didn’t know he existed until yesterday.
After we finished breakfast and put our dishes and stuff in the dishwasher, Mom and Dad led us back to the living room, and we all sat on the floor in front of the tree. Mom started picking up gifts and handing them to the person they were for…Dad was first, then Denis, then me, then one for her, and then Danny. The look on his face was priceless. He stared at it for a few seconds, then looked at each one of us, and gave us all the big smile, mixed with a couple of tears. We continued on until each of us had our three gifts opened and in front of us.
Then we each got a big hug from Danny before he sat back down, looked over his stuff again and said, “I never thought I would say this to anyone, ever, but I love you guys. Thank you for loving me.” That brought tears to everyone’s eyes and was the best gift of all.
Once we cleaned up the wrapping and put it in the recycling, we assumed Danny would spend the morning playing with his Game King, but he didn’t. He was in the kitchen with Mom doing everything he could to help prepare Christmas dinner. Even when she told him he didn’t have to, he would simply reply, “Yes I do,” and look for something else that needed doing.
Dinner was ready dead on noon, well close, and was amazing. Of course we all ate too much in spite of having to eat another big dinner in a few hours. We all helped clean up then we went upstairs take some time to check out and play with our gifts. First though, we moved the mattress and put it back on the bed in the spare room. As we did, I made it clear that we were moving Danny’s mattress to Danny’s room.
After we were done, he flopped down on his bed, grinned, waved his arm to take in the room, and said, “You know what? I got one more gift than you guys and this is the best one.”
“We got an extra gift too,” Denis said, “You,” which got us another big grin.
After a few hours of chatting, tinkering with or playing with our new gifts, it was time to head over to Denis’ house. Danny was surprised when we told him he was coming with us. When we got there about 6:30, dinner was already on the table. There were a few more people too, Denis’ grandparents, aunt and uncle and two cousins. We just had time to introduce them to Danny and sit down at the table. Once again, the dinner was amazing, and once again we ate too much.
After everyone helped clean up, we once again, found ourselves sitting in front of a tree loaded with gifts. Denis’ mom began calling names and handing them out. And, once again, we got a surprised look and hesitation when Danny’s name was called. Denis had filled her in on our new guest. When he came to his senses, he said, “Thank you,” and quickly got up to receive it. As he sat down again, Denis and I got another big grin. Soon everyone had a few gifts in front of them to open, and once that was done, everyone helped to clean up the mess of paper. Then we all proceeded to sit around and chat about our gifts, our day, our year, and whatever else came to mind.
Danny, and Denis’ cousins, Randy who was 12 and Jase who was 14, found a corner of the room out of the way, not that they wanted to be out of the old folks’ way, they wanted the old folks out of their way. Denis and I sat with them for part of the evening. It would have been the whole evening if the old folks hadn’t demanded our attention.
As we were chatting, Danny looked at us and announced, “Alex and Denis are going to be my new brothers.”
Randy immediately asked how we could both be his new brothers since we weren’t brothers. Jase gave him a little jab and, as he blushed quite nicely, he said, “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
Danny just looked at us and gave us his little giggle and was quickly joined by Randy and Jase. We did move on and change subjects though and the evening proved to be a huge success. By about 10:30, everyone was tiring out, well the old folks, so we called it a night. With so many people staying over, they, of course needed Denis’ room. That meant he would have to stay with me another night. Oh well, we all make sacrifices for family. As we were getting ready to go, Randy and Jase made it very clear that they wanted to come with us. They made the argument that anything was better than sleeping on the living room floor again, carpet or no carpet. Naturally, Danny was all for it, and I wondered just how much sleep we’d get with the three of them across the hall.
As we were making our way home, Danny told us that this had been the best day of his entire life. When the other two wanted to know why, they got a shortened version of what an asshole his stepfather was and how totally scary living on the street was, as well as the Alex and Denis saved me story. They both looked a little shocked as they couldn’t imagine what his life had been like. As soon as we got home, the three of them headed straight for Danny’s room. It wasn’t long before they came back down and asked if we had any foam thingies for Randy and Jase to sleep on. We did, so Denis and I helped carry the pads upstairs and got the boys all set up. We closed their door, crossed over to my room and closed our door. Thankfully, they were surprisingly quiet though.
We did get another little surprise the next morning when we found Jase and Danny curled up together in Danny’s bed. Of course we quietly backed out of the room, left them to sleep, and said nothing to them when they finally came down. Even so, it was a little obvious, even at breakfast, that they liked each other. They spent the whole day within two feet of each other which we thought was cute, but don’t ever let them know we said that. Randy hung out with us for a while, then with the other two for a while, and that’s how his day went. Even so, when they had to go home, they were both seriously disappointed. However, I was quite sure we’d see Jase again, and soon.
The next week was both exciting and scary. The first social worker we got was the bitch from hell. It didn’t take Dad long to lose it with her and go over her head to our local MLA or provincial representative in the government. Dad had worked with him for several years before he went into politics. It wasn’t long before she was taken off the case, reprimanded, and almost lost her job. From there on however it was smooth sailing and by the 5th of January I had a new younger brother, or Denis and I did, according to Danny, and an awesome brother he was. In fact he was a total blessing to us all. He never got into trouble, always had a smile on his face, helped around the house, excelled at school, and became the second link between my and Denis’ families. You see, we did see Jase again, often.
This young boy who had lived through so much hate and violence, who had been forced to survive alone on the streets, had so much life and love in his heart, it wasn’t possible to be around him without being a better person for it. Denis’ words unquestionably came true, and in the best way possible, with Danny around, nothing will ever be the same.
Thanks to Colin for editing, prepping, and posting this story for me.
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