The House on Walnut Street in Robinson, Illinois

My second book, ONE GAY AMERICAN, is coming along well. Coffeetown Press and I decided to push the release date back to September 1, 2012 to give me more time to gather reviews and blurbs. Many people involved in the early years of the gay rights movement and LGBT history are still alive and I hope they will embrace my memoir and give me a blurb for the cover of the book.

In other news…

I still have a few ties to my hometown of Robinson, Illinois. Facebook has be a valuable tool in keeping up to date with old friends and the goings-on in the tiny town of 6,000. There is a group page on Facebook called, “You’re From Robinson, Illinois If You Remember…” The page is a constant stream of posts ranging from the excitement of mushroom hunting season, to the town’s rich history before Wal-Mart arrived.

Recently, a citizen posted a picture of her enormous Victorian house on Walnut Street asking for information on it’s history; specifically about the removal and replacement of the pointed roof over the house’s circle staircase. It took me a minute, but I realized that I used to live in that house: July 1984 to April 1985.

My fiance, Jessica, and I rented a one bedroom apartment upstairs in the back part of the house. The home at the time was not well maintained at all; our living room ceiling was caving in from a leaky roof. Nothing had been painted, or even cleaned, in years. Everything was falling apart. We overlooked the neglect and deterioration and took the apartment because it had lots of character. We saw lots of potential; it was like the setting to a gothic romance novel.

Our crazy landlord was a recently divorced woman who didn’t have the means to care for the house. The rent was $200 a month, all utilities included. It was a stretch for us to pay even that much rent. I was nineteen years old college student and Jessica was an underpaid secretary. We weren’t asked to sign a lease as the owner was accustomed to renting out the apartment and extra bedrooms in rapid succession to temporary, migrant workers for the local refinery.

This house is where a good portion of ONE GAY AMERICAN and SHORN: TOYS TO MEN takes place. The beautiful, wooden circle staircase in the foyer with the pointed roof above was the most impressive part of the structure. It was the feature that sold Jessica and I on the house. We moved in and I immediately began fantasizing of a different life –one that matched the grandeur of the staircase –every time I went up the stairs or down the stairs. In my head, I was going to and from someplace better than where I was in my reality. It was hard for me to admit, but my fantasies didn’t feature me as a traditional husband.

Jessica and I were well on our way to planning our wedding when we moved into that house. Despite my private doubts and fears, it was an exciting time. I was doing everything I felt I was supposed to. But I knew it wasn’t real. I couldn’t get past the wishful thinking of the staircase; pretending to be something I wasn’t. I knew I was in the wrong romance novel.

Seeing the picture of the house on Facebook brings back one of my darkest memories. There is a chapter in SHORN: TOYS TO MEN where I invite a stranger into the house while Jessica was at work. That particular day was sinister and scary. My life could have dramatically changed it’s course that day. Keeping the secret was better than coming out of the closet.

Looking back, I can now admit that my life was in just as much disarray as the house I was living in in 1984.

I find great comfort in seeing that the house has a new owner who has properly maintained it. It would have been a shame for the house to have been condemned or torn down. It really did have great potential …and so did I.

About Dennis

Dennis Milam Bensie’s poem “Eight Ball” was published in Greater National Society of Poets, Inc in 1980 when he was a freshman in high school. It was featured thirty years later in his memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men. His short stories, poetry and essays have been featured all over the web and in print. His second book, One Gay American, was chosen as a finalist in both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. In 2015, Bensie successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign to fund a tour of his latest book Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature. Flit has been featured in Kolaj Magazine and was a part of Tribe Magazine’s “Anti-Shame Week”. The author has been a presenter at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at Montana’s very first gay pride festival.
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