My name is Allen Grant. I was born on June 20, 1964. I was a sick baby, born with hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain”. Mr. And Mrs. Gotall fostered me when I was only six months old. I never found out anything about my birth parents because welfare lost the papers, but this doesn’t really matter to me. I was very happy growing up in North Delta.
The first school I ever went to was Simon Cunningham Annex in Surrey. It was a small school for handicapped children. In Grade 4 our class was transferred to the Simon Cunningham Elementary School. I was put into a regular class and my report card that year read: “Allen next year will be in modified Grade 4 or 5.” I found school hard, especially because in those grades I had a battleaxe of a teacher; she gave us tons of homework. I used to take it home and not be able to do it, so I would ask my mom, and she couldn’t do it, so I would ask my dad. One time I asked my dad for help and he gave me all the answers, but the next day at school I found out that they were all wrong!
I had two good friends from elementary school. In Grade 6 we would always go to my friend’s place after school. A lot of the times we would chase girls. I got sent to the principal’s office all through elementary school.
After leaving elementary school, I went to William Beagle Junior High. The school’s logo was Snoopy, from Charlie Brown. I went through Grades 8, 9, and 10 at that school. In Grade 8 I was a Casanova; I had a bunch of girl friends. I remember some Grade 10 girls wrote in my yearbook, “He’s the sweetest little guy in our homeroom.”
After Grade 10, I’d had enough: I didn’t want to go on to Grade 11 or 12. My parents said to me, “It’s your life,” and so I decided not to go back to school. However, it just so happened that we lived right in front of a senior high school, and that summer I had a guilty conscience. I reconsidered my decision and thought, “Might as well give it a go.” I went to senior high for one month in the fall, but it was just too hard. I stopped going. The school phoned our house to see why I wasn’t coming to school anymore, and my parents told them the reason.
I started working for my dad; he was a roofer and did shingles. I used to pick up the junk he threw down from the roof. I did this until I was about twenty. Eventually, I stopped that job and went to Art Knapp’s Nursery. I wanted to be independent. My job was loading and unloading semi trucks and cars with plants. The plants were heavy and I would come home covered in dirt. Mom would order me to take my clothes off and get upstairs. I would grab my housecoat and then come back down for a shower.
Besides working, I hung out with a couple of friends I had down the street. We would go around on a pushcart and get all the little kids to push us.
I met Debbie, who is now my fiancée, through a social club for the handicapped. We went to a bowling alley with a group. I got the nerve to ask her for her phone number. Her phone number was on my table for the longest time, when finally I got the nerve up to phone and ask her out. I was really chicken, but then we started phoning each other a lot.
She invited me back to her place, but she had a roommate. Whenever I would go over there, her roommate wouldn’t give us our space. She wouldn’t leave us alone. Eventually Deb got her own place by herself, in White Rock. I started going there every now and then; my dad would drive me up there. My parents really liked Deb.
In 1982, we went traveling across Canada in the motor home. PEI was my favourite place. We had family there and on the last night my dad played the guitar, my cousin played the violin, and my other cousin played the piano. I broke down and cried because I didn’t want to leave.
That Christmas, my dad let me fly back to visit. My cousin and I slept in the basement. To get to the bathroom you had to run across a cold cement floor and run up the stairs. It was a cold winter, but on Christmas morning I went upstairs with my cousin and went to the window and there was no snow outside! It was alright though, because after Christmas there was lots of snow, and my cousin and I played in it. I stayed for two weeks, and at the end I was sad to go again. After the trip my cousin and I started writing back and forth to each other.
In 1986 there was Expo in Vancouver. Deb’s parents were going to take us. We went there and walked around. We went on a few rides; there was a log ride, a parachute drop, a space shuttle, and a rollercoaster called the “Scream Machine” (I was too chicken to go on that).
I worked at the nursery for two years (until 1987) before the accident happened. One day when I was climbing into the trailer, I lost my balance and fell backwards. I woke up at Shaugnessy Hospital in the spinal cord unit. The first face I saw was Deb’s. I was in intensive care and I had tubes up my nose and a respirator. I had gone from walking fine to helplessly lying flat on my back. I was scared.
My mom and dad came, and I was so happy to see them. They were worried about me and I didn’t want them to leave. My dad could come by every evening to see me because he was working in Vancouver. I learned how to control a chin wheelchair, and they took me into the chapel to learn how to drive because there was more space there. In the beginning I kept crashing into the platforms and pews. Eventually I got good enough to drive down the halls.
I was at Shaugnessy for a year. After leaving the intensive care unit I went into another room with four beds and was there until I came to George Pearson Centre. There was a nurse who had a boyfriend in one of the other beds. I started going home for a couple of hours every so often. The nurse would drive me home in her boyfriend’s van, not as part of her job, but just because she was kind.
In 1988 I came to George Pearson. I was living in Ward 7, the respiratory ward. Soon I was mobile enough to drive all over the place. I started going home more often once we got our own van that my dad would drive. Dad also learned how to suction so that he could take me home for a couple of hours at a time for dinner. It was good to be home.
Sometime in the 1990’s, the whole ward was moved up to Ward 2 and I finally had a private room. I had missed the privacy in the big open area of Ward 7. Deb still came to see me and she liked my private room-we could smooch in private. Dad would come here everyday after work and mom came on the weekends.
Eventually I asked Deb if she would marry me. I had a blanket over my knees, and under the blanket I had the ring. One day when she came in, I told her, “Look under the blanket,” and she did, then I asked her to marry me. Deb didn’t want to get married because I was in a wheelchair and on a respirator. We would have to live close to the hospital and I would need care all the time. We decided to still be friends and we are still engaged. It’s hard on me sometimes because she’s way out in White Rock and I’m here in Vancouver. I’d go over there-I have a driver-but I can’t go right now because I don’t have a nurse to come with me.