Sam

The Dupont Circle Metro Station
When I recently found myself in Washington DC for work, I couldn’t resist the urge to revisit my past, so I hopped on the Metro in Crystal City and rode to Dupont Circle.

I moved to Washington in the 80s, a few years out of college. I’d never lived on my own before and I was scared but I felt it was time; if not now, when? I asked myself. I saw the move as writing a new chapter in the book of me, as if I was documenting my journey to full adulthood.

For the first time, I would be solely responsible for myself. I found a job easily enough, in a strange new city, where I knew next to no one. At first I lived with my cousin, who was more best friend and sister than cousin. Then, I rented a room in a madwoman’s basement. Finally, I found an apartment. My first night there I was so terrified and lonely, I stayed awake all night with the lights on. The next morning I walked to the local park on Dupont Circle, near the Metro. I laid down on an empty bench staring at the sky and wondering what I had done. I’d never been so lonely or demoralized. I fell asleep. When I woke up it was late afternoon and my face was on fire, my throat parched, my lips chapped. I had a sunburn so bad I could barely open my eyes.

Back in my new apartment, which seemed even shabbier and more desolate than when I’d fled it earlier, I stared at my face in the mirror, and wondered again: What have I done? What did I think I was doing, a little boy playing a man?

###

The building I first lived in,
now rehabbed and converted to condos
I glanced from the small For Rent ad in my hand to the building to verify the address: 1610 16th Street, NW. That’s when I saw him. He was attacking a patch of concrete in front of the building with a pick ax. Masculinity wafted off him like perfume; its heady scent caught my balls in the vice grip of desire and squeezed. Hard.

Shorter than I, he was blocky, and solid. Beneath a coating of sweat, his muscles moved, shiny in the noonday sun. His brow was creased with determination. Watching his intensity, close to swooning, I could almost believe he’d hewn himself out of granite to stand gleaming, and magnificent before me.

Catching sight of me, he dropped his pick ax, shook off like a dog. “I’m Sam,” he said. He did not offer his hand, and I was too shy in his presence to offer mine.

“You here to see the apartment?” he asked. He seemed to be sizing me up.

When I nodded, he directed me to follow him. He led me to an old-fashioned elevator. “I operate the elevator, mostly,” he said, pulling the gate closed and moving a lever on the floor so the elevator rose slowly, creakily to the third floor.

Inside, as I started looking around he said, “This is a great neighborhood. Right off Dupont Circle. Lots of women around.” Watching me, he winked. I nodded absently. Still watching me, he added, “Lots of gay guys, too—if that’s what you’re into.”

I said I’d take the apartment. I was so distracted by his proximity that I failed to notice the apartment’s only window faced an air shaft. The grimy windows were hard to open and let in very little air, and absolutely no light. So that no matter the weather or time of day it always appeared to be twilight and raining.

A few weeks after I moved in, Sam came over to check on me. He brought me a Playboy magazine as a housewarming present. He spent the next hour alternately staring at his magazine and me. I was relieved when he finally left. It wasn’t until he stopped by the following evening, without his magazine, that I discerned his first visit had been an attempt to seduce me.

The next night, he stopped the elevator on my floor but made no move to open the door. I stared at him feeling a tightness in my throat, in my groin. “Can I kiss you?” I asked.

He smiled. “Sure.” And indicated his cheek.

“No,” I said and brought my mouth to his. He returned my kiss with something of the intensity, I’d noticed when he’d been swinging his pick ax.

Stumbling out of the elevator, whose door he’d managed to open, my legs around his waist, his lips still pressed against mine, he slipped the key out of my hand and opened my apartment door causing us to tumble backward onto the floor. After, as we lay breathing hard in a confusion of limbs and clothes, I could hear calls for the elevator, and people stomping up and down the stairs in irritation.

We fell into a pattern. I’d ride up and down with him in the elevator, reading to him from the newspaper when we were alone. Occasionally he’d ask me to read a letter from a friend in jail. I happily obliged. He liked me reading to him, and I liked reading to him. Eventually the need to be close would overcome us, and we’d decamp to my apartment for an hour or so, leaving irate tenants to take the stairs, or finding the open elevator on the third floor, my floor, operate it themselves.

One day he asked me to write a letter to his friend, who was still in jail. He dictated, and I wrote. After I handed it back to him to read, I realized with a start that he could not read it. That saddened me deeply, less the fact that he couldn’t read than, that he hadn’t felt he could tell me he couldn’t read. I had always assumed he wanted me to read to him so he could keep me close. I would have gladly taught him to read.

One day I came home and someone else was manning the elevator. “Where’s Sam?” I asked.

“He’s gone.”


I never saw Sam again. Looking back, I can’t say I loved him, or that I’d envisioned a future with him, but I’d liked him immensely. Sam, whose gentle affection took away a boy’s terror, and left in his wake a confident young man.

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