Random Series Mega Bundle
The last time I saw Sam was four and a half years ago at the qualifiers for the National Debate Tournament. He was from a neighboring school and I’d seen him since freshman year at different speech tournaments, every Saturday, from the end of October through March with few exceptions. I had a sense of who he was from the start. He was Lincoln-Douglas debate all the way, baby. Smart, determined, and turning from a silent geek into one hell of a hot guy by the time we were seniors.
The funny part was he didn’t know it.
The awesome part was that was what drew me to him.
He wasn’t awkward, like the other guys. Sam was so self-contained and knew himself so deeply that he didn’t need to talk about it, show off, or prove his manhood. Talking to Sam could be torture. Catching him in the halls, in the cafeteria with his group from his high school, and me with my group from their rival, we intersected enough to hang out. Over ice cream bars and the occasional cup of coffee by our senior year, there was an accumulation of just enough conversations for me to decide that I wasn’t crazy and that there was a spark of interest there.
What happened to confirm that was burned into my brain, the second strongest memory of my life.
I lost one of the most intense debates of my career two weeks before qualifiers, and Sam found me in a corner of the enormous high school auditorium. I was trying to cry quietly, and mostly not succeeding. He just found me—that’s all. He didn’t lord over the fact that he placed first in the tournament that day, to my third. He didn’t try to say all the right words that everyone thought were kind, and considerate, and comforting, and helpful.
He didn’t stumble or say “I’m sorry.” He just walked up and stopped a few feet away from me, his brow lowering with a frown of recognition, and then did something so perfect it makes me ache to this day. Decisively, step by step, he closed the gap and just put his arms around me.
Tucked my cheek into his chest and wound one arm around my waist, the other around my shoulders, rested his head on my hair, and held me.
I would give anything to go back to that moment in the auditorium, with its cracked wood seats and its shabby, threadbare carpet, its smell of lemony bleach, to feel again how Sam filled all my senses. My ear against the wool of his suit, his arms wrapped around me like a cocoon of understanding. His aftershave, the rasp of his cheek against my ear. Sam created a world for me in that one moment, a safe world where I could cry. A world where I fell in love.
What I didn’t know then was that two weeks later at the national qualifier tournament, I would dismantle that world, atom by atom, molecule by molecule, completely unaware that I was doing it at the time.