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'He Needed A Cigarette...I Needed Somebody To Talk To': A COVID Friendship Story

A young man with dark curly hair slings an arm around the shoulder of an older man in a blue shirt.
John Caceres, Courtesy
Sam Gallitano, 21, and David Parker, 60, became friends last fall. They were both living at Single Steps at the time, a group home run by Washington County Mental Health in Montpelier.

Sam Gallitano and David Parker are best friends. And their friendship happened, in part, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Editor's note: We recommend listening to this story! But a transcript has been provided below. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Sam Gallitano: My leg starts twitching, like shaking, or I start like, twiddling my thumbs. I lose my focus on everything. And that's the anxiety part. But the depression sometimes is so bad I don't even want to get out of bed.

I'm Sam Gallitano, I'm 21 years old.

Anna Van Dine: In October, Sam moved into Single Steps, an eight-bed group home run by Washington County Mental Health. It’s a gray house on Barre Street in Montpelier, not far from downtown. There’s a crabapple tree out front and a picnic table out back. Because of COVID-19, Sam couldn’t hug his mom or his siblings when he saw them. Meeting with his therapist over Zoom wasn’t the same.

He needed someone to talk to.

David needed a cigarette.

David Parker: My name is David Parker. I'm a Vermonter. Long time, my whole life lived here. I’m 60 years old.

In 2013, I robbed two banks. Was living in the woods in Burlington, and I was drinking every day and really not taking care of myself at all. And I went and robbed these banks. So the judge gave me six years, and I did it all in federal prison.

Anna Van Dine: David says he stopped drinking when he got to prison. And now he’s been out almost two years. But when the pandemic began, he couldn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous anymore. He could barely see the woman he’d started dating. He was living at Single Steps when Sam moved in.

Grey house with a tree in front
Credit John Caceres / Courtesy
Single Steps is a group home in Montpelier run by Washington County Mental Health.

Sam Gallitano: He asked me for a cigarette, and I said, sure. That was it. We started talking right there. We literally smoked, like half a pack of cigarettes, just talking when I first got to Single Steps.

We talked about everything from remote control cars to the weather to politics to, you know, it's snowing outside. Just anything. We could just strike up a conversation like you can strike a match, and it would just go.

Anna Van Dine: Sam and David haven't stopped talking since.

David Parker: Sam, he’s 6 feet. No, not 6 feet. 5'11". Brown eyes, dark hair, good looking kid. Got a beard.

Sam Gallitano: Well, David. Older gentleman. Awesome. Gray eyes, mixed color hair. Sometimes has two different shoes on, depending on the day.

Anna Van Dine: What Sam doesn’t say about David is that he still thinks about drinking sometimes. What David doesn’t say about Sam is that he’s also been arrested. They’ve both done things that have badly hurt other people. And they’re both trying to get beyond that, with each other’s help. And they’ve got other things in common:

Sam Gallitano: We both like the same kind of cigarettes and we both like the same kind of TV shows. Just because he’s 60 and I'm 21, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. We get along perfectly!

David Parker: Sam's great. He’s teaching me all kinds of stuff on the computer, with mechanics, because he's got these remote-control cars. And he's always breaking ‘em.


Sam Gallitano: They’re actually pretty cool. Tires about the size of a Pepsi can.

David Parker: It helps that I’m a kid at heart. Making jumps in the driveway and being up late and, you know, watching TV, hanging out.

Sneakers and a snowy toy car
Credit Anna Van Dine / VPR
Sam Gallitano builds his own remote control cars. This one has parts from other vehicles and some pieces Sam made with a 3D printer. He says it can go over 30 miles per hour.

Sam Gallitano: A lot of the staff at [Single Steps] hated the word moist. So we literally would say it just to irritate people.


Sam Gallitano: Moist.

David Parker: And moist!


Sam Gallitano: It’s been very difficult for me to make friends. A lot of people just don't like how blunt of a person I am, and how I don't like, you know, drama. I don't like, you know, I'm just — I like real people. And everybody gets mad because I'm a real person, and I just tell how it is. And nobody likes that, except David here.

David Parker: I take friendship very seriously. I hate having to second-guess things. Did I do this right? Did I do that right? This is different.

Sam Gallitano: I feel like we kind of needed each other, in a way. He needed a cigarette at the time, I needed somebody to talk to.


Anna Van Dine: Sam moved out of Single Steps in the third week of January. He’s got his own apartment in Barre now. He visits David often, and they hang out in their old spot out back by the picnic table, smoking cigarettes and talking (odds are, they’re there right now). But it’s not quite the same.

David Parker: It’s quiet, it’s lonely. Everyone in the house misses Sam. Everybody wishes him well, wants to see him do good. And I believe he will, I believe he will. Though I still — there’s a lot to learn. I don't know, maybe sometime this winter we’ll get out, and we’ll do some ice fishing.

Sam Gallitano: We can definitely make that happen, if you wanna go ice fishing. Just call me.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine@annasvandine.

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Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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