Jon Russelburg

It’s a cold Friday morning in November. I’m bundled up, belly full of turkey, waiting in the front of a line outside of a department store.

It’s Black Friday in the pre-internet age. I’m still young enough that waiting hours in the freezing cold is worth it for a deal.

The guy in line next to me looks familiar. I keep sneaking glances at his face, trying to place him in my history. Eventually, he catches me.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asks.

I admit that I do not, but I know that I should. He introduces himself to me and it makes sense.

He had spent a summer attached to the hip of one of my childhood friends. Every day when we would hang out, he was there. He was fun, but only around for that one summer.

We start chatting — we have nothing better to do with no iPhones and hours to kill before the store lets us rush in. We reminisce about that summer.

We would sneak into a church basement and play ping pong on the dilapidated table that had long been forgotten by the parishioners. We would cruise around town in our beat-up, hand-me-down cars singing along to terrible music.

We would go to “concerts” in people’s basements thinking that we we’re watching the next Nirvana. We would smoke cigars and call ourselves rebels.

Then August came and we went back to school. We crossed paths in the hallways and acknowledged each other.

We ignored our summer together. He went back to hanging with the athletes and I went back to the theatre department.

Our lives outside of that summer were completely different. For two months, we were the same. We had the same interests, we ran in the same circles. But when real life came back into focus, we couldn’t remember why we bonded.

After graduation, we hadn’t seen each other once.

As we chatted in the November cold, it hit me how much like a movie it all was. It’s a cliché story that’s been told a million times before.

I realized that here we were in the third act. We had been reunited.

He told me about his wife and kids. I told him about trying to learn to read ancient Greek. We were still so different.

He was in line to buy a new washer and dryer for his family. I wanted a new gaming system and maybe a T.V.

At 4 a.m., the store opened its doors. We told each other good luck, and I lost him in the crowd.

I searched for the gaming system, only to find out that particular store didn’t actually carry it despite what the advertisement said. Again, this was pre-internet.

As I walked to my car, I saw him loading a washer and dryer into the back of his truck. His wife was helping him with the tow straps and his kids were chasing each other around the parking lot.

I hesitated for a moment, deciding if I should tell him goodbye. I thought maybe we could exchange numbers and hang out the next time I’m home from college.

Instead, I decided to just get in my car and go home. That was my story now. I was in college, making new friends and having new experiences.

He was in our hometown, raising two kids and working his butt off. Neither story was better than the other. But our stories didn’t include the other person anymore.

I have never spoken to him again. I wonder about him sometimes. I wonder how his kids are doing now, what grade they may be in. I wonder if he took over his father’s business or started something new.

I hope he’s doing well. We are both living our own stories now, and that’s OK. 

Maybe someday, our paths will cross again. But we’ll both always have that summer and cold November morning. 

Jon Russelburg is the digital editor of the Kentucky New Era. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @newerajon.

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