How to Break a Young Man’s Heart

By Shelley Schenk

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To smash the tender heart of a young man, first make him yours on the rebound. The day after easy going Mark, the good kisser, breaks things off over the telephone for no apparent reason, deliberately wait outside Room 302, where David has trigonometry, and smile at him. David will be flattered and do the things a good boyfriend does. He’ll remember days of importance, your birthday, your three month anniversary. He’ll help you bake the cakes.

The day President Reagan is shot go to his house after school and stare at the flashing television. Even at sixteen, you’re enraged at this President. In your cramped neighborhood on the southwest side of Detroit, where people work like oxen and struggle to pay bills and taxes, you feel his hostility. He implies that your people are lazy and looking for handouts, even though the money he presides over is yours.

Long legged in his blue jeans and socks, David will curse. He loves this President-thinks he’s good for the country.

David would be a good provider. Everyone’s guess for valedictorian. (You do homework everyday on the floor together after school-except today.) He’ll go to a prestigious college like MIT or U of M. He would buy you a house on a tree-lined suburban street, nicer than the small, wood framed one you’re sitting in. He’d shop and do chores and run errands. You could marry him. He’d be faithful. But his admiration for this loathsome politician is the death knell.

Notice his kisses taste like stale Dr. Pepper and he doesn’t open his mouth enough–you feel nothing. Give into passion with a southern boy named Johnny Jones on a trip to your father’s house, although you’ve been forbidden to even see him. He’ll be brash and cocky in a way northern boys are not, driving too fast and tasting of Miller Lite and Marlboros. He would not be a good provider. He would drink too much and cheat. He’ll howl at the moon as he strips down your jeans. Your father will wonder where you are.


David will fry up corned beef hash from a can in the kitchen while you watch replays of the shooting. The man, Brady, is on the ground, his head cracked open like an eggshell. Feel sorry for him.

Think of Mark the good kisser and how his mimicking the screeching old ladies on the Monty Python reruns made you laugh. And his curly dark hair that smells of Prell shampoo. Wish he was still carrying your books and walking you home as snow flurries fall on dark streets lined bumper to bumper with old cars. You’ll find him thirty years later when you’re both pushing fifty and exhausted from mentally abusive marriages. He’ll pop up from two states away, just after Christmas, through a phone that doesn’t yet exist. Sight unseen, you’ll commit to getting married and leave your spouses. It’ll work. You’ll be happy. The men and boys you left in the rear-view mirror like so much roadkill won’t matter as much. Their pain won’t haunt you anymore.

David will sit down on the couch and feed you the salty hash. The buttery toast will be delicious. You’ll make sandwiches like this all of your life. He’ll say he agrees with President Reagan, that he doesn’t believe in unions, even though the house and everything in it is paid for with his father’s union wages-his shiny green 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix parked outside too. Your grandfather in the old house by the railroad tracks did a wildcat strike at Kelsey Hayes once. Tell the young man you’re disappointed in him. Your grandfather would throw him out of the house. He threw out quite a few people during the Nixon years, your mom told you. You’ll later throw people out of your house too.

Ask David to turn off the television. You’ve seen enough of the shooting. He won’t. Later, after you’ve pulled the trigger on a South Carolina moonlit night with Johnny Jones on a cracked leather sofa, he’ll call you a slut. For two days after the breakup, your phone will ring and ring. He’ll cross the stage at graduation, the proud valedictorian, the audience on its feet, clapping. You’ll feel a stab of pity and sadness, although it’s your graduation too.

Shelley Schenk