The Old Boyfriend

by Sally York

We’re in his kitchen, kissing, and I’m trying not to hear the hum of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the burp of the coffeemaker, or the click of his dog’s nails on linoleum. I’m trying to focus on the kiss. I’m trying to press my lips against his lips, to meet his tongue with my tongue. I’m trying to replace his saliva with mine. I’m trying to suck the paranoid schizophrenia out of him, and spit it into the cracked porcelain sink.


“You really don’t know, do you?” his sister said. She saw me in line at the post office. I was on one of the errands I always run for my mother during our annual visit. No, I didn’t know. I left town for college the day after the party, and lost touch with the kids we hung out with when we were a couple.

“Someone put acid in his beer,” she said. “All he does is lay around his apartment and stare out the window and smoke cigarettes.”

LSD doesn’t cause schizophrenia, I found out on my husband’s laptop, but it can trigger the disease in a person with a predisposition. The average age of onset in men is 25. Seven more good years he might have had.

“I can’t believe it’s you,” he said. His sister’s car was pulling away, and part of me wanted to chase it down and forget the whole thing. But he never saw anyone, and he’d asked to see me. So I slipped off my shoes in the hallway, as she’d told me to do. He had a thing about shoes. Electronic devices, she’d said, shrugging.

He still looked like Jackson Browne, only with a nimbus of white hair pulled back in a ponytail. We sat down beside each other on his plaid couch and talked. Politely, tentatively. Like normal people having a normal reunion.

Then the tenor changed. I changed it.

“My husband? He’s—” I took a sip of coffee. “He’s an asshole.”

He laughed. “Any kids?”

I nodded. “My son’s cheating on his wife. And my daughter, she’s the most narcissistic creature on the planet.”

I’d never said anything like that about my family before. Did I feel safe with him, knowing he was unconnected to us? Or was I telling him my life hadn’t turned out so great either. That we were sort of even.

“I still remember the party,” he said.

I hadn’t given it a thought in decades until yesterday, after the post office. A bonfire in a field, kids in jeans and cut-off shorts and halter tops, a crappy rock band, heat and mosquitoes—the usual. He was there, with some buddies. We had already broken up. I had a hundred hits of windowpane in my pocket and a really stupid idea.

He offered more coffee, and I followed him into the kitchen. He whirled around, bumping into me. Somehow we started kissing.


We pull apart, finally. I’m breathing hard.

“I haven’t felt this feeling in a long time,” I say.

He smiles, and his face looks funny under the fluorescent lights. Not funny. Hideous. His spider veins are elaborately detailed road maps. His pores are huge. They pulsate. I turn away, and the counter is covered with a pattern of furry paisley. My mouth tastes like a tin can. It’s as if I’ve sucked his schizophrenia into myself.

“Not in years of fears and tears and gears,” he says.

God.  The coffee.


Sally York would rather listen to Jimi Hendrix than clean her house.
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