ISSUE #145: Janet Frishberg, Andrea Sparacio, University Drive

Posted: Monday, June 19, 2017 | | Labels:

Illustration by Andrea Sparacio

​b​y Janet Frishberg

They sat in a therapist’s office on opposite ends of a pale green couch, and the therapist asked Mina, “What would you say to them, your unborn babies? Just imagine. The egg dropping from your ovary this month and being shed, along with the lining. Close your eyes.” The therapist paused a few moments, waiting.

Kevin watched Mina trying to keep her eyes closed, eventually squeezing them shut in a way that looked like a grimace.

“Tell me what you’d say to them if they were sitting in front of you on the floor, between us here.”

Issue #145 soundtrack: University Drive “You Won't See It”

“I’d tell them,” Mina said, flattening straight black bangs over her forehead, “I’m sorry. This is sad, isn’t it? I’d tell them I was just trying—”

“Talk to them directly. Picture them in front of you,” said their therapist.

“I just wanted to bring you into a good environment. Two parents who loved you. If you were going to exist. The right place. That’s all I wanted for you. One where you could totally, really be yourselves.” She was crying in a way Kevin only ever saw her do in this particular room. “I’m sorry I won’t get to know you, I think that’s what I’d say.”

“And you, Kevin? What would you want to say to them?”

He shook his head. Their conversation sounded like a movie script to him, not every week but this week in particular. In twelve days it’d be his thirty seventh birthday. He held his hands out open on his legs; his empty palms looked to him like the opposite of violence. This is your real life, he’d tell himself in the burnt orange waiting room. When he didn’t speak, Mina folded in half and laid her head sideways in his lap, her face staring towards the plant in the corner of the room, her hair spreading out over his knees as a small, dark blanket might.

* * * * *

What they avoided inside the apartment together was most things, except what concerned physical objects: Can you please wipe down the kitchen table/I did the laundry/did you call the plumber/what record tonight/this morning/it’s too loud for me, sweetie/how old is this ketchup anyway? He never knew he would be linked to someone by such banality.

And in Target, at the local hardware store, rare treks to Costco, were the actual arguments about how many spatulas they needed to buy. About what size and color trashcan the bathroom deserved. Mina saying, “I just think a red one would be fun, okay?” and Kevin, twenty minutes later, rolling his eyes at the frivolousness of it while they wheeled their cart through the parking lot, red trashcan inside.

Then he stood, riding the cart towards the lot’s edge with his hands up like a child on a roller coaster, until it locked, and he fell off and laughed. He turned around to smile at Mina, but she was already sitting in the passenger seat of their sun-roasted Toyota, frowning at her phone.

* * * * *

The therapist asked them to talk about their childhoods with each other.

Kevin told Mina about his shaved blond hair, the way the edges of his forehead burned and tanned and burned again in San Diego sun. The light bounced off everything there, but mostly cars. This is where he remembers growing up most: the backseat. He told Mina about his brother David, who always knew what he wanted and what everyone else wanted, too. David set the table; he pointed to where they should each sit. Their parents followed David’s hands towards chairs, smiling like this was a very good thing, to have a child so determined.

Kevin told her about holding his down pillow over one ear at night, to drown out the unremarkable yelling of middle class, assimilated suburbia. There was one other Jew in his grade; they weren’t friends. Kevin swept the kitchen floor in the mornings before school and believed it made a difference. What Kevin kept secret as a child and what he didn’t want to tell Mina as an adult was the fact that he believed in God, like actually believed, and the way he wished with held breath, whenever they drove through tunnels, for everyone to just like each other.

Mina spoke of being a girlchild, this was her word, in the woods of Northern California. He imagined her walking on dirty tiptoes to creeks and sucking small rocks in her mouth while she waded across clean water, the kind that sparkled. She told him she always wondered if this was the recipe to becoming a mermaid. Before Mina studied public policy and refugee camps and the displacement of humans, and became too afraid of the world to be certain she should have children, she ate vegan for days at a time without knowing to call it that and prayed to places not people. She plucked fennel from the edges of dirt trails, chewing the green spindles carefully, until all the flavor was gone, and then spitting it into the bushes like a gooey sac of spider eggs.

He’d seen pictures of little Mina with the exact same straight-across bangs she’d return to twenty-four years later. She said she wore her dead father’s work shirts until they became dirty enough to soften with soil and fog. She grew thick pink scars along the fronts of her calves from sticks and falling, the murmurs of which could still be seen on her legs, and she read supine on the rug in the front hall, under a chandelier whose ornate light bulbs never seemed to need changing.

Before she was instructed to tether herself to the world and cared about things like kitchen utensils and the color of her garbage receptacle, she told Kevin how she held on to nothing but her own firm thighs in bed at night while she fell asleep. Or, by day, the found bones of a wild quail in her sweaty palm. These miniature treasures she said she told no one of then, but kept hidden in a lilac-painted wooden box on her bookshelf.

* * * * *

It was not enough—to try to know each other as children. Mina moved out of their apartment, driving to sun-roasted Phoenix, where her sister lived. Almost eight months after she’d left, when the greasy cupboards and the creaking hallway floor and the slow-draining shower became too noisy with the voices of what he’d lost, Kevin started walking his neighborhood at night, sneaking out of his condo, a reverse burglar. Even just one block north of his street, the landscape surprised with buildings he’d never seen before.

One Thursday night, wandering, he remembered his brother David, dressed as the Hulk. It was the Halloween David was sixteen and Kevin almost thirteen; he knew because he was soon-to-be bar mitzvahed. He helped David apply the green paint to his skin, his nineteen-years-dead brother who could not now verify the facts of the evening or explain why exactly they were home alone one Halloween weekend as teenagers.

Alone, the boys ate deep-dish pizza in David’s bedroom, and Kevin felt on the edge of all kinds of adulthood, this eating of messy foods in forbidden places. Later, but before they left the house, David handed Kevin a bunch of Smarties and then a slightly smaller something, the size of a mint. “What is it?” Kevin asked, holding the tiny white pill between two fingers.

“Just swallow it, pussy,” David said, double-checking the edges of his face paint in the hallway mirror.

In cool, foggy, dark air almost thirty years later, walking his now-unfamiliar neighborhood, Kevin blessed drying concrete, gutter trash, strangers in candlelit restaurant windows: kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, like he once sang as a child, lifting his young heels towards heaven, the way he once prayed as a boy about to become, they told him, a man.

And as he walked the quiet humming streets, he tried to find what evidence could justify this new, absurd lightness in his shoulders, the tingling in his hands. He thought of belated birthday presents sent three months late, arriving in the mail with no expectation or predictability. He hoped, and doubted, and hoped.

Janet Frishberg is a writer who lives and works in San Francisco. She writes fiction and nonfiction and has recently had work published in The Rumpus, WhiskeyPaper, Human Parts, Lunch Ticket, Gigantic Sequins, and The Manifest Station. For more, visit

Andrea Sparacio is an illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her artwork has appeared in Apartment Therapy, NARAL Pro-Choice America's Gender Cards, Harper's Bazaar en Español, Vogue Pattern Magazine & more. She enjoys painting monstery-weirdos and works under the close watch of a tailless cat. Say hello at + Instagram.

University Drive is a four-piece based out of Scranton, PA, made up of Edward Cuozzo on lsad vocals/guitar, Steve Martin on drums/vocals, John Husosky on bass, and Mike Flaherty oin opening track from their most recent album, "On/Off:Reset," which released this Spring from Fightless Records. For more, visit the band on Fanlink or follow them on Twitter.