Political Content Writing Workshop:

Where They Belonged

Megan Zapanta

The only place she felt truly happy was the small Norwegian island where she spent summers running barefoot over rocks. She ran until she was out of breath and then sat down and dangled her calloused feet into grey water. As she gasped and inhaled the salty air, her thoughts poured quickly in a jumbled mix of Danish, Norwegian, and English. For a moment, she was away from her evil stepmother, the noise and concrete of Chicago streets, drunken fighting, and all the different sets of stepfamilies passing in and out of her life. Here, where icy water cut jagged rocks, she could just be.

When he went home for the first time in fifteen years, he couldn’t speak to his family in Tagalog or Chavano. They insisted that when he had left, he could chat in both. They told him how spoiled he had been—he was the eldest grandson, everyone had taken care of him. They gave him his own room in the crowded house, but asked for money and the new clothes his mom had just bought him. They called him Mr. Saturday Night Fever, John Travola, because he wore his hair long and dressed like he was going to the disco. He felt too sweaty, too claustrophobic. Before he learned he didn’t belong at the dark, humorless university in Chicago where he would study the next year, he knew he didn’t belong here.

On a cold winter night, she noticed beads of sweat drip from his curly hair as he chopped pizza toppings in the kitchen. He was flushed with fever, but still picked up an extra shift for a buddy. He had dropped out of college; she had never gone. By the time they met working in a pizza shop in Chicago, they had both run away from home and the plans their parents had made for them. They strung together a life out of late night back-to-back shifts, drinking and smoking too much, watching Star Trek, and dreaming of a big house where they would raise kids.

Megan Zapanta was raised in San Diego, California. She attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and works as a development associate at Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). She is a proud member of Anakbayan East Bay.