The Invisible Minority
Kelly Ann Gonzales
Macaranas would be lying if he told you that he wasn’t dying to be someone important. Against his Lawyer Father and Doctor Mother’s wishes, he went to college to study such a useless course of education known as Decision Sciences with a minor in Popular Culture. This was how he moved from Hailey, Idaho to the big city of Omaha, Nebraska. Contrary to popular belief, he rarely, if ever, actually ate corn during his undergrad years.
Whenever he felt an inkling of loneliness, he’d hole himself in the basement of the four story library on campus. He would sit comfortably in one of the nooks by the archive room with newspapers from the 1940s and 35mm reels. After years of nasty, terrifying thoughts, he found that the best way to deal with his loneliness was head on. To acknowledge its presence, let it sit by his side, but to never let it take the wheel. Not again.
He navigated his loneliness on his own during the first three years. During the fall semester of his junior year, in between a black and white classic and a war propaganda film, he met Penelope. Penelope with the dusty brown hair and Warby Parker glasses because she read fashion blogs religiously. Penelope was a double major in biology and chemistry.
When she felt like she was drowning in strange formulas, papers she should have written a week ago, she immersed herself in guilty pleasures. Her father, she started telling Macaranas all about herself before he even asked, was a union projectionist. She didn’t need anyone’s help to pop in that 35mm reel and watch The Great Dictator at her leisure.
He watched her take the reel out of a round metal tin. He watched her swoop her silky locks into a carefree bun on top of her head. Macaranas knew he should go back to his paper on realistic portfolio optimization, but he couldn’t turn away from her.
A slide and click. Her nails were navy blue when she asked him, “Are you a fan of Charlie Chaplin?”
He shook his head, ran his hand along the back of the neck. Felt cold sweat when he replied, “Never heard of him.”
They sat together in a pleasant and assured silence. When he asked if he could walk her back to her dorm, Penelope told him that she was a commuter student. She, her parents, and their dog lived in a two bedroom home on R Street. She had lived there her whole, slim-figured oddity of an American lifestyle diet of hard boiled eggs, bacon, and toast with margarine.
Macaranas and Penelope continued to meet in the subbasement. They indolently finished their given and self-imposed homework assignments. Penelope began to multitask, a Jean Renoir film in the background, a calculator in her hand and mechanical pencil in the other. His mind wandered, voices carried and he questioned if he was losing his mind to the internal background noise. He pieced together the sound of Penelope’s horse-like laugh, the smell of her skin like toasted brown sugar.
After three months of their amicable routine, he wrote her a poem that served as a love confessional in the form of a villanelle. She laid her hand on his. Penelope’s hand was paler than the moon, or at least it struck him as such against his hand, colored like wrinkled cardboard. His hands rested in hers, tense and impatient, like the restless writer growing inside of him. He began to declare himself a writer.
Penelope introduced her Writer Boyfriend to her parents. Her mother served milk-braised pork and cheesy grits for dinner, cherry pie followed. Mr. and Mrs. Roxville were polite but removed. Mr. Roxville asked Macaranas where he was form.
“Born and raised in Hailey, Idaho, sir.”
Mr. Roxville opened his mouth to probe with a follow up question, but Penelope shot him a look. Macaranas saw it in her eyes, a combination of irritation and embarrassment, but he wanted to win over the hearts of Mr. and Mrs. Roxville however he could.
“My parents are from the Philippines. Dad’s a Partner at Wellington and Roxas. Mom has her own clinic,” he drank his pop, “Mom’s a physician.”
“Oh my,” Mrs. Roxville cooed, “How many fingers for the pie, dear?”
Mr. Roxville nodded in mute approval. Macaranas wondered if they would have had the same pleasant reaction if his parents were a houseman and a maid, a nurse and a schoolteacher, ye merry olde overseas workers.
Growing up, Macaranas was one of three other Filipinos in his school. To the surprise of his white classmates, he did not end up befriending Belinda, three years his junior, or Ernesto, same year but not much in common other than their shared heritage. They passed each other in the hallways, bobbed heads courteously, and then went about their ways.
Despite only Belinda, Ernesto, and himself being their main brownish frame of reference, his classmates had already formed their own opinions of Macaranas before he opened his mouth. They were shocked when a fourteen-year-old Macaranas wanted to try pot in Charlie’s basement. They didn’t understand why fifteen-year-old Macaranas willingly took a red plastic cup of warm, stale beer at Rebecca’s house party. How could Roxas keep his head up when he flunked geometry of all subjects? He passed English with good boy stickers, but shapes and angles eluded the poor kid.
Penelope and Macaranas had been together a year when he became inspired to write a brief fictional superhero piece after reading Gerry Alanguilan. He called his hero Tabak. Tabak was alive during the 16th Century. His story imagined a world where Tabak, a magical sandata blade, and an undead skirmishers previously slain in the battle with Magellan, protect the islands from future colonizers. Where his family name would be Lumaban or Mangubat instead of Roxas, and he would be on the “wrong shade” of Other.
Three months and twenty-something rejection letters later, the Omaha Literary Collective agreed to publish his work. They paid him fifty dollars. A check arrived for him in the student mailroom. He won the Ainsley Short Story Prize for writing “Tabak”.
Macaranas could not believe his success, let alone so early on in his short-term and already shining writing career. He began to work on a full length novel about Tabak with a crafty pitch to the big five publishers.
After graduation he applied to the Omaha Literary Collective for employment. Despite publishing his story, they did not find Macaranas to be the right fit for their magazine. Neither the Omaha Sentinel nor the Des Moines Word Weekly would take him.
Penelope stayed with her parents after graduation. She went on to complete a master’s program at the university. Mr. and Mrs. Roxville agreed to let Macaranas sleep on the pullout couch in their living room. When the lights were off on R Street, he used his phone as a flashlight to write his novel under a blanket.
They ensured Macaranas that he would be able to pull himself up by the bootstraps. He didn’t dare to ask for any more favors, such as do you know anyone who needs some hired help, in fear of hearing a lecture about how they have already offered him a roof over his head. He continued to search for and apply to work a job, any job, in publishing. The student loan bills were coming in, so he took the only full time job he could find as a cashier at Mamma Speranza’s.
When he punched in orders for a 12” pizza margherita and a pop day after day, he thought of more ideas for his fictional hero. He imagined cutting through the eucalyptus trees in the forests. When he cut pepperoni slices and folded cardboard boxes, he was actually slaying intangible concepts like glory and gold and kicking manifest destiny where the sun don’t shine.
On most days, he was hopeful. Until one day, day after day, his stomach churned at the sound of a cash register. The smell of burnt crust caused him to heave. His hands began to bleed when he pried open bottles of the fizzy stuff.
He may have been twenty-one going on twenty-two with a college degree and a literary award under his belt, but the uniform he put on and the plastered customer service smile sung a ballad in the tune of $80,000 debt. Suddenly he was no longer in his twenties, a quarter of the way to his midlife crisis. Macaranas was eighteen again.
During the autumn of his eighteenth birthday, the same irritating thoughts that he had coped with his adolescent life like gnats on the sidewalk of a childhood home were no longer just irksome companions. Combative shouts that no matter how many runs he went on or hours of shooter RPGs he played, he couldn’t quiet down.
Macaranas could not recall when the feelings began. He remembered leaving junior year with handshakes and hugs, promises of plans to go on road trips during the summer. His friends, he found out through social media, have gone on without him. A message for answers, even if it were a casual cartoon sad face, would have seemed desperate.
He contemplated his own actions. Did he do something to offend Rebecca and Charlie? Why would they go all the way to Seattle on their own? How come their parents let them go on a road trip? He jumped through the social hoops, participated in their games of sex, drugs, and stale beer. Perhaps it was just that.
That Macaranas had always lived on the fringes. Despite coming from a conventionally good family, one look at the kid revealed he was a new money immigrant. Voices rested on his back. Continuous whispers told him to stay in his lane. To let the rest of the world do the talking as he stayed silent like the good and obedient silent minority he was a part of.
By the fall, the voices were loud enough to scream at him,
“You’re worthless! No one likes you anymore, and you don’t matter.”
At times he would rage at his anger, kick a wall, and go for another run. Then, in a discreet and vulnerable moment, his parents still at work and he alone in the house, he would cradle his face in his hands and sob. This made him feel like even less of a man.
His father came home early from a business trip. Mr. Roxas found his son with an open browser and a yellow plastic shopping bag. He tightened his grab on the handle of his luggage, his throat turned to sandpaper, “Anak?”
Macaranas dropped the bag. It wasn’t the first time he thought about it. Mr. Roxas dropped his luggage. He ran to his son and he felt the sensation of a salty, wet heaving river on his shoulder. A child in the arms of a father.
But Macaranas was a man now. He weighed his options pragmatically like he was still writing his senior thesis. He could try the plastic bag again. Grab a kitchen knife, Mrs. Roxville’s pain pills, or sit and wait for a cloud of poison in Mr. Roxville’s garage.
Five years ago, Penelope had tried to take her own life with Mrs. Roxville’s pain pills. Five years ago, her mother fainted on their kitchen floor. She held her mother’s hand in the hospital bed as the doctors explained that it was a miscarriage. That the pregnancy risks were especially common for women seeking child after the age of thirty-seven. The grief was a boulder, carried by the three of them, but the weight was too much for Penelope.
Penelope told him this story while roaming the halls of the Joslyn Art Museum on their first year anniversary. He shared his story with her, too. Shortly after their date, he went back to his dorm to read Gerry Alanguilan into the sundown. Then he wrote “Tabak.”
Now that he tasted success, he was terrified of failure. The thought of rejection paralyzed him like he was eighteen again, still holding a plastic bag. Except this time all the bigger and better writers were wining more awards for novels that would stand the rest of time unlike his kitschy, token minority piece. He’s dealt with doubt before, these flavors of mediocre past.
He and Penelope made a promise to each other after their anniversary. To love each other as lovers and friends. To hold each other accountable as survivors, for here they were, still breathing after being strangled by an enemy they couldn’t grasp.
Penelope squeezed his hand, “Swear to me that if you ever feel alone, call me. Then give it three minutes. Then another three if you need it.”
Macaranas traced the fine lines of her collarbone, “I swear to you if you promise to always be honest with me. To tell me when you feel like shit. To know that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes. You will never have to settle for telling me ‘you’re good.’”
Penelope imagined finding the cure to uncomfortable and unspoken diseases, and with her wits and determination, she seemed to be well on her way to serving the world with a greater purpose. When that purpose felt too heavy, she and Macaranas would watch Charlie Chaplin together, their shared black-and-white, hushed pleasure.
Macaranas Roxas dreamed of becoming a writer to change the world. When he put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard, truly put his heart and soul in his work, his writing is what saved him. He decided to write whatever came to him.
Even if it felt like incoherent nonsense. Even if the words were juvenile and he couldn’t read his own handwriting. Even if he never actually changed the world. Macaranas would just write. He continued to write on R Street in the Roxville family room.
Eventually he asked Penelope to join him among the wetlands in Pioneers Park where he found his thoughts to settle comfortably within the forest as they walked. He gazed at the trees, gathered inspiration around him like a forager. When he would the leave the park, the voices begged for his attention, but his pen was louder. His pen was his sandata blade. His words were his undead army, side by side and step by step, a chance to live time and time again.
Kelly Ann Gonzales: "Born in the Philippines, raised in New Jersey, and currently living in New York City, I work in the hotel industry. I am also the Editor-In-Chief of Alpha Female Society. My published works include the novels Video Games (2014) & Through an Opaque Window (2018), and various short fiction stories featured in the Penultimate Peanut and the Write Launch literary magazines. I have an insatiable passion for travel, hospitality, and all things written and to be read."