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WORK OF THE WEEK

Answer Key

Gilford Doquila

First published in Dagmay on 9 January 2022, with minor edits for Pandan Weekly.

From the author:

“Answer Key” takes storytelling in a different form. The story follows a teacher who has yet to resolve his own queerness. Through an answer key test type format, the character is making sense of his life and his first heartbreak. As he lists more items and finds answers along the way, he acknowledges his own queerness, which has roots in his home, where he first found it with his family.

an excerpt of “Answer Key”
00:00 / 04:40

Modified True or False. (8 items, 16 points)

Directions: Write TRUE if the statement is correct. If the statement is false, change the underlined word or phrase/s to make the whole statement true.

1. We both promised to love each other, through sickness and in healthThrough thick and thin, we both vowed to be each other’s confidants.

Answer: TRUE. I was more than your lover; I was your best friend. When no one else believed in you, I stood by you faithfully. And just like the early Christian martyrs, I believed in our love even if the world condemned us for it.

2. You bought us a house to show your love. You always wanted to settle down and build a life with me. “You are the one,” you always said in our fourth year together. After going through hell with other men, you finally found heaven in me.

Answer: TRUE. And we would warm the house with all our fucking, you said. By then, I didn’t have to worry about our cats interrupting us. They’d have their own room. No need for a priest to bless our house when we could bless every single corner of it with all our kisses and love. This must be how it seems to be married. But what is marriage really for men like us in a country that does not recognize our love? A ring is too fickle to contain our love, so you bought a house instead for us to call home.

3. I cheated on you. I blamed it on the cabin fever that enslaved me from human touch—your touch. I blamed it on the stupid virus which isolated me from you. I could have blamed it on my depression too, after the doctor finally found a name for my outbursts you were a witness to. But I didn’t. I cried my heart out. I almost puked because my words felt bitter which made my stomach so upset. My tongue? Tongue-tied. I could hardly breathe.

Answer: FALSE. You cheated on me. 

I promised to take you to a beach resort once you arrived home from Manila. You missed the sea, so did I. We almost forgot how it tasted on our skin, the blue sea, the cool breeze, and the sand grains peppered on our feet. The imperial city was a huge concrete jungle and held us prisoners, so off we went to an island to seek solace in nature. Our bodies sought refuge and our souls satisfied each other’s hunger. Or so I thought. Because a day after we made love, you craved more and found it through another—with a stranger. Cheap thrill, that’s what they call it. But unlike you, I didn’t puke the ugly truth I heard, although I was tongue-tied when you confessed early in the morning. Silence was my loudest and clearest reply. The sun was already rising then. “Can we just talk about this later? I have tons of work to do” was all I could say. I was running late for work. Funny how I took pride in my job teaching my students literature and on what it means to be human, to be humane, but I could barely teach myself to spare some space to breathe, to break, to cry.

4. You bought me a box of Crème Brulee to soothe my pain. Food had always been our way to say our apologies. It was your way to show that you cared, and that you wanted to make it up to me. You said you wanted to be with me and that it was I whom you truly loved. And that what happened was just sex.

Answer: TRUE. Of course, it was just sex, a human physical need, a perfect reminder of our carnal desires, I convinced myself. So, we fucked to prove a point. But when I kissed your lips, I couldn’t help but think someone else’s lips had already tasted it. When you moaned from all the pleasure my tongue did, I couldn’t help but think someone else’s tongue had already conquered your skin. Did he do it better than I did? Did you moan louder with me than when you were with him? Did you beg for more like you always did? “You did better, heck, way better,” you assured me after you came. I went to the bathroom and washed myself, rubbed my lips and neck clean from your kisses and smell. For the first time in my life, I never thought sex could be that disgusting. I switched the shower’s water pressure higher so the water could drown my tears away.

 

And I never ate that Crème Brulee you gave me, anyway—my tongue revolted that day.

5. You told me that you were sick in the brain, that’s why you did what you did. And I honestly believed you because I saw how your brain enslaved you through your anger, of which I was a victim too. But what I couldn’t believe was you telling me that I was the only reason for you to live. That your love for me was the only thing that kept you going. And if you could end your agony in any possible way, you would.

Answer: FALSE. I didn’t want to be the reason for you to live, nor the love you had for me to be the only thing for you to keep going for another day. I wanted you to live for yourself and yourself alone. How could one still fight for a love that’s lost? When that love is already a losing battle, to begin with? Because for every step you make in mending things, the more you shatter what was left of me, of us.

You once told me you wanted to end your life, to put a stop to the endless agony that you were treading on. But didn’t you know, that early morning you confessed your betrayal, I had already died inside, too?

6. It is through forgetting that I could finally move forward. To let myself free from the bondage of pain you’ve caused me. That through forgetting, I could truly be happy.

Answer: FALSE. Because all I could do was remember.

 

Remember how we first dated on a motorbike and drove to Hilltop where you first confessed you loved me. Remember how I spent nights sleeping next to you in your apartment where I first felt at home with my real self, where I didn’t have to hide who I was. Remember how we promised each other to build a life together in a city where no one knew us. So, after we both graduated, we went to Manila, rented an apartment we called our own, lived together, and created our family, in this case, we called our cats our babies. For sure, my Christian father would abhor me for my sin: loving you. And to him, we were just playing house. “It shall pass,” my father said. He would have wanted me to take over the family business, take his surname for my kids to have, and live a life his generation would define as a success. All of which fell on deaf ears for a gay son like me. So, I left the city that wanted me to be somebody else. How? Love was my getaway ticket.

In forgetting, all I could do was remember. I remembered how I was so selfless in loving you that I lost myself eventually.

7. I drowned my pain with bottles of alcohol and saw the faces of different people only to perfectly remember yours.

Answer: TRUE. Downloaded most of the dating apps. Posted my most-liked photos from my socmed accounts. John. 24. Gemini. 167cm. In grad school. Looking for something casual. And to be honest, I’ve mastered what to say and answer to strangers. How are you? Fine. Wanna meet up? Yes. Will pick you up. Top or bottom? T. Great! Bot here. I know a place. And so, after the deed was done, we’d talk, realizing we knew nothing about each other, just to stir the awkward silence after a night of moaning and panting from satisfying each other. So, what brought you to [insert app]? I’m trying to move on. How many years? Four. (Silence. Usually it’s that or a pat.) May I know why you broke up? I took a pause, and finally said, got cheated on. Fuck. I’m sorry to hear that!

Sorry, a word I constantly hear every time I tell my story. But what were they really sorry for? That I loved someone for four years, almost on the brink of buying a house and settling down for a lifetime with someone whom I would call my husband only to be betrayed by one night with a stranger, and that I didn’t deserve any of it? Or did the consolation come with an implied excuse of being lucky enough that they didn’t have to go through the ugly pain of crying almost every night, thinking where you could have gone wrong?

Sleeping with faces and different bodies all brought together by a night’s pleasure taught me that some wounds can’t be healed by carnal desires when the laceration had already reached one’s soul. 

8. I’ve been living in my parents’ house since we broke up. Everything became familiar again: my room where I spent most years growing up hiding in the closet, intact, my youth, seemingly to have just happened yesterday, and my father who saw me in the way he wanted me to be as his only son. I had gone so far away from this house only to end up returning to the same spot, but this time, knowing myself better. The room was smaller now than I imagined it to be. I realized that I might have outgrown my family by choosing a lover who’d eventually betray me over them, but it was their love for me that led me back home.

Answer: TRUE. Dad had always wanted me to be like him, which explains the “Jr.” affixed to my name, a reminder that I would always be his. He wanted me to take over the family business, an heirloom he openly received from our ancestors. A predictable but sustainable life was what he wanted me to have, so when I told him I wanted to pursue teaching, he told me, “It wouldn’t feed you and your family.” And when I told him I liked boys, it was the last time I heard him speak to me.

 

Dad had a rough life growing up, maybe that’s why words were never his strongest suit in showing his affection. When I was five, I told him I loved him on Father’s Day, his response, a squish on my shoulder and a pat on my back. When he attended my graduation, I had the most medals hung on my neck. I almost started to lean forward carrying the medals’ weight, but my dad never said a thing. He only patted me on my back and smiled. It was the only memory I had of him smiling for what I did.

One night, I arrived home drunk and Dad was the only one awake. He opened the door for me and asked me to sit on the sofa. He probably smelled the alcohol from my breath. I could hardly remember what happened next, but I was awoken to the scent of a newly brewed coffee. He handed it to me saying, “It would help you sober up.” I drank some and felt the warmth of the caffeine travel through my cold stomach.

We sat there in silence, for a minute, until I broke it.

 

“I still love him.” My voice was breaking.

 

“Of course, you do, anak,” he said.

 

Anak. I couldn’t remember the last time he called me that. I looked at him and his eyes were gentle and kind. I hadn’t seen his face that close. He had moles too on his nose just like I did. And before I could say another word, I broke down in tears. 

My father hugged me that night. He held me close to his chest where I could hear his heartbeat. I continued to sob. He didn’t say a thing, like he always did, but he hugged me tighter, and it was more than enough for me to know that, after all, I was deeply loved. Words were too small to contain his immense love for me. 

Anak. I was his all along and would always have a part of him in me. I wasn’t alone that night, and that was all I needed to know.

_________________

Gilford Doquila is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a degree in English majoring in Creative Writing. He has been participating in different writers’ workshops in Mindanao and Visayas since 2018. His works have appeared in Dagmay: Literary Journal of the Davao Writers Guild, SunStar Davao, Panday Sining, Bulawan Literary Journal of Northern Mindanao, Libulan Volume II: the Queer Anthology in Cebuano, Kabisdak, Novice Magazine and Katitikan Literary Journal of the Philippine South. Presently, he teaches literature and creative writing to senior high school students in a Montessori school in Quezon City.

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