Some time ago, at first through therapy and then through writing, I began to trace why I became as I am: a person who stutters, a person who has a difficult time functioning in this society. It made sense (it was obvious) to focus on my parents -- powerful, intelligent people. What shaped them? How did they come to be as they are?
It was interesting to wend back through familiar territory (family stories, etc.), like casually meandering along a road in a dim landscape, unearthing something here, something there.
I began to distill these "findings" by way of writing.
I found about my father (a Russian born in Manchuria): "His thought process was too embattled and too flickering for him to be at ease with people. Most people he thought boring or pedantic.
"Sometimes when alone and quiet, my father nodded into concentration and worked with delicacy and deliberateness, bent pale with care, head cocked like an alert dog's. Such times of grace were scarce.
"My father was a product of another world.... [where] people didn't die miles away but down the street or in front of your gate. The reality of China dealt in life and death, not just in day by day necessities, and the reality escorting my father was a tiger with silver eyes and oiled teeth, terrifying and omnipotent. It was such a hard-edged and violent presence that later, in America, he tried to shelter his family, to withhold reality from my mother and me, running circles around us, holding up a cartoon tiger for safe consumption. My father wanted to filter life through himself. He was everywhere. He was a protecting, exuberant, powerful shadow, he was a cyclone that always blew, bowing trees to the ground, and I grew up under a hot breath, unable to see without a furious wind raging around me....
"[Fortunately, though] something merciful lay curled in my father's heart, a life-force, an orange-red flame. When I was a boy, my father was often away. I was on my own then, at the fulcrum of my life, a man of the world on a bicycle splitting the wind, shirttails blowing like flags."
I imagined that when she was young, my mother (a Czech Jew) "had the thoughtful air of a youthful European daydreaming and studying, and she'd often sit encapsulated, pen in hand, until someone had called her three or four times.... My mother had been raised in nineteenth century Viennese style.... In the living room were oriental rugs, formal severe tables with oval tops and skinny legs, glass cases with hundreds of dark miniature portraits, wine colored roses leaning from the garden against the window panes. There was a quality of yearning about the place, an endless lonely reaching out.
"That vague desire would have searched from room to room forever, but then came the war, time to flee. My mother came on the boat to America, an excited landlubber, twelve years old, squeezed between two operatic adults.... They sat legs crossed at the best possible table on deck, festive in evening clothes.
"They looked like such tourists, father, mother and child,... you wouldn't notice that their world was broken, that it spun motionless, its sky a steely space that inhalated everything. Filled with a brittle vacuum, all the adults had left was their civilized manner. It was a reminder of a former existence, a spark of decency, an escape. But for a child it was more. That smiling veneer wasn't simply a costume discardable at night, it was something to cling to, a familiar manner that became a way of life. There wasn't a choice.... The sorrow in herself and in the people around her she found impossible to bear.
"How could the nightmare sink in for a child then, when nothing of it has yet sunk in for anyone? When my mother adopted happiness, the sorrow didn't just fade away into nonexistence, as would seem fair. It dug like tiny coils within her until years later, long after I was born, like a time release capsule, the sorrow exploded scattering delusions like desert sands, revealing chasms better seen than not.
"When I was a boy, my mother was young and tall dragging me shopping or sharing her bath, me by her feet enveloped by warm water and pink tiled walls.
"Still, there was the hidden aspect that harkened to the past and tautened and strained the workings that burst in the future. There was a nervousness about my mother, a hesitating, jittery sensibility.... From my mother's corner of the house came a fear and exasperation that encompassed me as imperceptibly as her love and warmth. A bird, suddenly startled, transmits her fear to her young, and so too, like a river changing course in an underground cavern, unseen, unknown, I was touched by a tremulous hand...."
This is essentially what I believe. That in the subtle dynamics of life -- in life itself -- bubbles arise, like blisters: a general nervousness, a self-protectiveness, an over-delicateness, a facial tic, a stutter, whatever.