Beyond its recapture, I wrote a memoir to make sense of the past, to sort things out, in a quest for solace and resolution: The queen in her counting house, I sat at the drop-leafed table I use for a desk, in the sway of a compulsion to take stock, and to revise. Writing a memoir is “Take 2: a new version of my life.”
I wrote: Because of the fear-tinged, whispered Chinese that reached through the darkness into my Taipei bedroom when I was seven. (The sounds—I later learned—of a Chinese man my father was hiding). Because of the way, when we lived in Holland, my later-discouraged father looked, with calm, happy eyes, out over the North Sea. (Along with his disappointments, through recollecting, I could cart away his love of European history). Because of the way I mourned, when I was a teenager in Washington, a boy my age who immolated himself like a Buddhist monk in protest against the Vietnam war. (What is a kid to do with the cruelty of the world?). Because of the orchid-bordered house in Borneo I had to leave behind without a good-bye. (A sadness, but the bitter fragrance of batik and the sweet scent of temple incense will stay with me forever).…The miracle of the flat, thin, white sheet. A sheaf of paper can hold the whole, all the myriad experiences, all the messy complexity, as no other medium can.
And I have found that if I go to the place of purest pain and truth, there’s comfort waiting, and solace. That is the only place to find it. By writing my story, I dug a pool to catch all the joy and pain that constantly leaked from the years past. At my desk, I had a chance to turn the sloppy, messy past into a pond of bright, fluttering fish.