When my father came home there was laughter, rollicking(申斥,责骂), rolling laughter. He was strong and handsome; his thick, black, wavy1 hair fell into his black, laughing eyes. When he kissed me, I pushed his bristled2 mustache from my tender skin. His hands, thick and squared off at the tips, smelled of the sweet horsehair at the upholstery(垫衬物) factory. His fingernails carried the cotton lint3 he used to stuff stain sofas.
He signed his name, Benjamin, but no one called him that, I called him Daddy Ben. People who could hear called him Benny.
My father, like my mother, was deaf, so I grew up living in two worlds, our private world and the "hearing" world outside. I was on intimate terms with silence and the language of silence.
My mother was born deaf, and so, I thought, was my father. Then one day he mentioned that he had not always been deaf.
"You weren't ? How did you become deaf?" my hands asked.
"I was sick, a long time. Ask Grandma," he replied.
When Grandma Lizzie came to our apartment, I rushed to her, demanding an answer. She said, "Spinal4 meningits," and told how my father had been stricken with the disease when he was two. As he approached school age, his hearing diminished until there was none, not even the memory of sound.
He was a bright child, but his intelligence was locked away. Without normal speech at the age when children begin to play with syllables5 and sounds, my father was separated from his own wit. His other sense did become more acute with time. But he never recovered from early verbal neglect. He could not read a book page by page. The flowing language, line after line, chapter after chapter, was too difficult to sustain. At times the written word confounded him more than the lips he strained to read.