For a long time I convinced myself that I chose to write in English ---instead of my native tongue, French--- because I needed to distance myself from my emotions in order to be able to express them more lucidly. In order also to survive these emotions. For when I crossed the Atlantic over thirty years ago it was under exceedingly painful circumstances. I had parted ways with my family. Little did I know, or perhaps little did I realize, that this was the beginning of the end. I had to start all over again. A new life, a new country. A new me.
And this new me would begin with awkward steps writing in a new language. Writing in French would, technically, have been so much easier. French was after all my best subject at the lycée. With few exceptions, my literary and philosophical essays always got the best grades. But tragic circumstances made the French language too heavily charged when the time came to write my story. For that's what fiction writers start with, something autobiographical. And writing an autobiographical novel in French would have crushed me. I would have felt the stabs of past happenings as if they were happening all over again. So I switched to English. And the telling became more bearable.
That's what I told myself until I looked at his picture the other night. On a golf course, dressed in white with sunglasses. Alluring. A second cousin, more uncle than cousin. A functioning alcoholic. A swearing man. And completely blind. He came to live with us and made my childhood not only livable, but magic. He loved to walk and so did I. He grabbed my shoulder; I was his eyes; he was my guide. And he was the first person to introduce me to the English language. If he loved to swear in his native Basque language, English must have meant to him new horizons with infinite golf courses, a sport he played without seeing for most of his life. Joseph, which, in Basque, is pronounced "Dioshet" and that our family lexicon translated into "Diochet." So looking at his picture, I am wondering now, as I am writing these lines to you, if I am not simply channeling Diochet. Making his spirit alive again in a country that fascinated him and needed eyes to see. A vision that he only could get in his imagination. So many times he would speak of "L'Amérique." Perhaps, somehow, I have become the continuation of that vision. I am still Diochet's eyes; he is still my guide.