Swimming

My friend Arild Stensund.

Write from a place of love. Write about the person you love with all the love you have for them.

This was the writing prompt D’Lo gave me. Now I have to tell you a story.

Many years ago—I want to say 2004—I went to Norway, and met Arild Stensund. He was an editor at a publishing company that handled the local rights to one of the authors I wrangled. As often happens between people who manage “the talent,” we became fast friends. I loved this guy. Because he was gay and I am not a man, we were only ever buddies, which meant we could write each other all the time, email mostly. I feel the need to explain that we were only friends, because we so often talked about romantic love. We talked on and on and on about falling in love, being in love, being heartbroken, dating, fucking, wondering, pining, loathing and forgetting. He was someone who felt he was destined to always being dumped and therefore never formed attachments. I identified at the time as someone who always does the dumping first before anyone got a chance to break my heart. I was convinced at the time that it had only happened once. It was traumatic enough that I would never be caught off guard again. In that we shared a strategy for self-preservation, we were very similar despite having completely different approaches to men.

A few years ago, my friend Liz Brown was doing research for her now published book Twilight Man, which is so unbelievably well written that I just want to eat my hair. (Go get the book!!) Her research required her to go to Norway to uncover information about the primary subject, a gay muse named Harrison Post. She was looking for someone to help translate, and I insisted she meet Arild. He would be perfect for this! I wrote effusively to Arild, and colored my introductory request to help Liz, with probably too many gay reflections and inflections. I wanted him to see himself in Harrison, and to see the greater opportunity of the book to be rooted in Norway.

Weeks went by with no response and I wondered if perhaps I’d overdone it. I got a bit in my head about what I might’ve said. Too much? Too little? He’s probably just busy and annoyed I’m trying to get him to do what sounded like free work. Didn’t I mention Liz would probably compensate him? He said so many times he’d come to New York and we’d have to hang. I’d offered he could sleep on the floor in my tiny apartment, and maybe he’s upset because the one time he did eventually make it to New York I was out of town and didn’t try harder to accommodate him. I guess you could say I was starting to feel like a jilted lover. I thought we were buddies

I eventually forgot about all this, of course, and decided he might just have moved on to more illustrious friends, maybe even a permanent boyfriend. Oh I so wished that for him. But I did the thing all jilted lovers do: I looked him up on Facebook to see what indeed had become of his life.

Now, I know everyone has a relationship with Facebook. Mine is: I used to use it until it became a fly trap for exes and then I quit it. I cancelled my account but use work logins to look for information on people as necessary. I despise every second that I have to be on it. I mercilessly taunt those who depend upon it. I also learn so much about people each time I do go on it, and that makes me a little sad. People are always posting their updates there and that’s the only way I am going to find out someone had a child, someone’s child graduated high school, someone’s become a grandparent, someone’s gotten divorced. 

I found out after looking up Arild on Facebook that he died. He had drowned.

There is no nice way to die, but drowning feels particularly tragic, literary. Proust should have drowned (and I mean pneumonia is pretty close). So I keep picturing Arild, prone to heartbreak, drowning. A person so lovable and loved, whom, if we could aggregate love, would have owned the largest collection of affections, who just never had a permanent lover, who stopped looking for it, prevented it.

Water is a weapon to the heartbroken. I don’t know the circumstances of his drowning and feel inappropriate wondering if he knew how to swim, but I wonder nonetheless. He was an avid hiker of the fjords. I couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t know. His enthusiasm for the natural splendor of Norway actually convinced me to spend months there and I made a daily video log of the time I spent in its Arctic Circle. It’s truly one of the most magical parts of the natural world. A friend who went to Cornell told me that the school required you pass a long swim test in under a certain amount of time, for the safety of its students. Apparently if you were strong enough to swim that way, your body couldn’t physiologically allow yourself to drown. I guess there was a spate of drownings on campus. Imagine needing that kind of self-preservation. Imagine being able to train your body to swim well enough to avoid heartbreak like that. 

Arild Stensund funnet død (2012)