My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.

We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion. I love Aaron. I loved Aaron. There are no words to can contain love, to cloth it in words is to kill it, to mummify it and hope that somewhere in the heart of a reader, they have the strength and the magic to resurrect it. I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him. He was so frustrating, and we fought. But we fought like what we were: two difficult people who couldn’t escape loving each other.

On the last day I saw him, he grabbed me in the rain while my car was blocking the road and held me and said “I love you.” I don’t know if I said it back. Not that time. I had always told him. Sometimes I told him when he didn’t have it in him to say. I’d say “I love you, and you love me, too” and he would just hold me.

When he was 20, he carried me through my divorce. We promised each other a year. I apologized so many times: that I was better than what he was getting, that he got me destroyed. Still, what a year. Later, I tried to take care of him while he was being destroyed, from inside and out. I struggled so hard, but not as hard as he did. I told him, time and again, that this was his 20s. It would be better in his 30s. Just wait. Please, just hold on.

He read to me and Ada compulsively; he read me a whole David Foster Wallace book. He read Robert Caro to me, countless articles, blog posts, snippets of books. Sometimes, he would call, just read, and hang up. He loved the Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, and the three of us read it together many times. We loved George Saunders. We loved so many things together.

He loved my daughter so much it filled the room like a mist. He was transported playing with her, and she bored right into his heart. In his darkest moments, when I couldn’t reach him, Ada could still touch him, even if only for a moment. And when he was in the light, my god. I couldn’t keep up with either of them. I would hang back and watch them spring and play and laugh, and be so grateful for them both.

More than anything, together we loved the world, with the kind of love that grips and tears. We were fearsome creatures, chained to our caring, chained to other people.

We were destroyed by the investigation, and by enduring so much together in the five years of the difficult love affair of difficult people. In the end he told me he needed to get away from me. I let him go, and waited for the day he’d come back. I knew that one day we’d have a day to be together again, though probably not as lovers. Together, as something that doesn’t have a word. He went on to another relationship, and I know he touched her like he did me, because that’s how he touched people.

A part of me died with him. A part will always be with him.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

–W. H. Auden

70 thoughts on “My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.

  1. lydia

    Quinn, may you be comforted at this time by His Spirit. How wonderful that you poured your all into him and that you were touched deeply by his love. May his soul rest in peace.

  2. Daniel

    Sorry for the loss, and thanks for sharing as beautifully as you did. He clearly lives on here and elsewhere.

  3. James Perkins

    I don’t know how it feels for you. You’ve been through so many losses, each one crushes us and we reassemble ourselves into some new vessel. What pieces we can’t fit together on the outside we carry inside us, like sharp pottery shards we have eaten. We make scars around them and hold ourselves together, and find how to love those in our lives who matter. Quinn, I am glad I know you, and I am so very sorry for your loss.

  4. Andrew N. (Uni, class of '91)

    Hey, Quinn… I was pleasantly surprised to see your name mentioned in my Twitter feed this morning, but I wish it had been under less tragic circumstances. I’m sorry for your loss.

  5. Joseph Ciprut

    Aaron had an exceptional mind and a very sensitive soul. Your words touched me deeply. My condolences to you and to Ada. The love you felt and continue to feel for Aaron shines through in your moving tribute. I hope you will have some comfort in knowing his pain is over. 😥

  6. alo

    Sad and tragic, be still your soul, be still.
    He was a brave man, He believed that freedom is basic human right and he fought for it. Not many have guts to stand on their beliefs. I guess its hard when society is trying to imprison you for what you believe is right. We live in wrong word. People who should be heroes are marked as criminals. We let criminals to represent us. And we dont fight injustice at all. Let Aaron inspire people that it is worth to resist, if you can stand the pressure.
    World lost a great man, i am afraid that he is indeed in better place now.

  7. Mark Kraft

    Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
    To render with thy precepts less
    The sum of human wretchedness,
    And strengthen Man with his own mind;

    But baffled as thou wert from high,
    Still in thy patient energy,
    In the endurance, and repulse
    Of thine impenetrable Spirit,

    Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
    A mighty lesson we inherit:
    Thou art a symbol and a sign
    To Mortals of their fate and force;

    Like thee, Man is in part divine,
    A troubled stream from a pure source;
    And Man in portions can foresee
    His own funereal destiny;

    His wretchedness, and his resistance,
    And his sad unallied existence:
    To which his Spirit may oppose
    Itself — and equal to all woes,

    And a firm will, and a deep sense,
    Which even in torture can decry
    Its own concenter’d recompense,
    Triumphant where it dares defy,

    And making Death a Victory.

    – Prometheus
    Lord Byron
    July, 1816

  8. sally

    You wrote beautiful words about him, about you, about you and him. I’m sorry for your loss and the world’s.

  9. Den Gusakov

    Freedom and equality in the use of global information resources is the only sure way of further development, not only education but also the entire social sphere. People like Aaron are the forerunners of future paths that humanity will have to go. Let there be eternal memory of him!

  10. Mike

    Very beautifully written Quinn. Thank you for sharing so intimately- I did not know Aaron but your love and honesty are so touching causing tears to stream down my face.
    I pray for yours Aarons & your daughters well being and happiness and the spreading of his good actions.
    Thank you

  11. Shukait khan

    Up until today I hadn’t heard of him, but your tribute has touched me. The words important things are the hardest things to say. Take care and keep up the fight, if that’s what you believe in. I’m 42, a grown man and your tribute moved me to tears.

  12. Christopher Schmidt

    I still remember meeting you many years ago — and seeing Aaron as a surprise, when I thought he was still on the other coast. I remember seeing him in what looked like happiness — more so than I did at any other time, I think.

    I’m so sorry for your loss. The world was a better place with Aaron in it.

  13. Eroteme

    So sorry for your & Ada’s loss. I hope you find peace & Ada, clarity. Your words & the ones in the other post where you present his words about you… touching.

    For loss must be grieved
    Lest we forget, in its wake,
    The gold we must pan
    In our souls.

  14. Janet

    Last night as I waited for my daughter to finish her water polo practice, I sat in my car and decided to listen to music for a bit. I normally sit in silence and play Solitaire (the game) on my cell phone, but last night I wanted to hear some music. I saw “The Only Exception” in my playlist and debated playing it. I love the song but it always makes me cry. I threw caution to the wind and played it. Of course, I cried. And now after reading the beautiful words that you wrote about Aaron, the lyrics to “The Only Exception” are ringing through my head.

    I wish I had something to offer to you to help ease your pain. Only time can do that. I’m old enough to know that. I’m also old enough to know that life is beautiful, even during the darkest hours, and that the world is filled with people who are decent and kind. Let those people in and let them help you turn all of your memories of Aaron into happy ones. Those are the memories that will bring a smile to your lips, and a tear to your eyes, when you’re sitting alone in your car, listening to a love song, as life continues on around you. My deepest condolences to you, Quinn.

  15. Ted

    Like khan – I just heard of him, yet it seemed that I knew him for sometime. Keep in spirit Quinn and Ada, he is watching over you… Wished I too would have known him – glad thou he was able to make a mark on the world! This will never go unheard!!

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