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. henry

    I knew Aaron just as a colleague, via email. When I heard about him being prosecuted for downloading journal papers, I sent him a note with an offer to help in any way I could. Although he never took me up on it, I hope that he knew he had the support of the hacker community. I wish I could have done more.

    Aaron Swartz

    to me

  2. Dominic Lane

    Two completely unrelated people I follow tweeted off Aaron’s passing. He obviously touched people deeply, and that is so clear in your post. I am so very sorry for your loss, your daughter’s loss, and the loss of all those close to your dear friend.

  3. Bryan Bishop (kanzure)

    Quinn, when I saw in the court documents that you were legally compelled to talk (along with Alec Resnick), I feared the worst. I wasn’t aware of your relationship with Aaron, so I thought they were just going through all his friends and trying to pick him into pieces. Turns out the truth is much more sad.

  4. Corey Menscher

    Quinn, I am so sorry for your…and everyone’s…loss. Thanks for sharing. Much love to you and Ada.

  5. Rachel Barenblat

    Baruch dayan emet. (That’s the traditional Jewish response to a death — it means something like “Blessed is the true Judge,” though the word “emet,” truth,” is made up of three letters, the first, middle, and last letters of the alef-bet, so my teacher Reb Marcia interprets it as “Blessed is the Author of beginnings, middles and endings.”)

    I am so, so sorry for your loss, and Ada’s loss, and the loss of all who knew Aaron.

    I don’t know what comes after this life, but I believe that there is no further suffering. For those who die, at least. For those who remain, there is grief. I am thinking of you and holding you in my thoughts and prayers. I send much love.

  6. Pranab

    Oceans and continents apart, I remain inspired by Aaron. I am sorry for your loss, and Ada’s, and my heart goes out to you. But just know this, he and his blazing torch has touched lives and thoughts of people you (or even he) would have never thought of. Mourning with you,
    From India,

  7. Nancy Lockhart

    Very beautifully written Ms. Norton. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m very sorry for your loss and this is indeed a sad day for me as well. I didn’t know Aaron personally but, highly respected him as an activist. Peace and Blessings!!!!

  8. Nancy Lockhart

    Very beautifully written Ms. Norton. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m very sorry for your loss and this is indeed a sad day for me as well. I didn’t know Aaron personally but, highly respected him as an activist. Peace and Blessings!!!!

  9. Lisa Rex

    What a touching, moving tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss. I heard the news from many folks on Twitter; he was so admired and respected.

  10. Brian Mehl

    What a wonderful, intimate tribute to a true pioneer, my deepest sympathies. That poem caused me tears as only those who love can experience true sorrow at their loss.

  11. JChatmon

    Loss is always hard times;it’s unbearably hard when the dew is still fresh. We used to joke aabout his name and what knucleheads we could be. Profound condolences to you and Ada.

  12. Arthur

    Beautiful words. Beautiful sentiment. I’m sorry for your loss. Open heartedness like that demonstrated above will surely carry you through this difficult time. I wish you all the support you need. Take care.

  13. Joseph Holleman

    Very touched by your posting. I thought I would share with you a poem by Conrad Aiken that I have found to be comforting in the past during a time like this:

    MUSIC I heard with you was more than music,
    And bread I broke with you was more than bread.
    Now that I am without you, all is desolate,
    All that was once so beautiful is dead.
    Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
    And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
    These things do not remember you, beloved:
    And yet your touch upon them will not pass.
    For it was in my heart you moved among them,
    And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes.
    And in my heart they will remember always:
    They knew you once, O beautiful and wise!

  14. Danese

    Oh Quinn! You are the first person I thought about when I heard this morning…I wonder how Quinn is doing with this? And now I know a bit of it. Thank you so much for posting so we have a chance to say we love you both perfectly imperfectly and just as you are. Loss like this can be so hard to face, and I know you’re feeling it. Stay strong as you can through this horrible time, Sister. Reach out when you need to. Know that you are loved.

  15. Matt

    “…the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion.”

    Beautiful. I read over this several times just to soak it in. Thanks, and sorry for your loss.

  16. Nancy Wirsig McClure

    Oh, quinn. our hearts go out to you so much. I’m so glad I got to know him a bit when I visited. It was such a delight, too, to see him interact with Ada. Oh, quinn.

  17. Raphael

    I’ve just discovered Aaron via a french tech site and, after reading a little part of his blog, I assume it must be a really good person. I’m really sad not knowing him before. Btw, it’s still impossible for my mind to understand it. I just keep wondering how he has been able to leave her lover and her daughter. He must have been in serious troubles to take that choice.

  18. matt bernius

    Quinn, thank you for sharing this and the Aaron’s posting. There are no good words at a time like this. I am so so sorry for you and Ada. You are in all of our thoughts and hearts.

  19. Mentifex (Arthur T. Murray)

    Three years ago on October 5, 2009, Aaron Swartz wrote a blog post called “Wanted by the FBI” and I left a Comment about how I might request my own FBI file which was sure to exist. Then Aaron Swartz sent me an e-mail asking me to let him know if I got my file from the FBI, but I never requested it. That exchange was my only contact ever with Aaron Swartz, but now I am sad to realize that after Christopher McKinstry and Pushpinder Singh, Aaron Swartz is the third controversial Internet person in my personal experience to commit suicide. May he rest in peace.

  20. Jim Heinzen

    Quinn, I am deeply moved by your words. Aaron was loved and left a mark on the world. Stay strong and my your life be blessed.

  21. Kent McNaughton

    When I saw “Quinn” in Cory’s writing, I knew it was you. I’ve treasured and looked forward to your writings, particularly re the hacker community.

    I only knew Aaron through emailings Demand Progress would send me. When I saw his name attached, I’d know it was something important and a must-read, must act.

    His passion for ‘right’ and his ability to mobilize others in its fight will be sorely missed.

    Your love for him shines through brightly.

    I’m so sorry. For him. For you.

  22. Lev Koszegi

    Hugs, Quinn. I never knew him, but I’m glad to have found out about him through what you’ve written. More hugs to you and to Ada.

  23. Andrea

    I did not know of Aaron until now…but thank you for sharing this. I am grateful that I came to know of him, I am just sorry it had to be bec of this incident…
    I am sending you both you and your daughter waves and waves of love, and peace, silence and smiles…
    Be well. <3

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