Yes, you. You don’t really exist, you’re just this guy I dreamt up one day a few years ago.
Still, I’m in love and I can’t stop thinking about you.
I’d caught a glimpse of you on a trip. You were a businessman and I was a tourist who’d just left the place where you lived. I was on my way home, and saw your photo in a magazine someone left in the seat-pocket on the plane.
That’s where the idea of you first came into my head. From a picture of a stranger in a Finnish business magazine. I couldn’t tell from the photo’s caption whether you were a banker or a cop or an insurance agent. I couldn’t read a single word in the entire magazine. But you seemed familiar to me, and I certainly wanted to get to know you better.
You looked so typical of what I’d seen of men your age (mid 40’s) in Helsinki. Aging, former hockey player. Graying blond hair, cut short, unruly chunks like dirty melting snow drifts flattened against your head. Firm, flat, high brow, as if frozen from the cold, long, and very dark winters your people endure. The fairest, almost invisible eyebrows, not more than a faint pair of lines above your eyes. An afterthought.
Your face looked a bit beaten, tired, the hangover that never quite wore off, the effect of alternating too much caffeine with too much alcohol, one to combat the other, both necessary to sustain you through the arctic nights, and to celebrate the short, brilliant summers. You were not a stunningly handsome man by any means. Still, you were remarkable for one, unique, memorable trait.
There in your eyes was the unmistakable look of “sisu,” that peculiarly Finnish character trait.
I had learned of your people’s history during my visit to Helsinki, of the long struggles during the past century, the hunger, the invasions, and your resistance against the Nazis. And therefore I learned about sisu.
Spending time in your country, prowling through the museums, walking through the streets, and visiting such places as the island fortress Suomenlinna gave me a working knowledge of sisu: that dogged, stubborn persistence of people who are capable of facing down death itself.
So when I saw your picture, I couldn’t help but to fall immediately in love. It was the sisu in you that brought you to life.
Sisu takes one look at the romantic ideal of the brave hero—with his good, strong boots and his loaded gun—and says, “Try being brave without the boots and the gun, then you will understand what sisu is.”
Sisu is illusive, mysterious to one not born into its reality. That mystery intrigued me enough that I wrote you first into a story (never published), and then in a book, Washed Up. And now a second is also in the works.
I’ve Americanized you, the fictional you, whom I named Arvo Thorson. This is how I translate you into my reality. You see, I live in a place where many from your country immigrated during that time when there was so much war and famine in your part of the world. It was easy to see what drew your people from Finland to Minnesota: the Finnish coastline is an exact replica of the Lake Superior shoreline that borders the northeastern part of my state. The Finnish countryside looks exactly like central and northern Minnesota’s lake-filled forest-lands. You left home and came home.
The fictionalized American version of you is the descendant of Finnish immigrants, though that part of your history still dwells in my mind, and has not yet made it to the pages I’ve written.
Perhaps your heritage will be played out in subsequent books. Or not. We’ll have to wait for that mystery to be solved.