When I was an eight-year old monster, my parents decided to host an exchange student for the year. Perhaps they wanted to expose us to the world, or maybe they needed someone to distract the two whining kids and a hyperactive golden retriever puppy, but soon enough my father drove to the airport and brought home Anders, a blond-haired 18-year-old Swede.
My world was rocked. Instead of having to look up to the kids from school, or older siblings of friends, suddenly I had a living, breathing example of everything COOL staying in the room across from mine. His appearance may have shook up the pecking order of the house, but I wasn’t deterred. After overcoming an initial shyness I sought to win his approval with the one thing I knew had to be cool: a new boombox and my MC Hammer CD.
Poor Anders must have been shocked at this transition. He came from Lund, a gregarious university town with cafe-lined streets, and this exchange program threw him into the strange Americana landscape that’s somewhere between rural and suburban with no social center within walking distance. Instead, he was stuck with two working adults and a pair of rug rats obsessed with “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
But Anders decided to stick it out. At the first opportunity he bought me a pair of Queen CDs and found a bike so he could transport himself around the county. At the local high school he joined the soccer team, though he had never before played competitively, and by the season’s end became the school’s all-time leading scorer. When winter arrived he took up snowboarding and his enthusiasm brought my father, sister and I to try as well. Anders was much better than all of us and I remember the envy of watching him zip down the slopes as I slipped and slid on my cold, wet butt. I’m gonna snowboard like that someday, I said to myself, then stood up to try again.
I was a wide-eyed 18 year-old when I embarked on my first solo trip to Europe. A thirst for adventure had soured any thoughts of attending lectures, so I took a year off from university and flew to Ireland to work as a maintenance man at a sailing school. After a few months of scraping hulls and sipping Guinness, I looked at the map of Europe and realized that it was not just a concept separated by an ocean, but a list of potential destinations. With money in my pocket I could go anywhere.
But this rush of freedom was also overwhelming. Each country suddenly seemed foreign, huge and unfriendly. Then I asked myself who I knew in Europe and I contacted Anders to find he was living in Norway. Rather than inviting me to visit, Anders outright bought my plane ticket and soon after I landed in Oslo.
This was not my first time on Scandinavian soil. My family and I had visited Anders twice; once in the heart of Sweden and a second time in Lofoten, in the far north of Norway, where he worked as a climbing guide during the summer. The rest of his year he seemed to spend in far-flung exotic locations, for every time I asked my mother for an update she’d say “Anders is somewhere in South America now” or “He’s trekking in the Himalayas for the next few months.” He was living the wild, unimaginable life that I wanted to taste.
But the Anders that greeted me didn’t appear to be the rootless soul I imagined. Now he had a girlfriend and a full-time job. His apartment had furniture and didn’t look like it could be packed up in a moments notice. Over take-out sushi we told each other about our lives followed by a picture session of his climbing expedition in Nepal. Later on, when we were watching TV, I brought out my journal to write about the day. I scribbled a few impressions of Oslo and then, underneath, I wrote: “Anders is growing up.” After I closed the book, I turned my attention to the TV screen and wondered where I should go next.
I was a 28-year old vagabond when I arrived in Kongsburg, Norway. Anders and his long-time girlfriend were getting married and I flew in from Slovenia, where I was living that year. My family was also coming for the wedding, but I arrived the day before and Anders picked me up at the train station. On the ride to his fiance’s family farm, I told him about my life in Ljubljana and recounted recent adventures in Turkey, Samoa and Kenya, while he told me about the piece of property they had bought and the house they would build. When we reached the farm it was late and raining, but Anders found a couple of beers and brought them to the trailer where I would sleep. We clinked our cans with a “Skål” and drank.
“Do you remember,” Anders said to me as he put his beer down “when you came to visit in Oslo ten years ago and you were writing in your journal? I didn’t mean to, but when I looked over one phrase caught me eye: ‘Anders is growing up.’” He laughed.
“It’s true.” I smiled.
“I thought that was so funny.” He said and laughed again.
When we finished our beers it was well past bedtime. Anders said goodnight and we both remarked how glad we were to see each other and how happy we were to have stayed in touch all these years. With him walking back towards his family, I turned off the light of the trailer and climbed into bed. As sleep crept around me that evening, the pattern of rain played sweet songs in my head and my thoughts drifted forward, wondering about the decade to come.
William Blomstedt is a wandering beekeeper, geographer and writer. His work can be found in Overnight Busses and he is a columnist in the American Bee Journal. He currently lives in Slovenia