A message from Madrid
It was the final day of my anniversary holiday, a road trip in Europe that my husband and I had been saving up for since we got married five years ago. We were in Leipzig, and while he was freshening up for dinner I decided to check my messages. There I saw a longish DM where I skimmed the line "on a very personal note". Imagining it could be something heavy, something that could mar my evening, I decided to ignore it and put my phone away.
It was too late though, my mind was racing about what this message could be about. Perhaps most people wouldn't find these words so alarming, but my mind tends to spiral towards doom, so as much as I tried to convince myself that it was probably something innocuous, I went off the idea of dinner. Luckily my husband went along with my fib that I was tired, so we went to scope out a takeaway from the rather stunning Hauptbahnhof station nearby. But then when we got the food back to our hotel and I discovered that they forgot to give us the chips we'd ordered, I burst into tears. I do like chips, but not that much, really.
I didn't sleep well that night. When the morning finally arrived I decided to get it over with. I reopened the message and this time a different phrase jumped out — "he committed suicide".
I went back to check who'd sent the message. He wasn't anyone I knew or had ever heard of, a guy from Madrid, a place I'd never been to. Still he sort of reminded me of someone. I can't say what it was exactly, but he made me think of Arthur Teutler, a man I met when making the Amsterdam issue of Elska Magazine, published in 2020. Something about the look of this messenger 'fit' with Arthur, and a bit of Cyrillic writing on his profile name reinforced that thought (Arthur was born in Ukraine). I scrolled through his feed and soon enough found a photo of him in an embrace with my Arthur. I went back to read the message properly; Arthur had just days ago ended his life.
Three songs in a row on the road
I didn't have much time to let this news sink in, let alone to reply. I was about to start a two-hour drive to Berlin to catch a flight to Reykjavík. For the journey I decided to put on the mixtape I'd made for the Elska Amsterdam issue. (For every issue of Elska I put together a playlist of music — some are songs heard during my visit to the city, some are inspired by the mood of the photoshoots or the stories in the issue, and some are just random tracks I was into at the time.) I turned up the volume and tried to let the music distract me. Then when the mixtape hit track 15 a trilogy of songs came on that hit me hard.
The first was 'To Lose My Life' by White Lies. Why the f*ck did I decide to put this on the Amsterdam mixtape in the first place?! I couldn't remember, I guess I just was having a White Lies rediscovery moment back then…
And there’s a part of me that still believes
My soul will soar above the trees
But a desperate fear flows through my blood
That our dead love’s buried beneath the mud
… Hovering somewhere around 140 km/hr I started to feel that I should slow down, that a sputtering of wobbliness could take over, but instead I kept creeping faster and faster. At least Germans are really good drivers, enough to handle the potential swerving of a man shaken by morbid lyrics.
Then came 'Not the Red Baron', a somewhat obscure Tori Amos album track. I did recall why I'd put this on the mixtape — she says the word "Dutch" in the opening fade-in (yes, that's enough inspiration for me). Here too there was an darkness in the lyrics that I didn't really want at this moment…
And are there devils with halos and beautiful capes
Taking them into the flames?
I tried harder to slow down. And convinced myself to turn the windscreen wipers on — I wasn't sure how long it had been raining actually.
Then "Don't Delete the Kisses" by Wolf Alice started. This is genuinely one of the most beautiful songs ever made, and almost as soon as the voice came in I lost it. I was sobbing. My husband probably asked what was wrong, maybe suggested that I should pull over, but I didn't hear any of it.
I see the signs of a lifetime, you ’til I die
And I’m swiftly out, Irish goodbye
What if it’s not meant for me?
I only ever spent a few hours with Arthur, and I could count all our conversations before and since on two hands. It was nevertheless clear how much he means to me, how much all of the men I meet for Elska mean to me. A photoshoot is an intimate process, and the vulnerability offered by someone willing to be in front of my camera is never not appreciated. And I suppose I spent much more time with him in my mind — through editing, through selecting images, through proofing his story, through just remembering a nice day.
Later after my flight took off I put my headphones in and listened to "Don't Delete the Kisses" again. And then again. At least seven or eight times in a row. There more lines caught my attention…
When I see you, the whole world reduces
To just that room
A few days passed since I last saw you
And you’ve taken over my mind
I wanna tell the whole world about you
I think that that’s a sign
The crying resumed. I didn’t hide, I didn’t wipe them away. Maybe the cabin crew said something, maybe my husband tried to intervene. Again, I didn’t notice any of it.
A gift from Arthur
It was a few days before I found the strength to reply to that message from Madrid, and to search for more information. Arthur's final message was posted in January, nearly three months before his death. I don't know if he'd gone quiet since then, or if he had posted other messages but decided to delete them so that this would appear as his final note. I imagine that this latter idea is the truth, that the hopefulness of this message is what he wanted to leave us with, to try to highlight a time when he had been truly happy.
I don't think he'd have minded me sharing it, so here it is:
I was fed up with life, including the chronically drab Dutch autumn weather. Imagine two months straight of 6–8C with all day drizzle and permanently grey skies to the point that I genuinely forgot the sun had ever even existed.
So I was either jumping in front of a train or taking the first flight somewhere warm and sunny with a beach. I booked a flight to the Canary Islands at 10pm, literally 8 hours before departure (6am). I called in sick at work with the flu (lol) and asked [my friend] to take care of my cat for the week. I didn't have enough time to pass her my house keys, so I hid them in a random gutter. Packed my suitcase, slept for two hours, and took a cab to the airport.
This was the first time that I went on a holiday completely alone and it was one of the BEST decisions in my life. I hadn't even booked any accommodations, did all of that on my phone (didn't bring my laptop to unstress).
I spent four days relaxing on Tenerife, where I had explored the mountains on a rented bike, climbed Mount Teide (the fourth-highest volcano in the world), and eaten the most spicy curry in the world (phaal curry, "an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor"). I then took the ferry to Gran Canaria to spend the weekend on the southern part of the island: the f*ggot Valhalla of Maspalomas. I figured I'd meet some people there easily.
Quixotically enough, Expedia randomly offered an unannounced 15-minute 90% (ninety!!!) discount on ALL HOTELS IN THE WORLD! I booked a place that I would have otherwise never stayed at: a gay hotel (Axel Hotels)! I made 'friends' at the hotel swimming pool (guys that want to f*ck you are friends, right?). I met the Fetish Pride organizer who put me on the guest list for a sex club the full weekend! So I enjoyed myself quite well on GC!
Again amazingly, I got a flight back home for €30. I don't know how a flight from Africa to Amsterdam can be cheaper than getting a f*cking haircut, but I was never good at economics anyway.
I got back home fully recharged and briefly no longer suicidal.
And Colin too
In the most ironic of tragedies, I had actually been confronted with suicide already in Amsterdam. It was a guy called Colin Bretherton, someone who had been in touch in 2019 to say that if Elska ever came to the Netherlands he'd like to be in the issue. Then about a month before making that trip I emailed him with details of how to take part, and when he didn't respond I assumed that he'd just lost interest. Later however he came into my mind and I decided to DM him, in case he didn't get the email. There I found that he had ended his life just a couple months earlier. I dedicated the Elska Amsterdam issue to him.
I’m so f*cking tired of suicide. And I'm also tired of people banging on about how nothing can be done to stop it, not to mention those who say that suicide should be sanctioned, like a sort of courageous euthanasia. It's not OK and we can do something to help.
I suppose I have some regrets. Like when Arthur sent me a message around a year ago and I never replied. The message wasn't anything substantive, but there was no reason not to respond. I liked Arthur, and we actually had a lot in common, but I was perhaps just too busy at that moment to reply and then forgot about it. Or more probably I felt that he was too cool, too intelligent, too interesting, too pretty to want to have anything to do with me in a social way, so I should dismiss his message as small talk before I embarrass myself. Maybe this is why the lyrics of "Don't Delete the Kisses" impacted me so much…
I’d like to get to know you
I’d like to take you out
We’d go to The Hail Mary
And afterwards make out
Instead, I’m typing you a message
That I know I’ll never send
Rewriting old excuses
Delete the kisses at the end
I don't want to suggest that anyone can save a person from suicide just by paying them more attention, but it doesn't hurt. We should let the people we love know that we love them. We should show them that we are there, that we have time for them, that we are available to listen. And I should have replied to him, I should have sent the message, and maybe an 'xxx' at the end would have been nice too. Why not?!
Don't Delete the Kisses
Two days after arriving in Reykjavík I told my husband that I wanted to pick up something from the local market, Melabúðin, but really I wanted some time alone to listen to those three songs again without breaking down in front of him. At the precise moment where I was rummaging a shelf trying to find my favourite flavour of Hrísmjólk one more line from that Wolf Alice song grabbed me:
I look at your picture and I smile
There the tears stopped. I found my chosen rice pudding flavour (raspberry), went to pay for it at the till, and rushed back to our flat. There I went through the full photo roll of Arthur on my laptop and decided to select an image to enlarge and hang on my wall. I surely will never forget Arthur, but having a picture of him to look at every day will make doubly certain that I am reminded of him.
I used to think about ending my life rather often. And this idea of dying after the most fabulous holiday, like the impression left by Arthur's final message, a sort of supremely happy last shout, is exactly the way I always imagined doing it. I think about suicide much less often now fortunately, but the feeling still washes over me from time to time.
I think I'm better now because of people like Arthur; in a way, I live because of Arthur. I happen to see the world as a mostly cold and ugly place, but with glimmers of beauty so f*cking brilliant that they make the most excruciating moments of life worth soldiering through. Arthur Teutler was such a beautiful man, inside and out, and I am going to look at this portrait every day to remind myself why life is worth living.
The image I chose I have given the title "Don't Delete the Kisses" after the song that told me to printthis picture. If you'd like to own a copy for yourself, you can order it here. Also included with each purchase will be a set of seven remembrance postcards, each featuring a different image of Arthur. Proceeds will go to COC Netherlands, where they will be earmarked for LGBTQ mental health campaigns and suicide prevention, something that I know that Arthur was an advocate for.
Let's remember Arthur, as well as all of the shockingly huge number of queer people who contemplate suicide and struggle with depression. Let's also show our love for them and do what we can to help make this world more kind, more open, and more beautiful. For them and for us.
Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine, a print publication dedicated to sharing the voices and bodies of LGBTQ communities all over the world. Nearly 600 people from 36 cities so far have taken part in the project; Arthur Teutler was the 464th participant.