Marina Evelyn Keegan, 1989-2012
Two nights ago, I scrambled to remember where I was at the age of 22. I pulled out photo albums, counted months in my head, and scanned through my memory for some clear recollection. I have an overall picture of that timeframe in my mind, and the minute I go there, I feel a little sick. I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, wasn’t where I wanted to be, wasn’t nearly on the path that so many people thought I would be.
It seemed like everyone I knew or had ever known was slipping easily from one life stage to the next, doing the right thing, the expected thing—graduating from college, getting married, starting life. I was stuck, stalled, irreparably lost. I felt so much more a failure than I ever imagined I could be. I was nowhere near graduating or marrying anyone. For me, surviving was such a battle, taking all of my energy. I couldn’t understand how everyone else made it look so easy. It had once all seemed so easy to me, too.
I had glided through grade school, slid easily from middle school into junior high, and then with only a few bumps in the math and science arena, graduated high school with honors. All the hard work, limitless expectations, my own perfectionism, and predictions from teachers past and present seemed to have come true.
Then, I went off to college and completely lost my bearings. For a person who fretted over every single paper and test result for 12 years, I found myself caring little about the classes I sat through in college, my mind wandering, my stance unstable. I had no idea who I was anymore. In the entire time I grasped to regain something of my former self while in college, I never did. I had a few bright semesters when I seemed to catch hold of some of that glimmer, but the next semester would engulf the one before, erasing the effort it had taken everything to muster, figuring into a grade point average that barely registered.
Not a single day went by that I didn’t think about everything I wasn’t. Everything I hadn’t become. All the people I had disappointed. Most of all…me.
I don’t like to go back to that time. Even though I understand why I was so lost now—looking back—it is still a time of failure. It is the dizzying first years of lost time for me. What followed was so many more years of stops and starts, but still that small voice inside that said “you are not good enough”. I lost so many years of my life to that voice- the voice of depression and my childhood- navigating the way for me for too long. I still wish desperately to turn back time, to be the confident person I so wanted to be…to have successes and accomplishments behind me instead of recovery and recuperation. I know it all adds up to who I am now, and where I am now, which I would not change. But somehow, knowing you lost decades of time simply because you saw yourself through your alcoholic father’s eyes instead of your own…well, it makes you yearn for an epic do over.
I can’t say enough that I know I am where I am supposed to be, somehow I know that in the deepest part of myself. So I have made peace with all of it. It doesn’t keep me up at night the way it once did, there is more good in my life than bad, more good fortune than sadness. It has all worked out.
Six hundred words into this post, I am just now to the reason I started writing it. What got me thinking about that age, that time, was a devastating death. I didn’t know Marina Keegan, but I wish that I had. I feel in a way, that I knew a part of her through her words.
Marina Keegan, a 22 year old Yale graduate, was killed this past Saturday in a car accident, just five days after graduating. She was, among many things, a truly gifted, amazing writer. I felt a bit foolish as I cried reading her last essay, one she penned shortly before her death for the Yale newspaper. But I did cry, and for the next forty eight hours, I was affected deeply by the loss of this person, this stranger.
It’s easy to see why someone would be affected. So many people have been. Her last essay went viral, and thousands and thousands of people read it, posted it on Facebook, tweeted links to it, and shared their grief over a bright life cut so short. So ridiculously short. Her own words, “We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time…”, were such a sad statement of hope from someone who should have had so much more time.
What I think really got to me was learning more about her. Marina was not just a gifted writer, she was this whole person who knew who she was, who felt comfortable in her own skin, and who was doing all of these things she had set out to do. After the death of anyone, particularly of someone so young, the sound bytes and quotes can seem almost too perfect. Of course everyone will only say the nicest things. But, there was such a ring of sincerity and genuineness to the things written and said about Marina Keegan. In the end, her own words shone above all else.
In the privileged world she came from, she doubted herself, her future, and the privilege itself. She took nothing for granted, and questioned her own ease of feeling “special” at times. She was a very real, very genuine person, who at age 22 had accomplished so much, and had much more to do. I am infinitely sad that I will never read another essay of hers. I am infinitely grateful that I did read her words, that I got to know her a little bit, and that with so many others I can send out some hope into the universe for her family. What a loss for them. But what a beautiful job they did in raising someone who saw herself as capable of all the things she could be, and realistic about the world and all it offered, and all that she had been given. The voice she followed was her own.
I thought so much about how- if questioned while I was still in grade school, or walking the halls of junior high- my teachers would have predicted such a successful path for me. Maybe not at Yale, maybe not a job at the New Yorker just days after graduation, but these teachers saw my potential as endless and hopeful. They all told me so, over and over. They each in their own way did everything right to empower me and help light the way for my next steps. Something else was louder to me, and took over. My teachers had little to no indication, as I was an expert secret-keeper, all by design.
I thought so much about how Marina’s life was all these right, wonderful things, and all that ended, senselessly.
In thinking back to that time in my life in comparison to hers, I didn’t feel jealousy for all her accomplishments, for her strength and talent, I felt strangely proud. None of that is easy. As young woman out in the world, no matter what privilege you derive from, no matter how “easy” wealth can make your journey, it is still hard. I know so well how hard it is. It is especially hard to share your fears so openly…to question the wealth you come from so openly…to so fiercely face the world with all of your beliefs and sense of self intact.
Marina Keegan was not perfect, I am sure she made big mistakes in there somewhere. I know there are a million other stories out there just as sad, with other bright lights extinguished with just as much promise and talent. But hers spoke to me. It took me so many years to find my voice, to see myself. I saw moments of myself in her words, the way she felt and saw things, and I marveled that it had taken me 20 years longer than she to get the courage to be that person, to share those things.
What does keep me up at night- especially recently- is just the fragility of it all. The unbelievable unfairness of so many things. I wonder why someone like Marina Keegan is lost to the world, when others who do nothing but add pain, crime, and ridiculous 15 minutes of fame and shame to our collective culture seemingly breeze through life, averting disaster—or even discomfort.
I can’t resolve this in one blog post, or a dozen more. I can only be angry and confused and wish things were different.
Tonight, I can read Marina’s words, and be grateful for another day-- and be thankful that in reading her words, I am more inspired than ever to keep writing my own.
All of us, whether it’s 20 years too late, one semester into college, or right on track in our own lives, can take the baton where she has left off and share our stories, find our strength, and go from here.
I didn’t know Marina Keegan, but I think she would like that. In her own words...
“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over... We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
To read another of Marina's essays, Song for the Special, click here.