Quick Synopsis: Marina Keegan graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 2012. Tragically, five days after graduation, she was killed in a car accident. This book is a collection of essays and short stories she wrote, some of which were published in the Yale Daily News, that spoke as a leading voice for her generation, the Millennials.
Do you wanna leave soon?
No, I want enough time to be in love with everything…
And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.
I opened the book to page 1, read this excerpt from Marina Keegan’s poem, “Bygones”, and refused to put the book back on the shelf.
Keegan’s book, “The Opposite of Loneliness”, is a collection of the young author’s fictional stories and non-fictional essays. The title is taken from the heading of a speech she gave to her graduating class at Yale University in 2012. She opened this speech by noting that the English language does not possess a word for “the opposite of loneliness”, but that is what she hoped to have in her life. Like all college graduates, she was afraid of the uncertainty that came next, but mostly, she was afraid of losing her camaraderie, her sense of security.
Ms. Keegan sadly passed away later the same year – a victim of a car crash, but not a victim of death. Her stories transcend time and distance, pulsating perfectly in sync with the heartbeats of her fellow nineties-Millennials. Finding maturity in young love (or not), coping with changing family dynamics, finding yourself after tragedy, heartbreak, or the passage of time – subjects that prey upon the minds of twenty-somethings – are all found again and again in the pages of her writing. She was, and will go down in history, as a voice of her generation — the Millennials.
Her fictional stories build magnificent characters, but each story has an abrupt ending, unfortunately just like the author’s herself. Be forewarned: any emotional attachment made to any of Keegan’s characters will result in a small prick of pain, like a Band-Aid being ripped off bare skin, a flash of a connection that will end almost as quickly as it began.
Marina’s brilliance really shines through in her non-fiction, allowing me to relate in some stories as if I was with her while she was writing them (“Stability In Motion”, “Even Artichokes Have Doubts”), and to learn from others that were more foreign for me (“Under the Grain”, “Why We Care About Whales”). But speaking from the point of view of a Millennial myself, if there’s one story you must read, it’s “Even Artichokes Have Doubts.” This essay made me catch my breath. As a 20-something, as a person still trying to figure her life out, this essay made me sit down and made me remember what I swore to myself never to forget: that we have one life and we should make the most of it. We should not be afraid to be ourselves.
I read “Stability In Motion”, a personal essay of Keegan’s retrospective years driving her 1999 Toyota Camry, three weeks after I bought a new car, giving away my 10 year-old Chevy Aveo which I had driven from ages 16-25. After I read the story, a wave of guilt and sorrow washed over me as I thought about all the history my Aveo had seen. It was the vessel through which I had grown up, and I had handed it over to a stranger without a second glance.
I shared that with Marina. In some ways, she is the friend I never met. I stare at her photograph on the front cover, absorbing the frame in her yellow jacket and floral shorts, wondering if that was the picture she would have chosen of herself. Regardless, it is clear that she was loved, and that she had stories destined to be told. I am truly thankful to now be a part of her life beyond life.
I promise you, Marina, I am twenty-five as I write these words, and I have not forgotten. (To my readers: reference “Even Artichokes Have Doubts”).
There are really too many. I’d have to say the lines from her poem “Bygones” — the one I referenced above — ring so true to my own mantra that I can’t believe Marina and I didn’t know each other. I never want to leave but I am always the one running. But I know nothing lasts forever, even though it can always be found again, and that’s where my tears fall.