I didn't know her. Would never have known her if she hadn't died.
I was tooling around the internet this weekend and found an article about her. She was 22, a new Yale graduate. She wrote and wrote well. And died in a car crash on Saturday.
I saw the small article of hers called The Opposite of Loneliness and I read it. Wept. How does one so young write so well?
But, think back. When we were 22, we were wise asses, yes. We thought we knew everything. I felt for sure that I understood Walt Whitman. Hemingway. And I saw myself sort of kind of saving the world someday with the rest of my generation.
We didn't. But we aspired. And felt certain that it was in our reach.
I had not yet fallen in love. Not yet. Yet, I felt I understood it innately. And looking back, okay...I didn't really, but I was close, you know? And love is one of those slippery slopes that is different for everyone. Some of us feel like we are falling off a cliff. Others feel as if everything that was topsy turvy finally balanced. Still others just felt buoyant, like a balloon. Love is relative.
But, the truth is that I felt things so much more passionately than I do now. With wisdom has also come complacency and a sort of sad knowledge. When I was 22, I hadn't yet learned most of the big lessons in my life.
I hadn't learned what it felt like when people you loved profoundly disappointed you.
I hadn't learned that one small fist in one small hand could wrap around my heart and hold it so tightly and yet so gently that just the sight of her lips puckering in sleep could make me duck my head and weep.
I didn't know what making money felt like. Or not making it.
I hadn't had any big health scares.
I didn't know what commitment entailed or how it would change me profoundly.
About the only thing that I was wise about was the knowledge that I could survive the loss of a loved one and endure.
Well, and most of my classes. I pretty much aced all of them. So, well...I could produce results on paper that were graded well by professors. So, what I had learned really was hoop jumping. Still. It was not to be sneezed at. It was something.
But, at 22...I felt a profound kinship with the world. I felt part of something great and good. And I trusted that I would add to it. I was, like most 22 year olds....a little vain. A little heady about my talents. And sure that I was pretty much right all the time.
Now, I am 54. And I look back fondly on that 22 year old. But, truly? She was a bit delusional. I am smarter now, savvier about almost everything.
But more jaded too. I don't find myself falling into poetry as maddeningly as I did when I was 22. And Whitman? Now I read Whitman and I know that when I was 22 years old, I didn't really understand him. How could I understand what he meant by grass being the "beautiful uncut hair of graves.".....or that Hemingway wasn't just a master of run on sentences, but also a sort of political genius? I hadn't lived enough to know.
Like Thornton Wilder's heroine, Emily, in Our Town, speaking about the world being too wonderful for mere humans to ever really understand it?
When you are 54, you are closer to that edge and it makes sense. Beautiful sense, but still...sense.
I am so sad for Marina Keegan because I imagine she would have had this really interesting life. Just like I ended up having, or you or that guy who sat next to you in algebra.
But, she never got to feel it, to complete it, to know the world intimately because you have felt all the fear and pain and love and craziness and solitude and joy and peace and wantonness.
She was going to live in New York and write for The New Yorker. I would have liked to watch her progress from a funny, smart 22 year old to an older, wiser, but....more interesting self.
When you are young, you think you are without limits. When you are older, you know that there are limits, but you also know how to circumvent them too. And rise above and sink way down deep and then touch the bottom lightly and push off and slide up to the top again. And the realization that hearts mend and that it can be a horrible process, but a joyful one too.
Marina will never know what it is like to be a mother, a working writer, a soccer mom or a gin soaked mess of one. She was just at the beginning, you know? That place where all is possible and you haven't fallen hard enough to realize later that the getting up part? It was awful, but it was educational and brought wisdom and joy in the mending.
She will never get a chance to look back on her 22 year old self and sort of smile and shake her head. And that is what haunts me.
I never knew Marina Keegan. And now I never will. Not really. I just see what she looked like at the beginning of that journey.
And I like her so much. Just think what she could have been.
If you get a chance...read her last work: The Opposite of Loneliness.
I'm betting that you will miss her too. Even though you never met her.