Op-ed: She Wasn't Just a Novelist With Promise, Marina Keegan Was My Friend
On April 8, 2014, my dead best friend’s book was published. It’s a beautiful collection of essays, and I am glad so these stories can continue to teach and inspire, despite being so abruptly separated from their author.
Marina Keegan was a wildly intelligent person and deserves to have her thoughts preserved in a book, because it was one of the few tangible things she valued. Marina took poor care of her clothing, scratched her CDs, and filled her Lexus sedan with garbage and discarded papers. But she was delicate with her collection of books. Her mother always said she valued them second to her collection of friends.
The Opposite of Loneliness is something I too am delicate with as I carry it in my backpack each day. Between its covers are so many stories and moments I knew or was part of, long before they evolved into essays. Marina’s voice is clear on every page, and it’s sad and comforting to hear.
But in the book’s publication, certain memories and moments of nostalgia that have kept me connected to Marina now feel clouded and disparate. This is, I suppose, because I never entirely knew or regarded Marina as an academic. I knew she was brilliant, and I respected and honored her as a writer and scholar, but I valued her the most as a friend.
We met at summer camp when we were 10 years old. It was a sailing camp on the beach on Cape Cod, so I remember thinking it was cool that her name was Marina. I was drawn to her because she was so intense but also so sweet and silly. She had this sort of gravitational pull toward people, and it caught me entirely.
Over the following seven summers, our friendship evolved through all sorts of childish shenanigans and mischief. We broke into the camp dining hall at midnight and stole cookies or snuck out of our cabins to skinny-dip in the Cape Cod Bay. As we moved out of the camp years and arranged visits during holiday breaks from college, we’d smoke weed out her bathroom window, listen to Sufjan Stevens, and reflect and giggle about those summers past that were so very special.
During one of those nights, I told Marina, “I might like boys,” to which she replied, “I know.” I remember being angry, thinking her unaffected response was patronizing. Now I know I was mad because she was right.
The summer before our senior year of college, we both interned for magazines in New York. By chance, we lived just three blocks apart, and we spent almost every night together. We were still kids, and the moment we returned home after our days spent in offices, we reverted back to the jokes and stories that brought us together over a decade before.
We talked about her complicated romances, how she was one of the first people I came out to, how she “always knew.” I never had the heart to tell her plenty of people probably “always knew” because she loved having been one of first to share my secret.
She loved hearing other people’s ideas, but when she got going on her own, she couldn’t stop talking. Once, she followed me barefoot out of her apartment and three blocks down Amsterdam Avenue because she wanted to finish telling me the concept for her musical Independents. The last time I saw her she dropped her toothbrush on the kitchen floor to hug me goodbye. I heard her using it as I closed the door behind me.
This is the Marina I knew and the Marina I think of today. When I think of my youth, I think of her. She was messy, goofy, brash, bossy, outspoken, and at times, very difficult. She was a prolific and brilliant writer, but a terrible speller. I always found that endearing.
She loved me so much, and I loved her back. And that’s all I think about now. Our relationship was always strong yet simple, founded in a connection we created when we barely knew each other, much less ourselves. We made each other laugh, and we got into a trouble together. We confided in each other and shared secrets and pain. It’s funny, in some ways, because our humor and banter was always so childish, I underestimated how crucial we were in each other’s development. Because of Marina, I grew up.
So today, I’m uncomfortable seeing her name in The New York Times and reading comments about her bright future, about how her life “brimmed with promise.” I didn’t think about her bylines in The New Yorker or her occupying Morgan Stanley when she died. The critical acclaim over her book is truly wonderful, but its reviews leave out the element of Marina’s character that defined her to me. I never thought that far into the future about Marina’s career. I never thought about the future much at all, really, until she died. It’s weird seeing her stare back at me everywhere I go on the Internet. Her hair was never that clean.
I suppose this is one of the many complexities that comes with a posthumous publication. It’s an odd method of grieving, because it preserves the beauty and voice of a life, but also draws out its ending. As I read this book, I feel not the opposite of loneliness, but its exact definition. I miss my friend. I don’t want a collection of her words and her stories. I just want Marina back.
There is so much to be said about a life as rich as Marina Keegan’s. That’s why I am glad this book has been published. Truly, I am. But I’m growing tired of reading about of her vision, intellect, and unparalleled insight. I want more stories about her mistakes, her illegal tattoo, her obsession with Harry Potter, her unchanged bedsheets and cluttered bedroom floor. I want people to know how Marina helped me make it through adolescence. I wouldn’t have grown without her.
It’s selfish, I suppose, for me to want all this. I just didn’t know the girl in the yellow coat with the essays and the poems and the plays. I knew a kid.
CAMERON KEADY is an assistant editor at Time for Kids, a freelance news and culture writer for Refinery29, and a contributing editor for Gayletter.com.