Last week Saturday I left my parents' home driving northwest for Chicago, through the rain. On the four-lane highway I turned off the music and listened instead to the drumming fingers of gray, slamming and sliding in long wet streaks down my windshield, smearing my vision. I listened to the voice in my head saying "careful, careful." I hate city driving. Thirty minutes from Chicago, a semi tried to merge. I drive a little red car named "Pepper;" the semi saw her and blared his horn. I sped ahead, then watched the truck in my rearview mirror, its silver grill like a bared set of teeth. It chased me for a mile, until the rain let up, and Pepper and I reached the city.
Inside the city I parallel parked for the first time in a long time, and my two college friends, Sammy and Lauren, came onto the patio of Sammy's brick house and waved me in. Even with my hands full, I hugged them. Like nurses, they took my things from me: my suitcase of clothes, my satchel, my tension. Friends are like drugs; I am addicted. I've longed for the sweetness that seems to pour in and out of me when I'm with them, when I'm allowed into their presence. I want to hold onto them, always.
I stayed in Chicago until Wednesday, ten a.m., and needless to say, I had not done much reading. I'd reached page fifteen in the book I'd brought along (Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself). I'd kept glancing at it snuck inside my satchel, safe where I'd wedged it between other bits of literature--my House Beautiful magazines from the library, my portfolio thickened with printed resumes. The book was cockeyed and bent, just like The Shipping News, which I'd already finished. In Chicago, it seemed wrong to focus on reading. I let the book sit, and tried to forget it. But that wasn't hard, the book felt foreign: I am no Rockefeller.
On Wednesday the sun finally rose in the city, just as I left it, driving down Ashland, and some other road that also began with "A." I made a safe turn onto a wide, busy highway, (one without tolls!). The sun fell over me like a soft, clean shower, through my left window and onto my lap, warming me, thawing me, loosening my anxious muscles. I drove southeast amongst semis, toward Michigan. I didn't care about the trucks, I just sped ahead, feeling used to the traffic, glad for the sunshine, finally rid of the rain.
Waiting on my desk at my parents' house was a book I'd ordered off of Amazon (while sitting in a Barnes & Noble's Starbucks): The Opposite of Loneliness, written by Marina Keegan in the months and years before her death in a car crash five days after graduating Magna cum Laude from Yale. She had a job lined up at the New Yorker. Had interned at The Paris Review, had a sense of style--that bright yellow coat on the front cover of her book, proving her happiness, checking off the box that asked her whether she was an optimistic person. Yes. She was. What is the opposite of loneliness? I wondered. "We don't have a word for (it)," she writes in her opening lines. "...but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life."
I'd just been reading in The Shipping News about Quoyle, the misfit, learning what love was, or learning at last how love could manifest itself in his own life.
Was love then like a bag of assorted sweets passed around from which one might choose more than once? Some might sting the tongue, some invoke night perfume. Some had centers as bitter as gall, some blended honey and poison, some were quickly swallowed. And among the common bull's-eyes and peppermints a few rare ones; one or two with deadly needles at the heart, another that brought calm and gentle pleasure. Were his fingers closing on that one? (315).
I read The Opposite of Loneliness instead of my other book. Placed so immediately against The Shipping News, it made me wonder: What was love to Marina? To this woman who let herself fuck up, and around, who pushed herself to the limits of her own intelligentsia, of her own emotional stamina? And the people she writes of--both fictional and non-fictional--begged me to ask myself, "Who am I? And why do I take myself so seriously?" I am asking myself now: who am I when the world doesn't seem to be looking?
This past week, I let myself believe that the world wasn't looking, and I let myself breathe. I wrote in thick black letters, using a Sharpie in my Moleskin, wasting the pages that cost too much money to waste. The words bled halfway through the paper, and I didn't care. I made lists such as "Things that Frustrate Me," "Things I LIKE," and "What does it look like to rest?" (including among the answer, "writing in a sharpie").
Marina Keegan was twenty-two when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel and caused the car crash that killed her but left him alive. And I don't know if they wanted to get married. I found it cruelly ironic that inside the book was a story Marina had written--and someone, maybe a parent or professor, or a friend, had chosen for the posthumous collection--about a boyfriend dying and the girlfriend left to decipher how she'd actually felt about him.
She understood silence like he understood darkness--running from neither as the sun set and words ran out.
"Reading Aloud" (57), The Opposite of Loneliness
She was young, she was young, and she was a damn good writer, considering.
"Many of my students sound forty years old," writes Anne Fadiman, one of Marina's professors at Yale University. "They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial..." But, she continues, "Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one..." Her writing would, Fadiman said, "make us snort with laughter...then turn on a dime and break our hearts." (xii-xiii).
The Opposite of Loneliness includes both fiction and nonfiction, and discusses topics not exclusively relevant to the Millennial Generation. She writes on universal themes: divorce, death, disease, sadness, success, and self-questioning. Truly, she writes from a perspective that seems honest, close to home, gut-true. She encourages me to keep writing. So I thank her very much, just for that.
This book has been criticized for being, it seems, literature published merely because the author had died. As if she deserved that--being published.
Yet just that thought alone--that she was twenty-one, and sounded twenty-one--makes me realize how it's truly okay to be ourselves, be our age, live into the days we've been given, and not try and force ourselves to be different. Each day, each age, holds purpose. Maybe it's okay to find out today's purpose, and let tomorrow's be settled tomorrow.