Marina Keegan ’12 died in a car accident on May 26, at the age of 22. The News invited those who knew her to submit their memories. The submissions are published below.
I want to remember you in your imperfection
By Yena Lee
Sophomore year I asked you what the point of life was and you told me it was love. I objected: how like you. Love isn’t enough to vindicate every long day; people mostly seem little deserving of such a thing; and plus, it’s hard. You said no—you wanted to live for love.
Senior year—just a few weeks ago—we were about to graduate. I asked you what you’d do with life and you said you wanted to create; you wanted to make art. You looked serious. “I want to write.” I nodded—how like you.
You were a terrible speller.
You wrote brilliantly: the New York Times published you, NPR aired you, and New York put on your play. You’d pound out an essay caffeinated out and days later casually announce the writing prize it had won. When you wrote—hunched over your MacBook somewhere between 12 and 6AM (did your professors ever suspect?)—you’d occasionally look up at our suite. “Yo. How do you spell ‘aggrandize’?” Normally you asked only after several right-click battles with Word not recognizing what you were going for. You were a brilliant writer—but you were definately, defanitely, definitely a bad speller.
That’s how I want to remember you. You were everything good that everyone’s been saying: so talented that you intimidated us, and more creative in your sleep than most people are awake (I defer to the Sufjan Stevens dream). But de mortuis nil nisi bonum captures a shadow of you; you, grey. It isn’t you wild, brilliant, and color. Those of us lucky enough to be around as you typed out your genius knew: you couldn’t really spell. Those of us lucky enough to be around as you did your everyday also knew: you were human. You were ‘impossibly promising’—but you also schadenfreude’d and had fears and insecurities and sometimes you said things that made people sad or mad.
Nobody was more aware of this than you. I went back and reread our emails—pages and pages of collegiate confusion spilled over from late night bunk bed talks or Saybrook dinners that made us late to section:
“I would like very much to become a better person. I’m not sure how self improvement occurs other than true desire. Awake and on my laptop in the middle of the night — I worry that I am in Slytherin. How else could I disrespect… How else could I neglect… How else could I entice…?
“Articulation is not vindication. I have an immense skill for deprecation and one that I worry excuses my actions to myself and to others. Understanding one’s faults do not possibly reverse them — and trivializing my ‘sins’ is not something that I would believe. Sometimes I do mean things. I often think too highly of myself. It is [these] things that I wish to improve on.”
“Do you ever feel like you’re a bad person? I feel like I’m a bad person sometimes.”
Junior year, we emailed about “human weakness”; you added the parenthetical: “(or perhaps, human uniqueness.)” Yes. That. All those things, all of it together, made you you. Marina Keegan: brilliant writer, terrible speller.
So I want to remember you in your imperfection because that’s how you did it. You wanted to write and you wanted to love. So you did them together, with and for human weakness (or perhaps, human uniqueness). “People” are an altogether messy group and sometimes look a little too selfish, petty, or prideful for love. What you decided sophomore year—that you would “live for love”—goes beyond naiveté only after one recognizes this fact and carries on regardless. That’s how to get to love—not infatuation, which is pleasant and easy, nor idealization, which is not human.
So you who were no pale shade of perfect wrote for this weak-unique bunch. You wrote your flaws and fears into everything you wrote. And we the lucky readers read along and feel a little less lonely, a little less bad, a little more hopeful. All of this is hard when the one who loves and the one who’s loved are both painfully human. You knew this—you knew all this:
“[I] fight away my insecurities with lists I could well add to my resume. This fall I became president of the College democrats and my play was selected for Dramat production. Yet, you’re right about the fundamental uselessness of such things. I DO feel most fufilled [sic] and most happy when I am loving and experiencing love from others.
I think my biggest challenge in this regard is my own selfishness.”
—yet carried on regardless:
“What happens after or beyond this life is impossible to know, so I will focus my energies and love towards this life and the human race which inhabits it.”
That’s all to say: you wanted to write and you wanted to love. Even despite the strange and still incomprehensible fact that now you do know what’s “beyond this life,” by age 22, you managed to do what you wanted. Maybe not exactly as you’d envisioned. Like everything else, your corpus is not perfect: the feeling that there ought to be more of it chokes up all of us reading your work now. But it’s what you leave us in that characteristic imperfection of human love, which makes us love it all the more. In a way then, still: how like you.
Yena Lee is a 2012 graduate of Saybrook College.
By Eddie Fishman
I remember one winter afternoon in 2010, sitting in the periodicals room of Sterling Memorial Library, trying hopelessly to finish a 600-page book before an upcoming Soviet history seminar. It was the middle of a difficult week, in which private disappointment made the prospect of plowing through so many pages seem all the more impossible. Sitting diagonal from me, with legs outstretched on the opposite armchair like mine, was a well-dressed, red-haired girl, who was apparently far more engrossed in her reading than I was. Marina Keegan had a familiar face, but at the time I didn’t know her name, and we had not yet had the occasion to meet. Noticing that I was unhappy, Marina interjected, attributing my visible gloom to the subject matter of the book I was reading: a biography of Joseph Stalin. “Not the lightest read?” she inquired, with an ease and warmth so rarely displayed between strangers. Her smile immediately brightened my mood. Over the next several hours, we both continued reading, periodically exchanging jokes and engaging in lighthearted conversation. When I left the library later that night, I had not come close to finishing my reading, but the pessimism of the past few days had flipped to optimism, and I felt I was moving in a good direction.
A wise member of my family once enjoined me to write him postcards, because, in his words, “Little things go a long way to make a day brighter.” This was a piece of advice Marina Keegan surely understood and exemplified. Though I did not have the good fortune to spend a lot of time with Marina, more than two years after that winter afternoon in the library, her kindness and warmth remain vivid in my memory.
Eddie Fishman is a 2011 graduate of Berkeley College.
By Paul Wainer
I came to know Marina through a writing seminar that we took together during the spring of 2011, my last semester at Yale and her junior spring. The seminar, “Writing About Oneself,” was small — there were 12 of us — and the theme of the workshop was first-person personal writing, so my classmates and I quickly became close.
As a writer, Marina continuously amazed me. She had a natural ability to put together just the right words in just the right sequence. Her piece “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which the world has come to know in the past week, is an extraordinary example of Marina’s gift for articulating complex human emotions — those that many of us feel but can’t quite put into words — in the clearest of ways. But understand that this was just one example — Marina did this constantly.
Marina’s writing was just so enjoyable to read. Since our class has ended, at three different moments I’ve thought of distinct essays that Marina had written. All three times, I stopped what I was doing, found the essays in my laptop’s archives, and reread her work. Just as I smiled when reading the essays for the first time, I found myself smiling once again, and rereading the best passages over and over. It’s impossible not to smile when reading Marina’s writing; it is filled with so much personality, excitement, passion, creativity, intellect, and above all, love.
I’m currently living in Peru. While here, I decided to teach an informal writing seminar, based upon the course at Yale we took together, for Peruvian students. Before teaching the seminar, I emailed my classmates from “Writing About Oneself” to ask their permission to share their essays. Marina responded in just 10 minutes: “Yes to everything! This sounds so awesome!” followed by a later email: “Here are some [essays]! Let me know how it goes! You’ll be great :)”
I feel like every interaction that had with Marina was marked by a giant exclamation point, as well as a smile, and this is what I liked most about her.
Paul Wainer is a 2011 graduate of Trumbull College.
By Henrike Lange
Seeing Marina: Seeing her one day in winter coming to class with wet hair — Harold protesting — seeing her a few days later coughing and fighting a cold — and some days after that bouncing back, her casual resilience like a little smile on her face. Joking about class, and writing. Celebrating birthdays. Sharing the same attentiveness when reading Shakespeare, and the same silly joy of reciting funny passages or singing little tunes.
I happened to read Marina’s last column only a few weeks ago, in a time distant from this inconceivable “now” without her. I was looking forward to reading the writing that she would do in the city, and elsewhere in the world, for years and decades to come. Marina’s mindfulness and intellect vibrated with such an energy and vitality, powered by the warmth of personal relationships, friendship, love (or, the opposite of loneliness…).
This year, I was out of town during Commencement, so the last time I saw Marina, without knowing it would be the last, she did not see me. I was upstairs in the Art History Department standing at the big glass window, while she met up with Michael two stories below on York Street. Wearing her mustard jacket, and probably wet hair, she was immediately recognizable — but mostly because of her incomparably energetic body language. When they reached each other they hugged, without stopping walking, and continued going up York, arm in arm. She looked so happy, and I remember feeling so happy for her. And looking forward to seeing her again at some point, maybe in the city, maybe back here, maybe elsewhere.
I hope we will be able to take comfort in knowing how much life Marina put into these 22 years. Those are the permanents, the radio towers, the amplifiers of soul and existence. “It avails not, neither time or place — distance avails not” (Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”). Sitting in the warmth of the living room in East Rock, our books on our knees, we were looking forward to our “hereafter” and would not have expected it to be so brief.
We must not tally life in years, though.
Marina, you were wondering what the opposite of “Schadenfreude” might be in German — it is “Empathie,” “Mitgefühl.” Exactly what you were expressing in your determination to share the privileges of your life and education at Yale. Empathy and determination — I wish that, with time, we will be able to honor your memory by putting even more determination in reading, writing, creating, and living well, with more empathy, with more love.
Henrike Christiane Lange is a graduate student in the History of Art Department.
By Chloe Sarbib
During our junior year, Marina painted a mural on the wall of her room. She had big aesthetic plans for this room. It was her first room off campus, and therefore the first room on which she could fully impose her personality and taste without fear of University or parental limitations. Because she was sharing the second-floor bedroom with our friend David, she had only two walls for a canvas instead of four, so she made every square inch count. This mural was an epic multimedia undertaking. Marina lined a large section of wall with New Yorker covers laid end to end. She bought paints and swirled sunsets and patterns up towards the ceiling. She bought tinfoil and cupcake wrappers and dotted her new landscape with metallic stars and shapes.
I guess I should say Marina started to paint a mural on the wall of her bedroom, because she never finished it. It became a running joke in our house: when was Marina going to finish the mural? I’d ask her sometimes what her plans were on a Friday night and she’d grin and say, “Oh, I’m think I’m gonna stay in. Finish the mural, you know.” Her palette was a fixture in that room all year: a paper plate covered in half-dried oil paint, brush still stuck in the red or the blue. She always had more cupcake wrappers on her full bookshelf. Sometimes I’d come home really late from rehearsal for some play or, less often, from the library, and she’d be at the wall, adding some new element.
Marina and I went to see Sufjian Stevens in Boston in October of that year. We both loved him with the kind of fangirl abandon that the Backstreet Boys — her first concert — had inspired in her when she was a preteen, and for a week before and after neither of us could talk about anything else. After the concert, Marina returned to the mural and painted a lyric from one of the songs off the album he’d performed, “The Age of Adz.” “It’s not so impossible,” she wrote, big and bold. The quote became the mural’s central feature.
I gave Marina such a hard time about that mural. We were friends who showed affection through teasing, and prided ourselves on our wry, self-aware sense of humor. We commented on things. A straightforward and sincere feeling like that —“It’s not so impossible” — was kind of asking for it, with us. But there were moments in that year — during “Utility Monster” tech where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, or during society tap when every junior at Yale questions his or her own worth for a second — when she would just say it to me. “Hey,” she’d say, again with a grin. “It’s not so impossible.” And I could take solace in it. I could let down my snarky guard and process what that really meant.
At the end of the year, the mural was still unfinished. We were stressed about getting our security deposit back on the house, and moving out was chaos. Marina ended up staying up all night on one of the last nights of the Commencement musical to paint the whole thing white again.
So if you go to the room that was Marina’s in 39 Lynwood Place, you won’t see any trace of the mural. But it’s still there: all the colors and the different nights of painting are just a few layers down on those walls. When I would return to that room during this, my senior, year, my eyes projected the mural for a moment before they adjusted to the room without it. I will remember that room as it was when Marina and the mural lived there. A perpetual work-in-progress, never abandoned and never finished, it’s fueled, without a trace of irony, by the belief that it’s not so impossible.
Chloe Sarbib is a 2012 graduate of Saybrook College.
Boy Sees Girl: Memories of a lost star
By Anthony LeCounte
“And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.” -Marina Keegan
I met Marina Keegan in April 2009. I didn’t think I would like her.
Near the end of sophomore year, I belatedly joined the crew of “Dog Sees God,” a fascinating reinvention of the old “Peanuts” gang as dysfunctional high-school kids. I didn’t know most of the cast and crew, and we were all too busy to go about proper introductions for me. But at some point during tech week, the director, Andrew, took a few of us to get dinner in Davenport. We had spent forever in the basement of Trumbull, and we welcomed the break.
I had never really spoken with Marina before, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I sat down, she was scraping a spoon against her food in glorious boredom, already in the middle of a tale. She exhaled words with an irritated energy that was somehow at once aggressive and apathetic. Another actress, Timmia, hung meekly on every word, offering comments that served only to complement whatever Marina said. It was like watching a queen bee and her sidekick.
The two went on about how if some teacher “were straight,” Marina wouldn’t be failing his class and how this was probably divine punishment for seducing somebody’s boyfriend. There was some questionable language. I was horrified. I looked to Andrew for commiseration. His focus on them was as silent as it was intense. I thought him too angry for words. “My god,” I thought to myself, “this girl is awful.”
Finally, Andrew had enough. He commanded them to stop. Finally! And then it was over.
“What did you think?” the girls asked. And he critiqued their performance.
It took me about a minute to realize Marina and Timmia had been acting out a scene from the show. It was set in a cafeteria, and this dinner had served both as break and exercise. I was floored. I had never been so caught off guard with such incredible acting up close.
Slipping out of character and ingesting each nugget of criticism as nectar for growth, the real Marina thawed to life with the jarring comfort of a crocus in February. She played a vapid mean girl in the show, but the real Marina was so strikingly different that the experience of contemplating them both was as surreal as the need for it was embarrassing. How was it that someone could be so young and exceptionally talented, and yet so humble and charming?
When Marina smiled, the welcome emanated from her eyes, with her entire body becoming a conduit for joy. If she was tired, she was also restless with possibility and reflection. I remember the energy—that mesmerizing brilliance and warmth—and it was fitting for one as enamored of stars and space travel as she was.
Sometime later, I eventually told Marina about my first impressions of her at that dinner. She laughed, warmly, and accepted the compliment.
Anthony LeCounte is a 2011 graduate of Timothy Dwight College.
By Katharine Konietzko
Two things. 1.) I did not know Marina well. 2.) I wish I had written this before she died, because what I think of her is unclouded by her passing: she deserves every word of my praise, independently from the tradition that death be honored by kind thoughts.
I met Marina in April during rehearsals for The Yale Show, and we had a scene together as a College Master and Master’s Aide. She hilariously presided over a tea with the Yale Founders while I was the “Mexican house slave” named Roberta. Unfortunately, my character ultimately became so written out of the script that “Mexican” and “house slave” no longer served to explain my presence in the scene. It made for a tough bit, but we did it. Every night, Marina got huge laughs while my politically incorrect, one-line impersonation of Family Guy’s Consuela unfailingly put the audience into a nervous silence. “Roberta, serve them the tea!” (Hahaha!) “Jessssir, all for de glori of de collage.” (Ha—huh, what?)
Looking back, it fits. Marina was a master in all that she did while I bumble along, imitate others, and worry that I am unwittingly writing myself out of the life I want. But I read Marina’s articles and realize that—despite her obvious successes—she knew that feeling and shared it. My joys and fears were in Marina’s articles, presented more playfully and poignantly than I could have said them.
Did you ever know any older girls that you looked up to as a little kid? Big Girls (as I called them) that you wanted to be cool enough to hang out with? Marina was a Big Girl. I liked her right away. Smart, funny, warm, popular, passionate, vegetarian. We both ate garbanzo bean salads. We compared nails, picked down almost to the cuticle. “Wow, I’ve never met anyone else quite as serious about it,” she’d said backstage when she saw my hands.
I have a favorite memory of Marina. Once upon a time on one of my last nights on campus, I trudged home from a now-forgotten place, tired, headachy, deflated, wearing glasses and a very finals week sweatshirt. I went through the stone archway of the dim, quiet Saybrook courtyard from Elm Street. It was empty as I walked towards my Branford room, until suddenly a slender girl emerged from somewhere to the right of the path. It was Marina.
“There you are!” She pulled me into a hug. “I never got your number. Let’s hangout soon.”
The Yale Show was over, and I had missed the cast party due to a paper. This was something that had disappointed Marina, but average idiots like me cannot crank out the genius with ease and little time. I remember thinking it was kismet, to have found each other again, and so spontaneously. I knew even with numbers we likely would not see each other during the blur of the semester’s end, but she had reached out to me with intent towards the future. Like a fern uncoiling a tendril. The Big Girl. I now realize Marina lived with this sincerity every day, and with everything she touched.
I will not see Marina again, and I am scared and heartsick to have been taught that life can produce this devastating truth. For those who knew her and loved her better than I will be able to, nothing I can write is enough.
I did not know Marina well. All I have is an unbelievable sense of a lost friendship. The Master has left, and I’m still bumbling through the scene. But, God damn it, I am going to try and keep serving the tea like you asked, Marina.
Katharine Konietzko is a junior in Branford College.
By Alex Klein
I met Marina a week into freshman year, at the first read-through for the first Dramat ex. We were both nervous, nerdy youngsters who liked theatre and politics and came from New England prep schools; her’s was cooler, and she was way cooler.
In our show, Marina played, essentially, a sheep-angel. It was an inspired performance, getting laughs every night. She also stepped in to give the pre-show fire speech. Not content to go with the Dramat standard, Marina ad-libbed a new version every night — new corny jokes each time, more laughs from the parents. After the show, my parents asked me who “the pretty angel” was.
Later on, we would each play bit parts in the Freshman Show: co-interns, costumed in matching tie-dye shirts. Bored with the material, she came up with the idea to subtly play “ten fingers” onstage, in lieu of dialogue. She always won/lost, and I don’t think we ever got caught.
That summer, I found myself alone in London on my birthday. Marina was around for the weekend, with a great many things to do and people to see. Nevertheless, she spent that whole day with me. We walked up and down Oxford Street, talking about all the things we had left to do at Yale, and how excited we were to do them. At the end of my birthday dinner, she pressed a book into my hands: “The English Patient,” by Michael Ondaatje, with an inscription she had scrawled in the front. I read it many times over. I will keep reading it. I miss her. She was singular in every way.
Alex Klein is a 2012 graduate of Davenport College.
By Catherine Osborn
I knew Marina as a friend and as a peer involved in journalism and activism at Yale. I was in a discussion section with her for a political philosophy class we took our sophomore year, in which we were first introduced to a certain ethical problem: the difference in how we respond to suffering based on our proximity to it. It’s a thought experiment that has become familiar to many Yale students: If you see a child drowning in a pool in front of you, would you jump in to save him, even if you would ruin a several-hundred-dollar shirt you were wearing? Most people would. If you knew a child were dying in another country whose life could be saved by $10, would you pay the $10 to save him? Most people would not, although they have the chance to every second. What does that say about us as ethical or not ethical actors?
Marina and I had several conversations about this and completed the assignment of writing a short response to the reading. I sort of thought about it and went on with my life, but Marina went on to write the play “Utility Monster” that went up the following year at Yale. The protagonist was a middle-class child obsessed with saving starving children in Africa. In many lines of dialogue, I recognized things Marina and I had said to each other in conversations about this. She had created a poignant and sometimes hilarious universe out of this issue in which audience members could feel membership and question themselves without feeling lectured at.
I’ve spoken a lot with fellow Yale students about the liberal arts problem: How do you get on a path to something meaningful in the world through the study of the humanities? Marina’s work, to me, embodies the answer to that. The point of us all being at college together — in a creative environment that includes more than just writers and artists — is so that we can think and argue about problems in the world and our relationship to them, and in special moments, so that some of us can create universes that engage people in those problems who may not have considered them before. Everyone shouldn’t be a writer and an artist, but we need some writers and artists with far-reaching visions.
Making it work in life as a creative person with a general degree is not an easy thing, and something that some people shy away from saying that it is impractical or it doesn’t make the most sense. I think the way Marina lived was so instructive because she did not make excuses. A lot of Yale students dabble in different things, hesitant to commit to something publicly until they are confident they can be successful in it. Marina was comfortable with not knowing. She was figuring it out and imperfect like the rest of us, but because she was honest and present about putting her thoughts and struggles into the public sphere, it felt as if she had already figured it out. I was speaking with one of so many Yale graduates who were looking forward to being creative in New York with Marina in years to come, and we agreed that Marina’s way was the courageous way to accept life: building it from the ground up instead of having pie-in-the-sky fantasies. Saying, what can you do that makes sense right now, given the resources you have?
Catherine Osborn is a 2012 graduate of Pierson College.