Eleven years ago, Marina Keegan ’12 published an essay in the Yale Daily News titled “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which was distributed at her commencement. She died in a car crash a week later. Her essay, read by over a decade of Yalies, has become ubiquitous. It argues that Yale inspires a sensation in its undergraduates that Keegan terms the opposite of loneliness: “this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team.”
I know Keegan is right. She is so right in so many painful ways, in ways I am afraid of losing after graduating and leaving this place, much like she was. I think of walking through Cross Campus on a good day, running into friends and acquaintances and that one guy from the couch at that party where you both had a bit too much to drink. A good day where your hellos meet their marks and you both smile. I think of bodies piling into hammocks and common rooms and the same desk at the library. I think of the dining hall filling up at breakfast, all of us tacking onto each other, relieved we caught one another in passing before the maelstrom of the day pulls us apart.
But there are moments when the opposite of loneliness is replaced by another dissonant reality: how unbearably, remarkably lonely it can feel to be here. Where we are all swimming in different directions, torn apart under the desire to live up to what it means to be studying inside these faux gothic walls, leaving so many faces behind and watching the people around you find their footing in ways you haven’t. The opposite of loneliness begins to feel less like a wide, weighty blanket of assurance, and more like a net, hollow and limp. You’re a lobster, your head caught in the spaces between the plastic, jutting out through the holes. Here, in the cracks in-between, the loneliness creeps in with so much kick it could kill, like a horse’s foot to the head, like a baseball bat between the eyes.
Suddenly, a flash of it, at the party with the speakers and the booze where no one you came with is looking at you, they’re all just heads scanning a crowd, hips bucking side to side to “Tia Tamera.” Gazes seeing through you, past you, limbs touching as you dance but still there’s so much distance, so much tightened in the core of your stomach. Everyone just a bit too far out of reach, whirling in their own whirlpools, holding their own skin up in the LED lights, searching for the line made of nylon where their solitude stops and another person’s begins.
In all of it, a charge, a thunder, a strength that could knock your teeth out, that could kiss the wind from your lungs up through your lips. The wanting to be near and the fear of being too close. There are assignments to do, essays to write and problems to solve, emails to agonize over for weeks, a text message to read and reread and re-reread. We are the gods of our minds and our GCals and we are urchins with the soft sweet flesh of a lychee, rind and all, rind so tough it’ll bite you back, motherfucker.
At the end of the day, or the four or five or six years, we will all leave each other, won’t we? We are all, always, leaving each other. Over and over again and then one final time. How can we stave off the loneliness during and in between? Does it matter? Could it?
I think of what got me through this place. I think of the friends reaching out to grab me, to ground me, to bring me back to center. Of doing the same for them. Of the Jitterbus runs and the farmer’s market bread and the vegan cookie dough, bags and bags and bags of it. The net’s still here but there’s two of us now, two pairs of beady eyes and antennae, side by side in the nylon. And then, another, and another. Red bodies stretching out, one after the other, a meadow of carapace and small, spindly legs filling up the net.
I remember the first years last August, their nerves and their too-quick smiles and their laughter, bright and loud. Here is a place that will try to cook you alive, I wanted to tell them. I think of the Claudia Rankine quote I shared with them at the beginning of the year: “Why are we here if not for each other?” You’re lobsters, get it? Caught in the net, stuck inside the plastic, but still moving, still reaching for one another. Here is where you must love each other, even when it could kill you, even when it feels like you’re going to be rocked back and forth in a pot over a flame and you’re giving and you’re giving and you’re not getting any of it back. They’re reeling in the catch but you can still make it out of here, I’m saying. You’ve got your claws for a reason, don’t you? Don’t you?
The loneliness will remain, continuing to ebb and flow. None of us will be spared or saved. All of us are on our own. But still, we try to bridge the distance anyways, trying to be enough for one another, to make the solitude go away. We’re caught in the damn net but we’re still looking around, searching for each other, piling onto each other in the libraries and the courtyards and the common rooms. Doing it all because it can make us a little less lonely, or even if it makes us more lonely. Doing it because we can be inside this net together, at least, all on the same team, like Keegan said. Saying to each other: find me and let me find you, even though it’s impossible, even though it’ll kill us. Grab my claw. Take my hand.
Luka Silva is a graduating senior in Grace Hopper College.
Correction, May 23: In an earlier version of this article’s penultimate paragraph, the word “giving” was repeated where it should have said “getting”; the piece has been updated accordingly.