In my line of work, bad news is good news. When terrible things happen to people – a naked man chews another man’s face off or a woman is ripped in half by an elevator on her way to work – a different energy starts to course through the air: this is going to be a good day, we say to ourselves. We feel relief, excitement, we breathe a little easier. Other people’s tragedies are our good fortune. It’s sick, it’s disgusting - it’s our norm.
Desensitization happens quickly. First it’s shocking, then it’s funny, and quickly it becomes boring. It’s not important enough if a woman is found dead – is she hot? Did she die in a quirky or horrific fashion? That changes everything. Life at a tabloid means I spend my days trolling doom and gloom, guts and gore to find stories that will rake in traffic and page views.
So when an editor sent me this link today, the story of a 22-year-old Yale graduate’s inspiring words to her classmates just days before she was killed in a car accident, my initial reaction was: Gold Mine. It had all the right elements. Beautiful girl + tragic death + emotional quotes = blockbuster web story. File that under “hot but dead,” I thought (using my inner, horrifying shorthand for a category of stories I know our readers will eat up — Similar tags include “Awesome if True,” “Dead Babies” and “Domestic Disputes Involving Samurai Swords”).
I quickly typed her name into Facebook - Marina Keegan - to see what else I could find.
And then, there she was, standing tall in a yellow coat, her eyes meeting mine. Yes, she was pretty, young, and it was tragic - but I no longer felt the thrill of page views, no longer wanted to joke around. My detachment fell away, my stomach started slip-sliding. She was too real, too confident, too poised, too smart. How could she be gone?
I turned to the essay she left her fellow graduates, the kind of thoughtful, beautiful musings of a young woman on the verge of everything.
“The opposite of loneliness,” she writes.
It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.
But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old.
Marina Keegan, 22. Writer, actress, daughter, friend. She could be any of us. I try to put her together in my mind.
Worked at the New Yorker (Intern), her Facebook profile says. Someone in our cop shack says she was set to take a job there as an editorial assistant. Her Facebook page is full of carefree albums – kissing her boyfriend at prom, playing with her dog. A quick Google search shows she wrote for the New York Times. She was passionate about liberal politics and the importance of not selling out, it seems. There she is in a YouTube video, performing at a campus spoken word event - cute, composed, smart, stylish. Anyone can tell, this was a girl with a dazzling future. The kind of person people wanted to be friends with, wanted to be like. What could have happened?
The crash occurred at about 2:20 p.m. when the car carrying Keegan and [the driver] was traveling eastbound on Route 6 in Dennis when it drifted off the road and into the right-side guardrail. The car then swerved back across the road and crashed into the left-side guardrail before rolling over at least twice and coming to rest in the road. — Patch.com
I have learned over and over that there is no such thing as fair. There are only random acts and the frenzy of those left behind to try to fashion them into a cohesive narrative to dull the pain. But there is no sense to be made out of the loss of someone so young, so bright, so vibrant. My heart sped up as I read the words she left her classmates - her voice is so clear, real, optimistic; so confident in herself and what lies ahead. There is no room for doubt or tragedy. She is sensible, rational, modest, brilliant. How many parents have said goodbye to their daughters, still so full of promise?
We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.
When the woman was cut in half by the elevator in midtown last year, a neighbor was asked to describe her. “She always wanted to quit smoking and lose ten pounds,” the neighbor said. We are all the things we’ve done, but are we even more so the things we haven’t done and want to do and assume we’ll get to? What would my neighbors say about me if I was gone tomorrow? Would they even know my name?
And then I can’t look through any more of her photos – I have to stop. There is a new, fresh quality to the guilt I feel from peeking into her life, like these pictures are too personal, too normal, too familiar. There are only her words, sparkling with the enthusiasm and hope of being 22 and on the edge of life, which will ring in my ears for a long time to come.
We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.