Kevin Keegan and his wife, Tracy Keegan, were preparing to celebrate his 55th birthday and eagerly awaiting the homecoming of their daughter Marina and a college boyfriend they hoped to get to know better, just days after the two graduated from Yale University.
But instead a state trooper arrived at the Keegan's door to deliver devastating news: There had been a car crash and Marina Keegan, who had a promising position as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker magazine ahead of her, was dead.
"I was waiting with my lobster and birthday cake, which she loved," said Kevin Keegan. "I couldn't understand why after a week she wasn't home. Why can't she just be back?"
Marina Keegan and Michael Gocksch were en route to the Keegans' summer house in Wellfleet, Mass., when Gocksch lost control of the car. The Lexus hit a guard rail, spun across the road to hit the opposite guard rail, then rolled over twice, according to the Cape Cod Times.
Gocksch was uninjured, but Keegan died at the scene.
This week her prophetic and inspirational essay, "The Opposite of Loneliness," with its heart-wrenching lines "We're so young. We're so young. We're 22 years old. We have so much time" has gone viral.
The piece had appeared in a special graduation issue of the Yale Daily News days before her death on May 26.
Read Marina Keegan's "Opposite of Loneliness."
Her parents, still raw with emotion, cried and laughed over memories as they drove back from Yale, where they had heard tributes from students and faculty, and told ABC News.com that they had taken comfort in the way their daughter continued to inspire other young people with her idealistic voice, now immortalized in her writing.
They had transcended the horrible circumstances of their daughter's death to forgive and console Gocksch, who was driving the car.
"She was very in love," said Tracy Keegan, 54. "She loved the Cape and the water and wanted to share her favorite place. I had never seen her so happy. She so loved and admired him."
Gocksch was an American studies major, "the most well-read" man Marina Keegan said she had ever met, according to her mother. Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats, and Gocksch was its vice president.
"How are we doing?" asked her mother. "We are just running on adrenaline, just guessing the value of trying to honor a soul like Marina's. I can hear her now: 'Just don't screw up this interview.' She was the one with the eloquent soul.
"She absolutely kept a constellation of friends and people whom she loved," said Tracy Keegan. "She was also a deep thinker. She would go about her everyday things and then something would strike her, and she would need to work it out and understand it in a larger way -- to pull back from the current to a larger picture, like most of us never do."
Their daughter cared about whales (and wrote about it), the legalization of same-sex marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana and helping college-bound undocumented immigrants realize their dreams, according to her parents.
Active in the Occupy Morgan Stanley campaign, Keegan told her mother she was proudest of her essay, "Even Artichokes Have Doubts," an analysis of why so many Ivy League graduates abandon their dreams and end up in finance that was published in both the Yale Daily News and The New York Times.
"This fall when she was a senior, she called and said, 'Mom, I got a call from a recruiter who wanted to pay me $100 to meet with him for one hour to talk to me about working for a consulting company or a hedge fund. Why are they calling me? I'm an English major?' Then she realized, 'Wait a minute, they're calling everybody.'"
Keegan knew she could have a "great impact" as a writer, according to her father, and by "making a difference."
Max de La Bruyere, a rising senior from Alberta, Canada, and editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, said Keegan's writing and activism "really challenged people to think."
They took a creative writing class together and De La Bruyere was in awe of her talent. "Every piece she shared, and I was amazed at how well she was with words and thoughts," he said. "The quality of her writing was off the charts."
Marina Keegan's Legacy Was Her Writing
Her play, "Utility Monster," won best stage reading in a playwriting festival in Manhattan, according to her mother. In it, she struggled with values and life's meaning: "How can I justify eating at Taco Bell if it can save a child in Africa? Is it indulgent for me to buy art?"
"The only solace for what happened [to Keegan] is she was able to leave a written legacy so vivid," said De La Bruyere.
Keegan wrote a full-length musical, called "Independents," with lyrics by close friend and classmate Mark Sonnenblick, which is slated to go up at the New York Fringe Festival in August.
The story, about 20-something slackers living and working together on a Revolutionary War re-enactment ship and running drugs, is a comedic look at the transition to adulthood.
"She was always writing about things she thought about, wondering is there a network of friends who can sustain you or ultimately hold you back from being an adult," said Sonnenblick, who is from Manhattan Beach, Calif.
He and other collaborators spent the last week on Cape Cod, supporting the Keegans and revising the play.
"Her voice is there on the page and in our head," he said. "It's a fact she won't be around to see it or participate in the process, something that just hasn't sunk in."
Friends like Amalia Skilton said Keegan could "be wild" like other college kids, but she also had a sense of fairness and little ego.
Skilton worked with Keegan in the Democratic primary elections for city council in New Haven, Conn. When it looked as if their candidate would run unopposed, Skilton was elated, but Keegan didn't see it the same way.
"She really cared about having a conversation and people thinking critically about what they were doing," said Skilton, a senior from Phoenix. "That hurt her candidate, but it's what set her apart from so many at Yale. She did it not to glorify herself."
The Keegans, who have raised their children in suburban Wayland, Mass., were good role models for their daughter and her two brothers, Pierce, a junior at Wayland High School, and Trevor, 25, who runs a small business.
They describe themselves as "humanists."
Tracy Keegan had worked in film production, but turned her efforts to raising three children and charity work.
Kevin Keegan spent 25 years as an executive in software sales, then became an eighth-grade social studies teacher, a career change his daughter was proud of. When the economy turned, he was laid off and has returned to sales.
As a child, Marina was diagnosed with celiac disease. She later became the poster child for an educational DVD her mother created on behalf of children afflicted with chronic illness. "It was rough," said Tracy Keegan,
Despite health obstacles, Marina went on to politics in high school, and was one of the youngest interns in the 2008 campaign to elect Barack Obama. In college, she traveled to India on a Cyrus Vance International Scholarship.
The "seeds" of her passion came from her family, who emphasized "the right thing to do, to help your community," said Kevin Keegan.
For the Keegans, the right thing to do was to help Gocksch, who was "devastated" by Keegan's death and his role in the accident.
When Gocksh came to see the Keegans several days ago, they gave him a hug. "We said this horrible accident was her fate," said Tracy Keegan. "Unfortunately, she could not throw two lives away, and she loved you."
"You can't go off course," Kevin Keegan told him. "To honor her, you need to live your life -- to make a difference for others, to embrace life as she did."
The Keegans believe their daughter was "wise beyond her years" and made a mark on a campus that won't forget her.
"She inspired young people to make a difference and to realize that they can roll up their sleeves and do something," said Tracy Keegan. "This is their world, their future."
Still, they are numb by the loss. "We loved her," said Kevin Keegan. "As a father, I selfishly wanted more time with her."
On Class Day before graduation, the speaker, ABC's Barbara Walters, asked Keegan's class how many students had "found your bliss in life?" Only a few raised their hands.
"The point was that not everyone had a clue about true inspiration," said Tracy Keegan. After the speech, her daughter confessed to her mother, "I was one of the people who raised their hands."
Kevin Keegan's last memory of his daughter is graduation weekend at Yale. As his wife stayed on to pack up, he said goodbye on a street corner.
"I told her I was so proud of her and loved her and I had a tear in my eye," he said. "I told her how much it all meant to me and got in the car, like I always do and started beeping the horn and yelling. She was smiling."
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source: ARC Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult/Essays & Short Stories
I'm not sure how to talk about this posthumously complied and absolutely breathtaking collection of essays and short stories without mentioning the tragic death of it's author.
Like the millions of people who read the article this book takes its title from, I became familiar with Marina Keegan's writing when her last article for Yale Daily News went viral shortly after her graduation and her untimely death, two things that occurred within days of each other. And even though I know it has nothing to do with her writing ability, Marina Keegan seemed to be the kind of person I'd have been proud to know, the kind of person I sleep better knowing exists in the world. She was poised to be the (often overused, but entirely appropriate in this circumstance) voice of a generation and she had something important to say. And essays and short stories collected in The Opposite of Loneliness are just as fascinating and tragic as its author was in life and death.
The fiction pieces, which account for just over half of the collection, are both raw and relationship/character-centered, just how I like my fiction. From the old woman with a predilection to taking her clothes off while she volunteers to read for the blind in "Reading Aloud" to the college student trying to be more in love than she really is in "Cold Pastoral" (read "Cold Pastoral" in its entirely at The New Yorker), Keegan creates characters you lose time with. With one or two exceptions, her short stories are also centered around the idea of love, not the hearts and flowers love though, but the complicated and confusing love that we don't always like to acknowledge. And even though some of the ideas her characters have about love are nontraditional, I found my time with them to be both them comforting and familiar. Notable favorites are "The Ingenue" and "Hail, Full of Grace" along with the two stories previously mentioned.
Though slightly outnumbered by the fiction pieces in the collection, Keegan's essays are equally powerful and enjoyable in a much different way. Some, like "The Opposite of Loneliness," are thought provoking and inspirational, but by and large, they're just GOOD WRITING. The kind of writing that makes you pause and take a breath, just to savor the words. She can make a topic as unexciting as a gluten-free diet (cleverly titled "Against the Grain") and turn it into the most enjoyable 12 pages you've read. In "Stability in Motion," a loving portrait of her first car, she makes you long for the days when you took road trips and intentionally "played Simon and Garfunkel -- hoping [the boy who wasn't quite a boyfriend yet would] realize all the songs were about us" and when, "on the night we decided to just be friends[, your] car listened to [you] cry for all twenty-two and a half miles home." Notable favorites are "Why We Care About Whales" and "Song for the Special" along with the two just mentioned.
"The Opposite of Loneliness" comes out on April 8th. Get it.
Last Word: "The Opposite of Loneliness" is a diverse and delicious collection of essays and short stories that will leave you satisfied and wishing you had Keegan's next book to look forward to.
An affecting and hope-filled posthumous collection of essays and stories from the talented young Yale graduate whose title essay captured the world's attention in 2012 and turned her into an icon for her generation.
Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.
As her family, friends, and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her deeply moving last essay for The Yale Daily News, "The Opposite of Loneliness," went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits.
Even though she was just twenty-two when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. Her short story "Cold Pastoral" was published by NewYorker.com just months after her death.
The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina's essays and stories, which, like The Last Lecture, articulate the universal struggle that all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be, and how we can harness our talents to impact the world.