Tiny Permanents

15 October 2012

Mia sent me the heart-wrenching short story Cold Pastoral (“I was tired and hurt and the headache behind my left eye had never quite vanished—but I read the love story of Lauren Cleaver and Brian Jones until five-thirty that morning.”) and the essay The Opposite of Loneliness (“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.”) a couple of days ago; they were written by Marina Keegan, a Yale graduate who recently died in a car crash at 22. I told her (Mia) that the essay read like the way I felt near the end of law school, the feeling of how everything wonderfully communal was slipping past, except that that feeling was swiftly eclipsed by the impending bar exams. I used to wish half-seriously that there was a way that we could all go through things together at the same time (I may have written about this before as well), so that no one would ever have to be left behind.

Reading Song for the Special, another essay by Keegan, makes my chest tighten. I know this feeling that I try often to ignore or cover up with distractions: the feeling of impermanence, and the overwhelmingness of how there’s just so much to do, to be, to see, and how you’ll never see it all, and you’ll never be everything all at once, and each passing day narrows the possibilities as you are forced into a path into the end, no matter how unconsidered:

The thing is, someday the sun is going to die and everything on Earth will freeze. This will happen. Even if we end global warming and clean up our radiation. The complete works of William Shakespeare, Monet’s lilies, all of Hemingway, all of Milton, all of Keats, our music libraries, our library libraries, our galleries, our poetry, our letters, our names etched in desks. I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems so silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents! I want what I think and who I am captured in an anthology of indulgence I can comfortingly tuck into a shelf in some labyrinthine library.

Everyone thinks they’re special – my grandma for her Marlboro commercials, my parents for discos and the moon. You can be anything, they tell us. No one else is quite like you. But I searched my name on Facebook and got eight tiny pictures staring back. The Marina Keegans with their little hometowns and relationship statuses. When we die, our gravestones will match. Here Lies Marina Keegan, they will say. Numbers one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

I’m so jealous. Laughable jealousies, jealousies of everyone who might get a chance to speak from the dead. I’ve zoomed out my timeline to include the apocalypse, and, religionless, I worship the potential for my own tangible trace. How presumptuous! To assume specialty in the first place. As I age, I can see the possibilities fade from the fourth-grade displays: it’s too late to be a doctor, to star in a movie, to run for president. There’s a really good chance I’ll never do anything. It’s selfish and self-centered to consider, but it scares me.

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