20 Years Later, Still In Disbelief

photo 2-2

Emily Powers Foster (August 15, 1967 – October 6, 1994)


Twenty years ago today, my sister-in-law Emily died. She was 27.

I wanted to dedicate today’s blog post to her, to write her a letter, to let her know how much she meant to me, how much I miss her, and how much my children (her nieces)–who only know her through stories and photos–would have adored her.

But I can’t seem to do it. The emotion is still so raw, the shock of her being gone still so real. Even now, writing about how I can’t write about her, I am crying uncontrollably. I can barely see my words through the blur.

So, instead, I am going to offer up a link from a blog post I wrote in 2012, titled “Thinking of Emily”, which tells a little bit about what happened in the Fall of 1994. The story of what happened to Emily begins in paragraph four of the post.

Please read it.

There is comfort in knowing that for a moment, anybody who reads the story will be with us, her family and friends, thinking of Emily, envisioning her, on this terrible, horrible anniversary day.

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Teen Jumps From Moving Vehicle

I can’t recall exactly how it came about, but I know that my friend and I were sixteen and the two boys, who were cousins and best friends, were seventeen or eighteen. We all went to school together, although I only knew who they were because I was friendly with their younger sisters. My friend knew them better.

It was the middle of the day on a weekend. We were in my friend’s driveway in suburbia, 1981. The driveway was long. The boys had driven in. Whether they’d been invited or had dropped by on a whim, I can’t say for sure.

Both of them were cute, one shyer than the other but neither of them nerdy. Bad boys among the more upstanding types I knew well, but not exactly troublemakers. Between my friend and I, I was the shy one, but I wasn’t so shy that I didn’t smile and make a few comments in the conversation. I wasn’t going to go unnoticed.

At some point, my friend and I were sitting on the hood of their car. One of the boys suggested that they drive us around the block like that. We weren’t so sure that was a good idea, but being foolish and young, we agreed. There were no drugs or alcohol in any of our systems, so that wasn’t a concern. The neighborhood was set off from traffic, so the likelihood of coming across other vehicles was limited and the boys couldn’t have gotten away with driving fast, not with all the busybody neighbors on teen watch.

Ten miles per hour feels fast when you are on the hood of somebody’s car, especially when it’s the hood of a car being driven by two boys you don’t quite trust and who clearly have an interest in impressing you with their daring. My friend motioned for them to slow down. They ignored her, sped up. We probably were going fifteen miles an hour, maybe twenty. I remember liking it but worrying about my friend. She seemed stressed, afraid, and since she generally was more of a risk-taker than I was, this made me uncomfortable. But the wind. The freedom. The cute boys taking us for a ride.

The vision of a girl flying through the air . . .

I banged on the hood. The boys stopped the car then backed up to where she had landed. My friend had not fallen off the car; she’d jumped. The fear had gotten to be too much. She found her escape. Not too smart a move, but we clearly weren’t at our smartest that afternoon.

When she finally got up, she delicately held her arm as if in a sling. Her teeth were clenched. Tears were in her eyes. The boys drove us back to her house. We sent them away. As we walked toward the door, we concocted a story that we thought would be palatable to her parents. Something about riding bikes and hitting a curb and flying off the bike and falling onto her shoulder.

I don’t recall much more of what happened that day, but she told her parents the story, I went home, and they went to the hospital where she was treated for a broken collarbone. The next day she called to tell me about the collarbone and that her parents knew the real story. They saw through her lie and she was in too much pain to deny the truth.

We were good kids. I was a particularly responsible teenager. As teenagers go. But I did a lot of stupid stuff. More than I like to recall now that I have teenagers of my own. If I were good at denial, then I’d assume my daughters never do anything stupid, never do anything that could get them hurt or in trouble with me or the law.

Damn. I wish I were good at denial. But alas, I am not.

It’s tough being a parent. Even when your kids are well-behaved and pleasant. As mine are. Even when your kids are hardworking and successful in their endeavors. As mine are. It’s tough because I was all of those things and still, I did a whole lot of stuff I still wouldn’t admit to my parents (well, I may have admitted it just now.)

We try to teach them to learn from our mistakes, but how many parents tell their kids about the really stupid things they did in their youth, about the near misses or the broken collarbones that resulted from our foolishness? I’m pretty honest with my kids, but there are situations, incidents that if shared, are not going to help my cause, the cause being keeping my kids safe so they can live long and happy lives.

I suppose that goes both ways. While I am pretty open-minded and truly want my kids to share their lives with me, there probably are situations, incidents that if shared are not going to help their cause, their cause being able to do what they want to do without parental interference.

I can only hope that they are smart enough to stay on the car instead of jumping, if they are stupid enough to take the ride. I can only hope that they choose to tell me the truth so I can help them if they do get in trouble and need an adult on their side, guiding them. I can only hope that they aren’t stupid enough to accept a subsequent invitation from one of the guys driving the car and go out with him the next week.

Lord knows that was another foolish decision. But times were simpler then. The date was a bust but I still remained friends with his sister, who never knew we went out, and I could pass him in the hall at school and avert my gaze. Which I did. Because I was a little bit shy and too much of a good girl to be cavorting with boys like him.

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It’s Time to Stop Musterbating

I’m guilty. You?

The hardest part is admitting it. The next hardest part is stopping.

And don’t get all up in arms with me. This is not in any way suggesting you should stop doing that other thing that sounds a lot like musterbating. That’s private. None of my business.

But all of the musterbating I do in my life is slowly killing me. Or not so slowly. And there are no benefits to doing it. Unlike the thing that’s private and none of my business, musterbating is not a tension-reliever (Mom, kids: if you’re reading this, I hope you are laughing and not horrified). Musterbating is a tension-creator. It is one of the biggest sources of emotional disorder in many of our lives.

Yet, most of us are addicted to doing it.


I’m having way too much fun saying that word out loud. Glad I don’t have a parrot.

The term was coined by Albert Ellis, a pioneer of cognitive therapy, who defined musterbating as imposing our musts and shoulds onto reality and making ourselves miserable in the process.

The three basic musts that cause us so much misery, according to Ellis, are:

1. I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I am no good.

2. Other people must treat me considerately, fairly and kindly, and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don’t, they are no good and they deserve to be condemned and punished.

3. I must get what I want, when I want it; and I must not get what I don’t want. It’s terrible if I don’t get what I want and I can’t stand it.

Ellis and his proteges contend that the first “must” often leads to anxiety, depression, shame, and guilt; the second “must” often leads to rage, passive-aggression and acts of violence; and, the third “must” often leads to self-pity and procrastination.

In the 1950s, Ellis created a form of psychotherapy and philosophy of living called REBT (for more info go to http://www.rebtnetwork.org,) which is practiced by many therapists today. It sets out to help people change their irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. Ellis contends that although it’s unlikely that we can entirely eliminate the human tendency toward irrational thoughts, we can reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of our irrational beliefs.

I’m banking on that contention because I want to be happy more of the time. We’re only on this earth for a short while. We might as well enjoy the ride. Don’t you agree?


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Why You (and I) Need To Open That Door

“Behind Door Number Three” by anyjazz65 on Flickr

It was our last day in Paris. April 2005. We sat at an outdoor cafe, people-watching, in the late afternoon, and talked about our dinner options.

We’d depended upon recommendations and the Michelin Guide for most of our evening meals while on this trip, so we decided to wing it on our final night. We paid our cafe bill and wandered along the streets nearby, poking our heads into shops and restaurants that looked like they might be interesting.

As I perused the menu by the hostess booth at one restaurant, my husband disappeared. He’s known for walking off when he sees something curious, so I figured he’d be back as soon as his curiosity was satisfied. But, when I was ready to leave, I still couldn’t find him.

He was up against a far wall, silently trying to get my attention.

“What’re you doing?” I said loudly as I walked toward him. He shushed me, finger in front of his mouth, eyes annoyed and pleading at the same time.

“What?” I stage-whispered.

He pointed to a door, which was hidden in the wall. I never would have noticed it if he hadn’t pointed it out to me. He put his finger in front of his lips again, motioned to me to follow him, turned the doorknob, and disappeared again. I followed him down a long flight of stairs after shutting the door upon his non-verbal order. It was dark so our eyes had to adjust. At the bottom of the stairs was a bar and several tables. It looked a bit like the bar from Casablanca, except no piano, no people, and much smaller. Still, I kept thinking “Casablanca.” Casablanca as a ghost town.

“You coming tonight?”

The male voice with the Southern drawl startled us. We turned toward him, speechless. At least I was.

“What time?” my husband asked as if he were in on something that I knew he wasn’t in on.

The man paused, looked at my husband.

“You’ve never been before,” the man said. He was probably a few years younger than we were and way cooler. You could tell by the way he was dressed and his swagger and his confident tone of voice.

He then checked us out more carefully, nodded, and either gave us a ticket or an invitation or a code word, I can’t recall which but it was something secretive, which suggested that what was happening tonight was something mysterious and exclusive. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through me, but certain I’d say something that would get us uninvited, I stayed quiet. He told us not to show until after midnight then gave us tickets to the Moulin Rouge that would get out pretty late.

“Take the tickets. See the show. I’ve been a million times. Then come here. You are going to be amazed. Just give the (ticket, invitation, code word) to the host, who will be standing by this door,” he said and pointed toward another door that I hadn’t noticed until he directed our attention there. And then he said he’d see us later and left.

We stood like statues until he’d clearly exited and then we both broke out in huge smiles. Our final night in Paris was going to be exciting, even though we weren’t exactly sure how.

We returned to our hotel, packed for our 6 am departure, dressed for the night out, and grabbed a bite to eat before the Moulin Rouge. The show was awesome, but we were anxious to get on to the next thing. We hailed a cab and headed toward the restaurant with the secret staircase. Since it wasn’t quite midnight, we sat in the main restaurant and listened to live jazz music and had a drink. We didn’t see anybody go through the hidden door, so we waited some more. Finally, we saw a French couple slip past the door. After a few minutes, we paid our bill and did our own nonchalant slip past the door.

The host at the bottom of the stairs took our (ticket, invitation, code word) and opened the thick wooden door to what only could be called a grotto. It was a small cavelike room that seemed like it should be full of oak wine barrels, fermenting. Instead, there was a very long, heavy table that pushed up against a stage, with chairs on either side of the table . There were also a few cafe tables on either side of the room.

Since there weren’t many people there, we sat at one of the cafe tables. Pretty soon after we arrived, the room started to fill up (maybe 35 in all came that night, all French except us and the Texan and his companion) and our attention was directed to the stage, where a few performers came out for a song and dance number followed by a juggler followed by another high end talent show type act. We quickly moved to some free seats at the long table, as the view was better.

For the next several hours, we drank and watched performance after performance, some on stage, some on the table where we sat, some on the floor around us. The crowd alternated from rowdy to silent to rowdy again. The performers interacted with us at times and the show became more and more risqué as the night became morning. We left after a belly dancer jingled and gyrated on the table before us. She was fabulous, like nothing we’d ever seen before, but it was 4 am and we had to leave if we were going to make it to the airport on time to catch our flight.

I suppose one would call what we experienced a cabaret mixed with some burlesque, but whatever it was, one thing is certain: it was truly one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Made better by the fact that we stumbled upon it, thanks to my husband’s profound need to look behind every closed door.

While I have a pretty healthy curiosity about things I don’t know, I’m not like my husband. I let psychological roadblocks stop me from opening every door I find. Either I am afraid to break some rule or the law, or I fear that what I will find behind the door will somehow hurt me (perhaps left over from the Nazi under the bed nightmares of my youth.) And these childhood fears extend to metaphorical doors as well.

For example, several times over the past few years, I’ve wanted to build up my freelance writing business. At one time, I was fairly busy with writing projects, primarily marketing communications and pr stuff, but then I started doing some creative writing and tending more to my children and and and. . . In recent times, when I’ve wanted to start up again, I’ve found myself able to reach out to a few people but stop reaching out as soon as I found a project, even if the project was only a short-term thing. There is no doubt in my mind that my fear of being laughed off the stage, so to speak, is what keeps me from mining my resources.

I am afraid but the fear is unwarranted. I’ve certainly been rejected for legitimate reasons, but nobody has ever laughed at me when I’ve discussed my desire to do freelance work for them or somebody they know. Most people have been helpful. And as soon as I force myself to reach out, I stumble upon opportunities that hadn’t been expected or known about beforehand. Yet, I still put off reaching out.

Because I’m afraid.

I don’t want to be. I want to let go of that fear and do what I want to do. I psych myself up for it but then put it off until I’ve forgotten about it, until a month later, when I am still the “before” picture and want to be the “after” one.

The new school year gives me hope. And time. I’m determined to break out of this fear of opening doors for myself. I’m going to just do it, in spite of myself. That’s my current thinking. Hopefully my friends and family will help to keep me on track, not let me stand down when I feel anxious or afraid. Because I know that I can do this.

Fear of the unknown plagues so many people, and that plague prevents us from going after what we want and from discovering things we love, which we’ve never even imagined before.

Will you join me in this battle against the invisible demons that keep us from experiencing all that the world has to offer?

I’m hoping for many doors that open to grottoes that house cabarets. Figuratively speaking. Although, I would love to stumble upon another place like the one we came upon in Paris in 2005.

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Estate Jewelry, Eagle Scouts, and Evolution

Should my mother-in-law pass down a piece of family jewelry to my youngest child who is turning sixteen this week?

She thought she might. She was considering polishing the silver, cleaning the gemstones, whatever it would take. Then a friend said something, which led her to reconsider her decision. “Kids don’t appreciate heirlooms like they used to. They don’t care for them as they should. If I were you, I wouldn’t give something special like that to a teenager.”

My mother-in-law told me this over Mother’s Day brunch with my daughters only a few feet away from us at the table. I don’t think she believes it to be true that my teenagers are careless with the things she passes down to them, but her friend’s comment definitely made her stop and think.

Kids these days. Lazy. Too busy texting and snap-chatting to connect with their peers on a deeper level, let alone be respectful around adults. Expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Too fascinated by the next new thing to appreciate something that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

The insinuation is that somehow we are superior to our children, grandchildren, other people’s kids, and especially to those kids living in environments that don’t fit our idealized image of childhood, based on memories of situations and teachings, which have been washed clean of every speck of dirt.

It’s true that many things have changed, that kids today do things differently than we did, and that they can, at times, be lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative. So what? Many things changed between our parents generation and ours, we do things differently than they did, and every one of us has been lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative, especially during our teenage years.

As a mother for 18 years, I’ve had the luxury of being an observer, and on occasion, a guide or taskmaster not only to my children but to the multitude of other kids who have come into our lives through neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, and extracurricular activities. I’ve seen them face obstacles and work their way through them. I’ve seen them create imaginary worlds beyond the capacity of my tiny mind. I’ve seen them treat each other with kindness and love, often when they thought nobody was watching. And I’ve seen how full they are of all of the things we are full of: love/hate, happiness/sadness, tenderness/roughness, strength/weakness, etc.

This past weekend, my husband and I attended the Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man we’ve known for years. He is the son of friends, he’s worked on odd jobs for us, and he’s in a relationship with one of my daughter’s closest friends. He is the typical 18-year old whom I’ve come across: he’s polite around adults and has fun with his friends. I’ve never watched him that closely, but I’m sure he texts a lot, posts pictures or comments on social media, and does things that would surprise me both for good and bad.

The first thing that struck me when I entered the room where the ceremony was to take place was that on a Saturday night, several 18-year old boys and girls (men and women?) chose to sit through an hour+ long ceremony to watch their friend get commended for his hard work. These teenagers turned off their cell phones, and remained quiet and respectful while several Scout leaders spoke and gave gifts and spoke some more. And, when their friend went to the podium to say a few words about his accomplishments, and found himself choked up with emotion and at first, unable to speak, not one of those teens mumbled under their breath or giggled or did anything to suggest they had anything but respect for the moment and for their friend. He cried without hiding his emotion and a bunch of teenagers, who’d given up their Saturday night, proved what I know to be true based upon what I’ve seen with all of the kids who’ve come into my life the last 18 years: at the core, people are people, all looking for friendship and love and fulfillment and respect from others. All of the little things (like technology) that fill their lives certainly impact them, sometimes in negative ways, and they often do stupid things and make poor choices, but that same thing could be said of you and me and our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

I think that kids rise to the occasion when they are made aware of the significance of what is happening in the moment. And even if one of those kids had reacted badly to his friend crying in front of all of us, I am certain he would learn a lesson about respect from the kindness of his peers, and next time he is in a similar situation, he will do better.

And THAT is what it’s all about.



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