Eternally Elaine: Goodbye, My Book Club Friend

A few nights ago while thumbing through my Facebook feed, I saw that my friend Megan Krome had shared someone’s post. I clicked—and what I read shocked me. Megan’s mom, Elaine Muirhead Hagebush, had died.

The impact of her death didn’t really hit me until the next morning. Elaine, you see, was also my dear friend. I knew about her debilitating migraines, the medicines she’d taken, the new ones she’d tried, and how the meds sometimes made feel like she was on a rollercoaster. But I’d had no idea that Elaine was so sick she’d been hospitalized.

We first met online, on Jan. 13, 2011. Elaine reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed my memoir. She knew about Sister of Silence because she was immensely proud of Megan, who created the stunning book cover. That would not have happened, had Megan’s dad and Elaine’s husband, David, and I not been on the same flight months earlier. I still consider that serendipitous meeting one of the best things ever—because it led me to Megan and her amazing artwork. And later it led me to Elaine, who was simply delightful.

Elaine and I met in person in July 2011, when the Bollinger Book Club gathered together inside her home. She was an avid, engaged reader who loved sharing her thoughts and feelings about the books she read. And Elaine was so enthusiastic about Sister of Silence that she practically turned into my public-relations genie. And when Elaine waved her magic wand, she connected me to her bookworm friends throughout California and beyond.

Along the way, we bonded over recipes and funny stories and tales about our children and, oddly enough, our love of chinchillas. We also talked about domestic violence and its impact on society. That’s how she became board president for Samantha’s Sanctuary, my (now defunct) nonprofit. Elaine was happy to take on that role because she cared deeply about helping abused women and children.

I loved Elaine. She was warm and witty and whimsical and compassionate. She also showed a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is exceedingly rare. Elaine didn’t judge you: she just loved you. She made me laugh and brightened my day with her zany sense of humor, which usually involved a hilarious pet tale.

Like the one about Kayley. The soft-as-silk chinchilla had been relegated to sleeping in the hallway since, Elaine said, “her nocturnal ramblings” kept Elaine and David’s other two children, Rachel and Chris, awake. I told Elaine how Avery, our chinchilla, had chewed through the wooden handle on an antique dresser. She said Kayley did the same to a closet door. “We now have a nice ruffle up and down the door. It’s beautiful really,” Elaine said.

Then she regaled me with another story of an “amazing feat of rodent naughtiness.” I couldn’t stop laughing as I read Elaine’s words, when she wrote about how Kayley had sprayed a family member during the holidays.

It was her exuberant cheer, her desire to befriend others, that made Elaine such a gift to us all. Over the years, I have often recalled that evening in the Hagebush home, surrounded by Elaine’s family and her dear book club friends. And the way she reached out to area bookstores and librarians, promoting my book. All because she wanted to. Because that’s the kind of friend Elaine was. She had no hidden agenda. She wasn’t just nice—she was kind.

I still remember how much fun we had, how hospitable Elaine was, and how she invited me to join her online book club, named—what else?—Elaine’s Bookshelf. There, I met an archeologist, Doug McIntosh, and then his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Dagny. Meeting Doug led me to his parents, who graciously offered to let me use their brand new guest cottage while I was in the Los Angeles area in 2012. They gave me lodging and friendship, taking me to dinner at Knotts Berry Farm. Elaine did that.

Ditto for introducing me to her dear friend Andrea Souza. We became friends while exchanging my books for Andrea’s amazing artwork inside a Tracy, Calif., coffee shop. Then there are Kim and JoAnn and Jocelyn and Tatiana, Miriam and Brenda and Mary. . . . and the list goes on. It is endless, really. Women who knew Elaine, her book club friends, formed from real-life and online friendships. Women who knew her far longer, and who are even more brokenhearted than I am, that this lovely lady is no longer with us.

Elaine loved all kinds of books. She also loved my writing, and kept urging me to write more books. So I did. Not just because of her, but largely so. Because it’s important to know that people want to read what you write. That you have a voice others want to hear. Elaine encouraged my writing efforts, and that spurred me on.

As I sit here reading her words, I can hear Elaine’s voice telling another tale: the one about how she toppled over backwards and fell down the stairs. The vacuum cleaner landed on top of her, sending her to the hospital. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the doctor found some kidney stones while she was there. “Never trust a Hoover,” Elaine wrote.

No one but Elaine could tell a story like that and end on such a deadpan note. She was a natural-born storyteller. So please, wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, please pick up a book, and read a page or two, or even three. For Elaine.

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Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!


Mission Accomplished . . . 5,800 Miles Later

I crossed the California state line in San Bernardino County at 3:18 p.m. October 2, not far from where the Mojave Desert meets the San Andreas Fault. “Not far” being a relative term for a woman who had already logged more than 5,000 miles on her Toyota Prius – much of it on Route 66.

Even in spite of earthquake warnings, it felt good to be home. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a California girl by birth, born in a city made famous by the song my parents sang to me as a toddler. Those same parents laughed at the idea that yes, the Golden State might really be hit by an earthquake that would knock it into the ocean one day. Turns out, as I arrived in California, the fear of another earthquake loomed large. That’s okay. I survived one earthquake here in 1999. I was driving on I-580 near Pleasanton, and never knew it happened until I heard my coworkers discussing it.

Driving through the desert, my car’s thermometer told the tale: it was a balmy 99-degrees outside. I was surprised, though, at how cool it felt. No doubt the dry climate was responsible, for 99-degrees in Florida (or West Virginia) would have drenched me in sweat.

Speaking of sweating it out, during my trip west I listened to the audio version of The Girl on the Train. Can you say red herring three times really fast? It was one of the most twisted tales I’ve ever heard (or read). Nothing was as it seemed.

I haven’t visited California in a while, but since two of my four children are here, I’ve been trying to return for the last three years. So I’m long overdue. But I’ve been a little busy, writing several books during that time, so no wonder it’s taken me this long. I drove through miles and miles of desert, thinking about the direction my life has taken, and looking forward to seeing my son and daughter again, when several hours later, my car’s odometer hit 130,000 miles. Not long after I holed up for the night in a little motel in Ventura, California, one block from the beach.

The next morning, I woke up in time to see the sunrise, roll up the cuffs of my pants, and enjoy a barefoot walk on the beach, where I collected beach stones and watched seagulls at play. When I returned, a woman named Cheryl caught me snapping photos and offered to take one of me standing in front of the motel’s colorful mural. In return, I gave her a copy of one of my books and we parted friends.

After I got on the road, I drove by vineyards and fields full of crops, passing migrant farm workers along the way, before hitting Highway 1 and winding my way up California’s rocky coast. I stopped at Pismo Bay, where I watched pelicans swoop and dive, as a pod of whales swam in the open waters. Further north, I dropped by Morro Bay, where sunbathing sea lions entertained me. As my little car climbed higher and higher along the coastline, distant memories of Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur returned, and in my mind’s eye I saw my four children, running into the surf, hiking through the redwoods and sequoias, and posing for the graduation photos I snapped along the water’s edge.

This coastal drive is, hands down, the most spectacular in the country. Wild and wonderful and unspoiled, with only a few commercial businesses along the way. (And nary a restroom along one particular two-hour stretch, which left me rushing to the ladies room when I finally happened upon one.)

By 4:30 p.m. I was crossing the Bixby Bridge, a suspension structure not unlike the equally impressive New River Gorge Bridge I left behind in West Virginia. I stopped along the road at several places, my shutter snapping away, and even climbed down a narrow, rocky path that offered a closer view of the magnificent architectural feat. The fog hadn’t yet moved in, so the views were breathtaking.

After spending an hour there, I tried to make it to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I last visited in 1998. Alas, I arrived too late. Plus, I had many miles to go before reaching my destination.

That didn’t happen until 10:30 p.m. – after the first near-miss of my entire trip. I was traveling about 70 miles per hour on I-680 north when a car parked on the berm pulled directly into my path. The driver had not gotten up to speed, so he was probably cruising at 30 m.p.h. Regardless, he was going far too slow to avoid a collision, so I instinctively jerked the wheel and cut across one lane, grateful when the driver on my left did the same.

Other than that, I wasn’t pulled over once, nor did I run out of gas (despite a close call). In fact, the only downer during my time on the road occurred when I realized it was probably the first and last time I would experience such a journey. For the most part, I found friendly folks throughout the country, and came away with so many new stories I’ll be hard pressed to find time to tell them all.

All in all, from North-Central West Virginia to the southern most tip of Florida and back up, and clear across the wild, wild West, I drove 5,799 miles, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 34 days. The journey of a lifetime, it’s one everyone should be so fortunate to experience.

And I loved every single minute!

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My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.