Hail Caesar!, or The Extended Obituary of Nell Riley Foster

Posted on: December 12, 2013

Nell Riley Foster, 23, of Brooklyn...

I can't do this.

Okay, fine - I don't want to do this. I volunteered. It's too late to back out now.

Nell Riley Foster, 23, of Brooklyn died early Sunday morning because some fucker got greedy and decided to rob the corner bodega with a loaded gun.

I shouldn’t say that, but you know when people your age die there's always that morbid curiosity about how it happened. I have to say something, Nell.

Nell Riley Foster, 23, of Brooklyn, died early Sunday morning. She was the victim of a violent crime.


Nell was born to Patrick and Lori Foster, March 15th, 1990, in Cambridge, Mass. After her brother learned about the Ides of March, he called her 'Caesar' and staged elaborate fake assassinations on her birthday. He feels a mixture of discomfort and joy about this now.

Of course I won't include that when I send it. That is too personal. Still, if only I hadn't tempted death or God or karma thirteen times.

Nell graduated from Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in 2007 and received a BA in English from Brown University in 2011. Nell studied abroad in Italy the summer before her junior year. She took an intensive language immersion course but still mistranslated dishes at Italian restaurants. She dated a guy who doesn't want to come to her memorial because it's "too hard, bro."

You'll note that out of respect, I did not call him a douchebag this time.

He is a total douchebag, though.

Nell worked for an online literary start-up. She blogged about Shakespeare's wittiest, dirtiest double entendres and why Northanger Abbey is a better Jane Austen novel than Pride & Prejudice. Her favorite response to readers' angry messages was "haters gonna hate." Her editor's favorite response was "I appreciate your comments and will keep this perspective in mind."

In her spare time, Nell wrote haiku poetry on fogged windows and steamed-up mirrors. Her goal was to finish the poem before the glass cleared. She became really good at it, dissecting syllable counts with an invisible abacus.

Nell spent a staggering amount of time contacting “those Iron Chef people.” She engaged in a one-woman campaign to have Nutella appear as the secret ingredient. Her emails bordered on propaganda.

Nell ran every day. Her brother would sometimes join her, but not enough for his own health, he thinks now that he has an opportunity to reflect and to regret.

Her legal name was "Nell," not Eleanor. She was very happy her parents skipped right to the nickname.

Nell preferred Thai curry to Indian curry, naan to pita bread, and coffee to tea. Her favorite taste was “Nutella” although she liked to use “umami” when the occasion arose. Based on her own ordering and cooking preferences, it seldom did.

This has turned into “Fun Facts about Nell.” I had to Google “how to write an obituary.” It seems like content shifts from salient biographies to trivia. Maybe I can contact your old editor and write a piece about it. It would either be hilarious or macabre. I’m betting the latter.

If our places were reversed, you would have made it a personal challenge. It would have been the former; it would have been brilliant and pitch-perfect, probably the best piece you’d ever written (but not the best piece you’d ever write). It would be a glorious memorial.

It should have been me, Nell. I should have gone with you. I could have pushed you out of the way. I could have done something. Even if it all played out the same - the stumbled-upon robbery, the gun, the shot - I would have been there with you.

What's the old saying? The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. You burned so bright you left pieces of yourself behind, and you linger like the light people see when they close their eyes. I swear I see you everywhere. Faint lines of you glow in panes of glass; your laugh smolders in my dreams (and nightmares); your smile flickers in the corner of my eyes. There is something comforting about walking into an empty room and it not feeling so empty anymore. Maybe I’m going crazy - I probably am; crazy is what happens when you intertwine your sister’s obituary with a letter to her, a letter she can’t see, a letter she’ll never see because she - you -

I need to take a break.

Nell is survived by her elder brother, Chase Foster, of Brooklyn; and her parents, Patrick and Lori Foster, of Cambridge. She is also survived by a chubby cat named Hazelnut and a betta fish named Cocoa.

Hazelnut and Cocoa seem to be adjusting to life with Mom and Dad. We try to adjust to life without you. It doesn’t always take.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Nell's name to 826 National, a national literary charity.

You mentioned trying to find a place to volunteer, and when I came to get Hazelnut and Cocoa I saw the pamphlet on your desk. It wasn't in the recycling pile, so I am almost positive it was on your shortlist and we would have talked about it.

For the record, I would have said "go for it!"

A private memorial service will be held at her family's home in Cambridge.

I will cry because you are gone. I will laugh at the good memories you gave me.

I miss you. I love you.

I know I will see you again when a room is empty. I will feel your presence fill it. Empty rooms are the dominion of the dead.

I will keep trying to adjust to life without you.

It will take. Eventually.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

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