It seems like only yesterday when five friends with separate dreams stood together at their graduation ceremony at Stanford, turned their tassels, and looked forward with optimism. But two decades later, Neva, Annette, Lauren, Tamara, and Heather have all experienced a reality much different than the dreams they once envisioned.
A troubled marriage and unexpected motherhood threatens to still Neva's voice forever. Annette's inability to conceive a child is challenging everything she knows to be true about herself. Lauren is weary from juggling her career, motherhood, and marriage. Tamara has abandoned the hope of a loving relationship in favor of an all-consuming career. But it is Heather who is in the worst trouble of all. A heartbreaking job loss sends her spiraling downward into darkness, and she attempts suicide. As she slips into a coma, the friends reunite at her bedside, forge a stronger friendship, and finally face hard truths about themselves.
In this poignant tale, the secret of each woman's shattered dream is finally revealed, forcing each to embark on a unique journey to discover what beauty lies beyond the broken.
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|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Beyond the Broken
By Sharisse Kimbro
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Sharisse Kimbro
All rights reserved.
Neva pressed her chocolate hands against the brown-and-white marble in the double shower when a familiar heaviness halted her breath. Breathe, she told herself as she instinctively put her hand on her chest as if she could keep her heart from leaping out. Breathe.
She inhaled, slow and deep, shaking her head as she tried to focus on her breathing.
The sharp sound of her son's scream surprised her. Neva jumped a little and pressed her hand even harder into her chest, bending over in the shower, now unable to stand. There was plenty of room for her slightly taller-than-average frame to fit doubled-over.
The water peppered her back as Ellington continued to yell from his bedroom down the hall.
I hope he doesn't wake his father, she thought as her heart continued to beat faster and harder while her son kept screaming louder and longer. Stand up. Breathe.
"Mom-my! Come here! Now! It's a me-mergency!" he shouted. "Mommy! Where are you?" Neva knew that Ellington was persistent and would not stop until she appeared. Stand up.
Neva struggled to straighten and placed her hands against the slippery walls to steady herself as she turned off the water. She gingerly stepped out of the shower, removed the shower cap from her dark, shoulder-length hair, and wrapped a towel around her cocoa-colored torso, not bothering to dry off. Fearing the consequences if Ellington screamed once more, she walked as fast as she could toward her five-year-old's room, trying not to slip down the hall. She knew that the pain in her chest would only worsen if she didn't quiet him down before his father woke up. Thank goodness he's a heavy sleeper.
Ellington had wet his bed again. Instead of getting up and taking off his own soiled pajamas, he just lay there screaming for her.
"Mom-my! I was waiting for you!"
"Shh! Be quiet, baby. I'm here now," Neva whispered. "C'mon, you can take off your own pj's."
"But they're all wet. Can't you do it?"
"Please try. That way Mommy can get dressed and we can be on time for school."
"I need your help, p-lease!" Ellington whined.
Neva sighed as she dutifully helped him peel off the heavy flannel bottoms and stripped the damp sheets off the bed, while struggling to keep hold of the towel that protected her from his increasingly curious five-year-old eyes.
"There, I helped you. Now take off your shirt, so I can run you a warm bath, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy," he replied sweetly as Neva dashed into the Jack and Jill bathroom; the bedroom on the other side was the one unfurnished room in the house. Neva wanted to make it a second office, a space of her own, kind of like what Claire Huxtable had in that episode of The Cosby Show when Cliff turned one room in their house into her own private space where no children were allowed. Neva chuckled as she remembered how everyone was trying to get in that room during that episode, but Claire was unflappable. It was funny.
It would not be funny if we were late, she thought. I hate to start my week that way. Once I start out behind, it feels like I can never catch up. On the way back to check on Ellington, she noticed that tiny puddles of water spotted the hallway. The thought of Dante's potential response made her forget about being late. Neva carefully got down on her knees, took the edge of the towel, and gently patted the tiny pools one by one—soaking in all the liquid to avoid any damage to the new hardwood floors he recently installed. The other ones were too dark, he said.
Neva's husband, Dante, dictated what colors went on which walls, approved every piece of tile that was purchased, selected every knickknack, and inspected each detail of, well, everything. The result was an entire house that looked like him, all beige and brown. Neva's favorite color was pink.
She had silently hoped that Ellington would have been a girl, so she would have had her chance to sneak in a hint of femininity. The bedding was all picked out, but she never got to buy it. Instead, Ellington's safari-themed nursery seamlessly assimilated into the home's decidedly neutral décor, just as her husband wanted.
All the water gone, Neva let a small sigh of relief escape from her lips as she walked back into Ellington's room and found him jumping on the naked bed, wearing nothing but a smile. Neva tightened the towel around her chest, gathered him up, and put him in the tub. He splashed around loudly.
"Honey, hurry up," she said as she turned her back to him and leaned forward with her elbows against the vanity, which was directly opposite the tub. Almost instinctively, her head fell into her hands. As she mentally resigned herself to another day of covering her body in sweats and stuffing her uncombed hair under a baseball cap, she took some solace in the fact that at least she had taken a shower. Some accomplishment.
Neva sighed and shook her head as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. The emptiness behind her eyes startled and saddened her. She wanted to look away, but found herself drawn into her own spacious stare. She kept looking, trying in vain to find the self she once knew, the person for whom a shower could no more pass as an achievement than earning a B. The deeper she searched, the louder Ellington splashed. And splashed. Water was getting everywhere, including on Neva.
"Ellington!" she yelled as she turned away from the mirror to scold him. As she turned back to try to find herself again, a single tear escaped down her cheek when it became clear she could not.
Heather's stomach churned as she waited in one of the black leather Le Corbusier chairs that casually lined the reception area of the law firm offices of the chairman of the board of trustees for the Oakland Fine Arts Museum. The invitation was highly unusual, and she didn't know quite what to make of it. She got the call Monday morning to come in that same afternoon. What a way to start my week, she thought. I'm glad I was able to push it back a day. I needed a minute.
The older African American woman who manned the reception desk looked over at her every once in a while and smiled, which only made Heather more nervous. She was glad she had decided to wear her reliable red interview suit, even if it was out of style, but as she fidgeted in her chair, she wished she had worn something a little more comfortable.
The receptionist cleared her throat and awakened Heather out of her internal style dialogue in time for her to notice the chairman's secretary standing behind an open glass door. She was a short, robust white woman with gray hair, who always seemed annoyed whenever Heather called. She didn't look any happier to see Heather in person.
"You can come in now," the secretary curtly advised as Heather rose from her perch and feigned a confident stride past the reception desk and through the door the secretary was holding. Heather could have sworn she heard a faint "Good luck." Heather turned her head as she rounded the corner and noticed the receptionist still smiling at her.
"Ms. Neale, come in. Have a seat," Mr. Chamberlain's voice boomed from behind a desk way too large for the size of the room. I wonder what he is overcompensating for? she thought as she nervously complied.
"So glad you were able to come in today, and on such short notice."
"Well, of course, I—"
Before she could finish, he interrupted, "Ms. Neale, I, along with all the board members, considered it quite a coup to steal you away from the DuSable Museum in Chicago. We were all quite impressed with your credentials and experience. I mean, you are a Stanford undergraduate and have a doctorate from the University of Michigan—all very impressive."
"But we are beginning to feel that, well, maybe we were a tad overconfident. You know, a lot of people have invested a great deal in this museum, and it means so much to this city and the people of Oakland."
"I know, and that's why—"
"And everyone knows that I'm all for community and doing things, you know, to help 'our people,' but we want to have a world-class institution here at the Oakland Fine Arts Museum. Only the very best, which is why we sought you. But perhaps we were mistaken. It seems that you have gotten a bit off vision with your latest endeavor. Now, maybe after we get established and some time has passed, this idea of yours, this community arts project, will have some, um—what's the word?—context in which to be properly perceived, but right now, we feel that it's just too soon. Am I making sense here?"
Now that he was finally asking her to speak, she had nothing to say, she was so shocked by what he had said.
"I will take your silence as agreement and trust that you will put forth no more of the museum's precious, and might I add, rare resources toward this effort and get back to the business of doing the job we hired you for—to build this institution and make it a gem in this city's crown. I'm so glad that we had this little heart-to-heart. We should do this more often."
"I'm sorry," Heather shook her head, stunned, as she stood from her seat, "I think there's been a huge misunderstanding."
"Why—what do you mean?"
"I was very clear about my vision of the way institutions should be integral to, and reflective of, the communities in which they exist. I told you when I interviewed months ago that I was committed to community art and arts education and working to elevate the environment as much as reflect it. I must have been mistaken in thinking that this was the precise vision you and the board wanted for this institution and that, in this way, we would make a name for the Oakland Fine Arts Museum and do something that would really set it apart."
He rose as he rebutted. "Well, priorities change, visions have to be malleable, and leaders must be flexible." He stepped from behind his mammoth desk and stood directly in front of Heather, but she held her ground.
"I don't think I can be flexible on this issue. It's central to who I am as an artist."
His voice elevated as he moved in closer, "Well, you need to do some yoga or something else to get more flexible, because let me speak plainly: we aren't running a 'ghetto museum' filled with so-called 'street art.' You understand me? The name on the door says 'Fine Arts.' Got it?"
"Yeah, I think I finally do 'get it.'"
"Good. It's essential that you do. Frankly, your job depends on it."
"Oh, I'm crystal clear."
"I quit." Heather couldn't have stopped the words from flying out of her mouth if she had wanted to. She could tolerate a lot of things, but disregard for her artistic vision was not one of them. She didn't care if it had been her dream job—director and chief curator at an emerging institution. She thought there was room for innovation and change because they weren't so bogged down in tradition. Even in the art world, she felt like a misfit of sorts; her ideas had always been risky and unproven, and therefore, in her previous positions, deemed unworthy of implementation. This, she thought, was finally a chance to create her vision, it, to finally be able to express herself, to be herself. How disappointing to discover that really, it wasn't.
The morning light filtered through the sheer curtains of the tenth-floor window of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Annette loved coming to DC. She led the government relations practice at Horne, Sterne & Woode, a large international law firm headquartered in Chicago. Once Barack Obama was elected president, the cachet of all things Chicago increased considerably in the nation's capital. The ever-ambitious Annette was intent on riding the current political wave as far as it would carry her.
She developed a crush on the law when she worked for HSW as a paralegal the year after her graduation from college. Her love grew deeper during her first year at Harvard, and she was head over heels by the time she returned to HSW for a summer associate position her first and second summers. She did well, so it was no surprise when they offered her a job in the early fall of her third year.
HSW was the only place Annette had ever worked. Even with the office politics and constant pressure to perform, it still felt like home. As the firm's only black equity partner and one of the few females in leadership, she far exceeded what her husband earned as the dean of students at one of Chicago's elite private schools. He always reminded her that he was not driven by money, as if that somehow made him better. How much he earned didn't matter to her, and as much as he championed his own altruistic career motivations, he never seemed to shy away from the benefits of her considerable salary, including: a four-bedroom row house in one of Chicago's priciest neighborhood, the S-Class Mercedes to celebrate his fortieth birthday, and a second home in Michigan. She always thought that her generous contribution to the household income would satiate his desire for children, but it never did. He said all he really wanted was a family. Don't the two of us make a family? Annette often wondered.
She delicately opened the sheets, grabbed the thermometer from the nightstand, and discreetly slipped out of bed, careful not to make too much noise. On her way to the bathroom, she tiptoed over her skirt and jacket crumpled in a heap on the floor and almost tripped when her foot caught in the armhole of her custom-fit bra, which had been expertly removed the night before.
Safely arriving at the bathroom mirror, she stuck the digital thermometer in her mouth and swept her long auburn bangs from across her forehead. She hoped that by taking her temperature in the bathroom, she hadn't thrown it off too much, but surely she could not take it in the bed this morning. She rapped her carefully manicured fingers on the countertop while she waited for the thermometer to beep. Casting her light brown eyes down on the silver plastic stick, she wondered why she bothered. Charting her ovulation hadn't worked yet. Maybe she was doing something wrong. Math never was her forte, but still, people with a lot less on the ball got pregnant every day by mistake. She couldn't even do the damn thing on purpose. It didn't make sense to her. Here she was with all the resources to care for a child and she couldn't make it happen, while every teenager in America seemed to be able to get pregnant by just looking at a penis.
The thermometer beeped, and she dutifully recorded the numbers on the chart. Annette closed her eyes and shook her head in disbelief. Of course, she was ovulating when she was here and her husband was back home. We can't seem to get this thing right no matter what we do, she thought as she threw the chart and the thermometer on the vanity in frustration. She quickly recovered, took a deep breath, and splashed tepid water on her face while she forced a positive thought: I will get pregnant.
Catching her reflection in the mirror as she gently patted her face dry, she thought she needed a little something, so she lightly applied some bronzer to her honey-colored skin and a touch of nude lip gloss to look more "naturally" refreshed. As she examined her work in the mirror, something still seemed "off." She squinted as she tried to decide if she was finally starting to show her age or if it was something else.
She washed her hands and tried to forget about it, as if that were possible. She had a lot of other things to focus on, but the whole baby situation made her feel inadequate for the first time that she could remember. And she could have sworn that her husband looked at her funny when she left for this trip. She kept staring at the mirror, trying to see what he saw, and found no answers. Humph, she grunted. Drying her hands, she concluded that there was nothing wrong with her. And she was going to prove it.
Her red-toed feet stepped lightly but purposefully back into the expansive hotel room. She picked up her bra, placed it on a chair, and reached for her BlackBerry, where it was charging on the desk. She moved her thumbs adeptly as she sent her assistant an e-mail, asking her to call Tamara's office to get a referral to a fertility specialist and book the first available appointment, preferably by Friday. It didn't matter that it was 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday in Chicago; her assistant responded right away. Annette was used to getting what she wanted when she wanted it, and this baby would be no different.
Excerpted from Beyond the Broken by Sharisse Kimbro. Copyright © 2013 Sharisse Kimbro. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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