Split Wide Open - a novel about the redemptive power of love and forgiveness

THE STORY

Sophia was alone and lost. Her husband of 33 years died unexpectedly 6 months ago and she cannot seem to move on.  Sophia's daughter convinces her to come to Santa Barbara to help her renovate the house she unexpectedly purchased in preparation for the baby that is on its way. 

Sophia has mixed emotions about the grandchild on the way, but dives into the renovations, discovering secrets that threaten to unravel everything Sophia believed about her life and identity. 

Through the secrets and lies, she begins to rebuild her heart and trust and finds pieces of herself that had lain hidden and dormant all her life. 

A SNIPPET (this is still part of first draft)

Beth was frustrated with her mother. She just did not understand why her mother was holding on so tightly to her father’s memory.  Beth knew that six months wasn’t a long time compared to all the years they had been together, but still at some point her mother had to start living in the present reality of her life. Dad was gone.  Deal with it. Move on. 

Her brother Kevin was more understanding of their mother’s grief.  He always had been more lenient with his criticism of their mother and he also did not suffer the guilt that Beth often felt for not being more available to her mother. He was perfectly content with living in Santa Fe and allowing their mother to mourn through her own process, not his idea of how she should grieve or how long. 

Beth, however felt as guilty as committing a mortal sin for imposing time lines on her mother’s grief, yet not making more space in her own life to fly home and spend time with her mom.  It was a shock to everyone when their father died suddenly.  Not that she thought he would live forever, but he was still young and vibrant and who really thinks abut their parents dying, especially at their age. 

Of course Beth and her boyfriend, Justin, flew home immediately and so did Kevin.  But right after the funeral, Kevin went back to New Mexico and Justin returned to California.  Beth had stayed behind to help her mom put things in order and to keep her company. It had not been easy. Beth had to juggle her heavy workload, which fortunately she could do remotely while dealing with her own grief and dealing with her mother.  As much as she loved her mother, Beth hated being back in the city where she grew up.  Beth knew instinctively the first time she went to Santa Barbara to visit her best friend, who was a year ahead of her and attending college there, that she would also go there.  She fell in love with that area and the longer she lived there, the more she knew she would stay. 

Beth was willing to put aside her work for a few days to help her mother pack up her dad’s things.  It was too big of a job to be done alone.  What was the point of prolonging it?  Beth thought it would be easier on her mother if his things were not there reminding her of his absence.  But, her mother would not hear of it.  Actually she refused to consider it. Sophia had been emphatic about leaving everything just the way it was.  It was her home and her loss, and that’s what she wanted.  No more discussion. 

After two weeks of her mother fussing over her, Beth had enough.  How was this helping Sophia?  Beth felt suffocated and needed the clean air of Santa Barbara and her routine.  She needed to process her own shock and loss.  Beth felt so guilty that she couldn’t connect with her mother while home and be more supportive, but when Sophia went back to her volunteer work at school, Beth was relieved and took the first flight home.  It frustrated Beth on so many levels, that her mother wanted to be alone in that mausoleum paying homage to her dead husband, and that she would not come and stay with her in Santa Barbara. But they were both adults and entitled to their choices, so home she went, leaving her mother to deal with her grief in her own way. Beth called every day to check on her mother.  Sometimes they cried together in loss and shcok.  Other times, Beth barely tolerated the conversations.   Beth was worried about her mother. She had never seen her so lost and unsure of what to do.  Beth’s response was always to come stay in California and start over, or at least take time to think away from the house. Sophia always refused, and that’s how six months passed. Beth just did not undersatnd why her mother would not come, and at the same time she wasn’t ever sure if she really wanted that. 

Justin’s private chiropractor practice was growing and Beth was very involved. She was in the office helping get the business going. She did all the advertising, marketing, social media, updating and maintaining the website, while still running her own free-lance copyright and book editing business. They had hired some one to handle phone, payments and other office duties, but their days were still full to bursting and most of their nights as well. 

Their hard work and long hours has started to pay off. Still in its infancy, his chiropractor practice is beginning to see success and growing rapidly so they are both still heavily involved in keeping the momentum moving in an upward direction.  On top of this, Beth is in the middle of a project that takes more time than she anticipated. It’s a struggle to keep up with all of it, but she is managing. 

Then, a month ago, they caught a curve ball.  They discovered they were 9 weeks pregnant.  It was a surprise and a shock. The timing was terrible.  They knew they wanted children but they were about two years ahead of their plan. Get the businesses steady this year and lessen their workloads so work wasn’t so consuming, then buy a house, get married and start their family.  

However, the opportunity of a lifetime had presented itself, and they had already purchased a home.  But it would take lots of renovations to bring up to the modern open feel, they both wanted. Because they were so busy with their businesses, they had planned to move in and enjoy the house as it was until they had space, time and energy to focus on house renovations. Things were most definitely not going by plan.

As soon as Justin and Beth knew they were having a baby, they wanted to welcome it home into a house that was ready. There was nothing to do but come up with a plan B.

It was actually Kevin, Beth’s brother, who came up with the solution.  Beth and her brother Kevin had always been close and they kept a weekly FaceTime date every Sunday night.  She was almost 3 months pregnant and she had not told her mother yet.  She didn’t want to do it over the phone.  She had no time to travel home to tell her in person.  Her mother wouldn’t even consider coming to visit, no matter how many times Beth pleaded.  She was worried about her mother and didn’t how to help.  Now she had all this dumped in her lap.  A home that needed to be renovated long ahead of schedule to be ready for the baby that would be arriving in a few short months with a workload neither of them could ignore. 

Kevin thought it was the perfect solution to have their mother organize and manage the renovations.  It would give her purpose to be so needed with the renovations and a grandchild on the way to love. The timing was also perfect since school would be ending and Sophia would have the time available to oversee the renovations. A few more months leaving the family home as a museum wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

At first Beth thought it was a terrible idea. Then as she warmed up to it, she was more afraid that her mother would say no.  But the more she thought about it, the more Beth really wanted her mother to come, needed her to come and take over. 

Although they had their differences in many areas, Beth loved her mom and appreciated how she could pull things together and get things done with seemingly little effort. Beth had watched Sophia do this her whole life. Part of her cringed remembering how overbearing her mother could be, yet the part that needed her mother desperately was actually craving her to come and take care of her and her problems.  Gosh, Beth was turning to mush with this pregnancy. 

Beth picked up the phone and called her mother to beg her to come and help. 

****************************


Summer loomed in front of Sophia like a dark cloud. School was letting out soon and with it, purpose and reason to get out of bed each morning. School was the balm that offered any comfort to the dark void left in her life when Sophia’s, husband of 33 years died suddenly from a heart attack. It had been six months and still Sophia was still in shock feeling his absence as sharply as her grief. 

She had no direction, no reason, no purpose and no one who needed her. It felt awful, overwhelming and lonely. She knew she should pack up all of Jack’s clothes and donate them.  Her friends had offered several times to come help her, yet she had repeatedly declined, not ready to let them go. Everything was still in perfect order, the way he liked it, even in his office. She knew that eventually she would have to do something with all his things, but she just couldn’t imagine Jack not being there, so for now she clung to reminders of him with his things filling their home. 

For the last 33 years Sophia’s life had been orderly and structured around her family’s needs. It was a far cry from the childhood she tries hard to forget. Her mother had abandoned her to pursue her artistic pursuits when Sophia was two. Her childhood had been spent with a father who was perpetually angry at her mother moving from one family member or friend’s house up and down the east coast chasing the next big dream. It was more like Sophia took care of her father. She felt such an allegiance to him for not abandoning her too. They eventually landed in Lowell, MA when she was a senior in high school.  Sophia chose to stay and attend college there.  Her father eventually moved to the next adventure beckoning him, as he was wont to do, but that last time, Sophia did not go with him. She had her hands full with her studies, sorority obligations and her job. Sophia loved her father dearly as a child but once she chose a very different life as an adult than the one her father gave her, their love for each other was expressed from a distance. These days he does not even know who she is, dementia claiming more of him each week. He finally married years ago, and his wife takes good care of him in their Florida home. 

Jack’s death had been so quick and unexpected. It still made no sense to her. He had been the picture of health, hitting the gym every morning at 6 sharp for his routine workout of weights and running.  Jack was larger than life and a force to be reckoned with. He was the light in her life. Even after 33 years, she still loved him deeply.  He had swept Sophia off her feet a year after Sophia had graduated from the University of Lowell, now UMass Lowell.  It had been a quick romance and a lasting one. 

Sophia had loved her job of teaching third graders at a neighborhood school in the Highlands and continued with it for their first years of marriage. When her daughter, Beth was born, Sophia gladly turned her purpose and energy toward being a stay-at-home mother. Two years later came Kevin, her son. Oh how she loved being Jack’s wife and raising their children.  Unlike her mother, she devoted her life to her children.  They would never feel unloved or abandoned by their mother. When the children went off to college Jack had eased the emptiness Sophia experienced without Beth and Kevin at home. His death left a void in Sophia’s heart and in her life.

Her daughter, Beth had left after high school graduation to attend schools in Santa Barbara CA and stayed there with no intention to move back east. She was happy and settled in her life on the west coast. Kevin, her youngest child was living in Santa Fe, NM teaching, playing music and studying something spiritual that made no sense to Sophia at all. She and Jack had raised Beth and Kevin in a strict Catholic tradition that neither of them continued to practice.

Jack is gone. School is letting out.  Her children are happily living their lives and don’t need her.  Sophia feels utterly alone and abandoned once again.  Most of all, she is robbed of a future that her and Jack had been planning.  In two years, he would have retired. They were going to travel in a RV for a year exploring the country and researching places they may want to settle. Now that was gone, too. Life just seemed so incredibly unfair.  She had been happy in her life, but without someone else to share it with, Sophia felt cheated and unsure of how to continue. She simply did not know how to be alone, nor did she want to be alone, but what choice does she have? 

Her saving grace these past months were the kids at Reilly School.  She volunteered 5 days a week, helping out anywhere she was needed – in classrooms, the library and front office. She had been doing this since Kevin had started third grade. Sophia could have gone back to teaching, yet she enjoyed the flexibility and freedom to be available for her children. She also loved showing up each day and going where she was most needed.  But it was June, and that would be over too until September.

With two months looming in front of her, Sophia felt panicked.  What is a woman to do with her self when life as she had known it for years is no longer available? 

The telephone rang as she was contemplating all of this.  She saw “Beth” show up on the cell phone screen.  She always loved talking with her daughter, but was growing weary of her requests to come stay with her and Justin in Santa Barbara. She didn’t have the strength to argue with her again, but she picked up the phone hopeful for some good news from her daughter.  In spite of their differences, Beth was one of her greatest joys.   

******************************************

“Mama,” her daughter greeted her.  “I need you.”

This was not the greeting that Sophia expected.  

“You haven’t called me that in a long time,” Sophia whispers.  

“It’s true.  I need you to come to California and help me.”

“Beth, you have been trying to get me to Santa Barbara since your father died.  I don’t know what’s next for me, but it’s not your responsibility to figure out.”

“Oh, please believe me, Mom, I am NOT trying to figure things out for YOU. I am trying to get them to work for ME.  Never in a million years would I have thought I would need your help for this reason.”  

“What’s this all about then,” I ask my daughter.  

“Well, for starters Justin and I bought a house!  We hadn’t planned on even looking for another year, but it was an opportunity that we could not pass on. It’s darling cottage by the sea, but it needs a lot of work to bring it up to our vision.  We are both so busy with work that we decided to move in as is and next year tackle the renovations.  Then we got some unexpected news that threw a wrench in our plans.” 

Beth pauses here, and I can sense her thinking, so I remain quiet. 

“Well, “ she says hesitantly.  “I had wanted to tell you this in person, but if I don’t tell you now, you won’t understand the urgency of your coming.  Mom, I’m pregnant, almost 3 months.  It came as a shock, but Justin and I want this child.  We want to bring our child home into a house that is ready for him or her.  There is no way that I could manage the renovation project this summer, but Mom, you could.”

I have no idea how to respond. It’s exciting news, but my first reaction is sadness that Jack isn’t here to share this news and that our grandchild will never know him.  I am sad that I cannot offer my daughter more excitement at her news. 

I must be silent longer than I realize because Beth gently asks me if I am okay. 

“Yes, “ I reply.  “It’s a lot to take in.  Can you give me a few minutes? I will call you back.” I barely choke out before the tears come unbidden. 

“Please call me back soon.  Mom, I love you. “

“I love you.” I say through tears.

I hang up and collapse on the couch.  I am still so wrapped up in my own grief that I can’t imagine dealing with all of this now. Even though I have no idea what I will be doing, going to California is not in my plan. Normally nothing would make me happier than to help out my daughter, I used to live for it.  I am not ready to do something so drastic without Jack.  If he were here, I could handle doing this, knowing he was here waiting for me to come home. He would have come out too for vacation. He would be so excited to pitch in and help renovate, never mind oversee the project.  He would be so excited about the baby.  I want to be excited but I feel such loss and sadness that I cannot share this experience with him. 

My cell phone rings again.  This time it’s Kevin, my son.  

“Mom,” he says gently. I just talked to Beth.  How are you doing?”

So I tell him all the thoughts that are running through my mind and that I just don’t think it’s a good idea.  He surprises me by telling me that it was actually his idea, and he thinks it’s brilliant.  ‘Brilliant’ is really the word he used! Since when did he pick up an English vernacular living in Santa Fe? I am a bit flummoxed and beginning to feel ganged up on. Kevin is usually more patient and understanding, so why does he think this is a good idea?

“Kevin, I can’t see one reason why this is a ‘brilliant’ idea as you say.  Care to enlighten me?” I ask a bit sarcastically, using his language.

“Mom, you thrive on taking care of others. School is almost out.  You’ve been worried about what you were going to do.  You are still not ready to deal with the house and Dad’s things, which is fine, but you need to start living again.  I know you needed some time, Mom, but Beth and I are grieving too.  You don’t have to do it alone.  

Beth really does need support and I think she needs you more than she is willing to admit.  She has been so busy that I don’t think she’s even processed her grief over Dad.  Now she is having a baby, which is the last thing she would have planned now. She needs to have you near. I think it would be so healing for both of you if you were to manage the renovations, support Beth through the pregnancy and help each other deal with your grief over losing Dad. To put it in terms you will understand, Mom,  ‘God works in mysterious ways. ‘He’s sent you a gift. My gut tells me this is right for both of you.”  

As I listen to my son with tears streaming heavily, something inside of me cracks.  I have missed my daughter terribly.  I didn’t want to be in her way.  She’s so independent and we are so different.  She’s been asking me to come, but more because she didn’t know what else to say to me.  I didn’t think she really wanted me intruding on her life, which is how it would have felt to me if I had gone.  Plus I did not want to burden her with my pain. 

But now I really want to be near Beth.  I want to be near the grandchild who is growing inside of her.  I need to have a project that is meaningful.  I really don’t want to stay here this summer.  I have run out of reasons to say no. 

“Kevin, maybe you are right.  This might be a good idea after all,” and for the first time in six months, I feel a little bit of heaviness let go.


***I would so appreciate your thoughts on this post. This is the beginning of the novel as it sits in it’s first draft. Do you feel it? Does it flow? Do you want more? Is it believable? *****