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TARA MONTANO

Susan Klein would do well on the talk show circuit. She has a model’s figure, rusty brown hair, and a contagious smile. And she can talk about all the nineties’ issues: male commitment problems, a woman’s biological time clock, single motherhood, handicapped issues.

In her home, leaning against a wall is her walker. Susan can walk only a few feet, just far enough to get out of her car and retrieve her wheelchair from the trunk. She has multiple sclerosis (MS). But she doesn’t dwell on her disability. She’s too busy - a single mother raising a five-year-old kindergartner and working in her home office.

Susan Klein was brought up in the San Fernando Valley in a well to do home. But then her parents divorced and in her late twenties and her dad became ill with cancer. After his death, she moved to New York City with a boyfriend. They became engaged and she was living the “good life.” But then, she says without rancor, “we broke it off. He was a workaholic and had a male commitment problem.”

She returned home to California and, in her mid-thirties, with her biological time clock ticking, and no marriage on the horizon, she decided to have a child. “I wanted a child more than I wanted to rush into any marriage,” she said. “So, I made that happen. I got pregnant and had my daughter, Ava.”

“Ideally,” she explains, “I would have rather done it the regular way with my child having a father. But I wanted a baby. And I’m fortunate. I can afford to be a single parent.”

“Sure, I see kids and their dads together and I feel kind of wistful. But I also think I’ve given my daughter a great life. And I can’t worry about everything. Every child grows up with something they’re going to hate their parents for.”

When Susan was twenty-eight, she was on vacation and began having problems walking. A neurologist diagnosed her with MS.

“When my dad was sick with cancer,” she recalls, “I was real involved with him and with the Wellness Community (a cancer support group). What I loved about it was everyone was really up, positive, and involved in making their lives better.”

Susan bemoans the fact that there are no similar MS support groups. The ones she has attended, she found “terribly depressing and negative.”

“A bunch of women mostly, sitting around moaning, complaining about how horrible things have happened to them. I felt so depressed when I left, I chose not go back. Certainly part of any support group is to bitch and moan with people that understand what you’re going through. But the other part is to talk about how to make your life better and how to make life work.”

She is still looking for a support group as positive as the Wellness Community. “I’m not saying it’s not out there,” she demurs, “but I haven’t found a similar group for the wheelchair bound.”

Westlake, she says with some irony, is just too perfect. It’s a bustling outdoorsy community with people always out bike riding, walking, or jogging.

“I was here two months before I saw another person in a wheelchair. There’s just a lack of visible disability in Westlake,” she perceives. “People look at me and stare.”

She loves her community and repeatedly emphasizes how wonderful people have been. But still – “I feel my disability moreso here than other places I’ve lived.” So, if you know of or would be interested in forming a support group for the wheelchair bound in Agoura or Westlake, Susan Klein would be happy to hear from you. E-mail her at: SUEAVA@AOL.COM.