Sara and her older brother were close despite him living in Chicago. They visited each other when they could and talked on the phone at least once a week. Nick and Sara were more a family unit than their actual nuclear family ever was. Their parents divorced when they were seven and four and they spent most of their childhood being pawns in a power struggle between both parents. Once Sara graduated high school their father moved to Arizona with his girlfriend or “partner” . Their father was a podiatrist who experienced a good deal of success early in his career and had retired at fifty-two, took up carpentry and sold his tables, tool sheds and birdhouses online. Diane, his girlfriend was a child psychologist who was kind but always acted like she saw through both Sara and Nick. As if her experience working with kids made her a of mystic who could read a young persons entire life with one minute of interaction.
The drive from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania was quiet for the first half until Sara realized she was making this awkward for Leo, her roommate who kindly offered to give her a ride to her mothers home. How is he supposed know what to say?
“Hey, sorry for being so silent. I’m kind of out of it, but we can talk about whatever.” Sara knew she had to be the one to break the silence. Leo was too polite and sensitive and she had loved that about him. Leo had never once made a pass at Sara and once he realized she was interested in both men and women she sensed that he viewed her as an asexual entity. To Sara this was a relief.
“Don’t apologize, seriously. Its totally cool, I understand.” Leo shrugged and smiled at Sara.
“So I guess she took pills. That’s what the doctors said at least. Her friend stopped by that day to drop off some of her garden tomatoes and when she went to knock on the door it was unlocked. And, they are pretty close and it’s a small town so of course she lets herself in expecting my mother to be home. I feel badly, like maybe I should send her friend, Jean, a card or something. So fucked up.” Sara was never close to her mother because she had never seemed like a mom to her. Her mother was not hateful or abusive by any means but she lacked the solid, consistent maternal warmth that Sara had seen in other mothers.
Their mother, Susan Lee Kline was never meant to have children. Not in the traditional sense at least. Susan did not believe in raising her children under a close eye, in fact Susan didn’t believe in being involved much at all. “As long as you are safe, healthy and inspired I will not interfere in your journey!” Her parenting style was supportive but unattached.
Sara’s brother Nick had won a fairly large regional debate team competition his junior year of high school and Sara remembers how happy he had been that night. Their mother did not attend the debate but picked them up afterward and treated them to a meal in the towns nicest restaurant. She kept telling waitstaff how her son had just won a very important debate competition and they were out to celebrate him.
“Look at me gushing, but I can’t help it! I mean, this is a very competitive debate team he is on and he is younger than most of these kids he went up against, so here we are, celebrating a big victory!” She was beaming with pride. Sara remembers her mom looking pretty that night even though she hadn’t bothered to change out of her studio attire. A stiff white button down mens shirt rolled at the sleeves and Levis with pottery slurry splotched on the knees.
After that day their mother never mentioned Nicks debate again though, as if it had never even happened.
“Nick and I both knew she was always a little, I don’t know, emotionally unbalanced. But I never thought she would go so far. Erratic yes, but suicidal?” Sara sighed. Annoyed at the fact that even the way in which her mother died, just as she had lived, gave Sara no indication as to who she was.
As a child Sara had struggled to find a connection that would link them together, anything that would show her that they shared blood. But her mom was not a singular being with concrete personality traits. She shrunk and expanded in ways that made no logical sense and the few times Sara felt a kinship with her, it was always fleeting like a handful of water doomed to leak through her fingers. She would catalog these memories in her childhood journal and reread them time and time again. Like when Sara arrived home in tears after a friend told her her hair was the color of poop and her mom consoled her and took her for ice cream where she told her “Everyone has an opinion but that doesn’t mean they are right. Remember that!” At twelve when Sara needed a bra her mother had made the shopping experience fun. They got fancy drinks at a coffee shop and went to the Valley Shoppes. The nice mall which was a little too far outside of town but was worth the trip. She remembers how her mom made a funny joke about the mannequins in the bra department being too busty. “Excuse me miss?” Her mother had asked a sales woman. “We need some assistance finding a few bras that are suitable for the average human preteen girl, so nothing like this.” She said pointing toward the row of mannequins in lacy bras. They sang to Savage Garden in the car on the way home that day. They had moments few and far between of mother daughter affection. For the most part however Sara’s mothers love was poured into her work and not her children.
Susan Kline was never one thing at any point in time except when she was working. In her youth she had received local recognition for her ceramics but she never took her talents seriously until after Sara was born.
Her tiny shop and online store ended up being rather lucrative despite how poorly Susan had managed it on her own until she finally hired an assistant. Some of her pieces had even ended up in museums. And yet she was always consumed with a mania to produce. “I’m feeling like something is incubating right now and I just need to call it forth!” She would say this each time she was trying a new technique, increasing her hours spent in the studio listening to piano music on cassette.
Both Sara and her brother had given up on trying to decipher their mother and eventually found peace in the distant relationship they had shared. They admired her from afar for her talent of course but mostly for her whimsical way of operating through the world. Her death however, created a kink in the abnormal normalcy that they had grown comfortable with.
“Will you miss her?” Leo asked. He had known of Sara’s unorthodox relationship with her mother.
“I think I’ve missed her my whole life.”