I have never turned to Fred Astaire for wisdom, but we never know when we'll stumble onto it (Astaire didn't stumble), as when he sang, "I pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again."
Debbie White, 36, was covered by dust. Actually, she poured it over her own head like a baptism of sadness.
Debbie was raised mainly in rural San Diego County. She spent a semester at Cal State Fullerton. OK so far. Then, however, she took a part-time job and liked the weight of coins in her jeans, so she quit school in 1998 to work full time. She migrated to the mortgage industry at a time when the home-loan business was in competition with the U.S. Mint for making money.
She then met Guy One, and the flowers in her garden started to wilt. She wanted a lot more for him than he wanted for himself - such as a job and a future.
"We were together seven years. I was the breadwinner. I'm goal-oriented and he wasn't. I just kept saying, ‘I'll pay for everything while you go to school.' He would go and drop out. Then he would make 10 bucks an hour."
What they shared was ... party time!
"We used to drink and go play pool a lot. When I decided I didn't want to drink anymore, at all, I got really bored. I was designated driver. It was like dating a little kid. We grew apart because he was working nights, I was working days. He wanted to only go out to bars and drink. That wasn't my scene anymore."
They had no children, or anything else. And then, for reasons that still elude her, she married him.
"We had a whole big, huge wedding. I pretty much paid for it out of my pocket. But as soon as I did it, something different happened, something different inside. I think they call it bride's remorse. The thought of being with someone forever really scared me. Then I realized I married this person who had no motivation."
She dumped him abruptly. She was 27. It was 2007.
"I hurt him really, really, really bad. Devastated him. I've tried to mend and be friends with him. He hates my guts."
Debbie got a comeuppance called pregnancy when she jumped into a rebound relationship.
"I started seeing the other person (Guy Two) and I got pregnant really fast. Second time we had sex. That was like, ‘Oh, lord, now what am I doing?' ...
Now, I'm going to be a mom. I felt like a rug got yanked from underneath my feet and my life flipped upside down overnight."
Was he responsible, the second guy?
"Nope. He was ex-meth. He was clean when I met him through church. But then I said I can't do this (relationship) right now, I just need time alone to regroup and figure out what the hell I'm doing. I went through the whole pregnancy by myself."
She was alone for five months after her son was born, busy with baby care. "I had time to think and to try and understand why I did what I did to my first husband, and try to figure out why I made those decisions. Why did I do that to the guy I married? He was a good guy. ... Why did I just sleep with this guy? Now, I'm raising this child by myself."
She was asking the right questions, but the answers would not immediately become clear.
In 2008, she met Guy Three. He was a businessman with a slick car and a slicker line. "He was perfect," she says, but sardonically, in hindsight.
"Every time we went out, he paid. I wasn't used to any of this. He had good money. This guy is paying for my meals, being a total gentleman. I thought he was the one."
A little problem surfaced when she learned he was married with children. That eventually got sorted out when his wife divorced him.
"I let it slide," Debbie says of the hidden marriage.
Love, or its cousin named passion, triumphed, and what followed was the birth of their daughter in 2009.
Debbie, 10,000 women are going to read this and ask: "Whatever happened to birth control?"
She shakes her head somewhat guiltily. "I was actually on the NuvaRing. It was uncomfortable. You know how that goes."
Uh, well ...
The couple spent four years together. It was a lot of conflict, broken up by infidelity accusations.
Debbie says the physical abuse became more violent as the relationship deteriorated. The two grew to detest being in each other's company. She called the police three times, but each time declined to file charges. She also didn't leave him.
"In a really sick and twisted way, I loved him. He's a salesman. Even to this day, he's a salesman and he's good at it. I don't know if I'll ever date a salesman again."
I spoke to Guy Three about Debbie's accusations. At first he was reticent, but then opened up a little.
He first said, "I don't know if I'm comfortable sharing that information."
With a little coaxing, he continued: "We just had irreconcilable differences, (but) things started changing. Pretty much the misunderstandings came from both sides, not just from my end."
Were you physically abusive to her?
"The abuse came from both ends. She was the one that physically started doing it, so for her to say that it was me alone, that's a misstatement right there. The relationship was toxic. It wasn't working out."
Then he added, "She's a great person. She's a very good mom, too. I have to thank her for that."
In 2012, Debbie finally decided she was out of there. She first turned to her sister in Temecula for shelter. "She's like, ‘No, because we don't want him showing up at our house and causing problems. We don't need that in our life. We have kids.'
"Pretty soon, people were like: ‘Nope. You keep going back to him. I want nothing to do with you guys.' We had burned all those bridges. That's when I realized I had to call a shelter.
"It was the scariest thing I'd ever done in my entire life."
(The sun is about to peek through the gray clouds of this story.)
Debbie entered a women's shelter with her two children. That was also the beginning of the New Debbie.
"Once I got there, to the shelter, I realized it was a lot better than what I feared. It was warm, supportive and friendly."
In that protective cocoon, Debbie was able to pause, breathe deeply and take stock. She decided to build atop the stumbling blocks of her previous decade. She knew that her only hope for a good future was to complete her education.
Debbie was accepted at MiraCosta College, and there she found a supportive environment in which to continue her studies.
But first, she had to marshal her resources. She was accepted for CalWORKs, California's umbrella state welfare program that includes Medi-Cal, food stamps (now a euphemism called CalFresh) and a monthly cash grant. She calculates it's a package of about $1,100 monthly.
She also gets free day care, plus assistance from the college. The total enabled her to rent an apartment in Vista with a roommate, and to buy a car.
She has made her peace with guys two and three, and each is active in the life of his child. She has custody of both kids.
With some of you, I can hear teeth grinding: Another welfare mom. I hear you, I hear you.
However, what then should we do with Debbie and her two kids? ... Your silence says hers was the sensible way to go, the only way - except for perpetual poverty that would become her children's legacy.
"In the beginning, I didn't want to be on it. I was ashamed. But by the time I leave (welfare), I will be self-sufficient and pay taxes again. I'm looking forward to when I can give back to society."
She has worked part time at the MiraCosta library as she studies and tends to her kids. The school likes her so much that she was recently chosen as student employee of the year.
Four years at MiraCosta have rewarded her with two A.A. degrees - one in graphic design and the newest this month in business. She has started her job search.
Debbie made some wrong choices. But hers were the kind that stuck to her life like a Friday night tattoo.
Choices like Debbie's usually seem to end up in complaints about abuse from male partners. Frankly, from the cases I've seen, there's often truth to it. Yes, I know it takes two to tango, and women can be abusive, too. No doubt.
But personally, as the youngest in a family of a single mother and three older sisters, I can guarandamntee it's true. At least from what I saw as a kid. That's not a sociological thesis, but I can tap my head and say, "It's all stored right here."
It always has been that abusive men had three advantages: aggressiveness, muscle and legal indifference. Plus, they were often hunting broken-wing doves - easy game.
The law has awakened to the problem, but the abuse syndrome remains the TV rabbit banging on a drum.
Souls in turmoil often seek kindred mates. Why is this so? Maybe it's a mutuality that no one else would tolerate. Maybe underfed egos look for nourishment in the wrong places. You could ask a shrink, but they don't really know either. They just put long words on it.
Debbie White found the strength to break out, free and clear. Something slumbering inside her woke up and said: It's time to stop lying to yourself. It's time to begin being you.
Given that, I ask you to lighten up on Debbie. She screwed up royally in a lot of ways. But you know what? She stands before you and admits it. She has moved the scoreboard back to zero.
What we now have is a woman prepared to occupy that pedestal called productive citizen. She did so on our dime via welfare.
I don't begrudge Debbie any of it. Call it a smart buy for taxpayers with handsome returns to look forward to from a woman who will shortly transition from tax user to taxpayer.
Would that all my investments were so promising.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]