“I had to rebuild from nothing after my divorce.”
Bonnie Marcus, 43, Mt. Laurel, NJ
Bonnie Marcus was raised by a single mom who told her, “Find a man who’ll take care of you.” And when she dropped out of college to marry, Bonnie thought she had: Her husband had a good, stable job in merchandising. Bonnie worked until her son was born, then became a stay-at-home mom. The couple bought a four-bedroom house with a large wooded backyard. When their son was 3, they had a second child, a girl. “It was a dream,” Bonnie says.
But a few months after her daughter’s birth, Bonnie’s husband got laid off, and the family’s finances collapsed. The couple fought, and the relationship disintegrated, but for two years Bonnie hung on — life on her own seemed unthinkable. Finally, things got so bad that staying together seemed even worse.
Nevertheless, the split crushed Bonnie. “I felt like I lost everything,” she says. “He’d been my best friend. I was really sad and angry — I felt like nobody.”
After the divorce, Bonnie stayed in the house and got a part-time job but couldn’t make ends meet. She missed mortgage payments and faced foreclosure. She lay awake nights, terrified that she and the kids would wind up on the streets. She went on food stamps and Medicaid, filed for bankruptcy, and got a full-time job. But she still couldn’t pay the bills — she simply felt more overwhelmed. “I had to juggle the kids and get them off to school every morning; I was always 10 minutes late for work,” she remembers. “I was so scared I had pains in my stomach.”
For a long time, Bonnie kept her problems to herself. But the more desperate she grew, the more she confided in friends, relatives, neighbors, even people she hardly knew. “I was in a hole in the ground, really deep,” she says. “And I was reaching out my hands to anyone who would help.” Neighbors gave her their kids’ old clothes and toys. The mom of her daughter’s friend watched her kids after school for free. Later, parents of another of her daughter’s friends made her car payments for four months.
One day, Bonnie went to the YMCA to ask about low-cost child care and discovered the Women’s Opportunity Center, an employment-assistance program. Soon, Bonnie was soaking up every service the center offered. She got help writing a résumé. She received donated suits for job interviews. She attended workshops on self-esteem, managing debt, and spreading your wings. Slowly, Bonnie gained the confidence to spread her wings, deciding to go back to college and become a teacher.
Each day, she got the kids off to school in the morning, raced to campus, took a full day of classes, then zoomed home. She cooked dinner, helped the kids with their homework, and then started her own. On weekends, the kids went to their dad’s, and Bonnie studied, wrote papers, did laundry, and went grocery shopping. To help pay the bills, she worked as a teacher’s aide, did private tutoring, and babysat. “I was like a tornado,” she says.
Many days, it all seemed like too much. “I felt overwhelmed all the time — while at work, while at home, while at college. I was stressed and scared and uncertain about my future,” Bonnie says. But giving up was not an option. “All my sadness and anger — if I had any anger — went into pushing myself to finish school,” she says. “My favorite song through all this was ‘I Will Survive.'”
Bonnie did more than survive — she shined. She made dean’s list, graduated magna cum laude — and kept going. Last year, she received her master of arts in teaching. Now she’s taking courses to earn a special-education certificate while working two jobs: doing training and marketing for a social-skills program for autistic children and working as a teacher for a smoking-prevention program. Between her salary and child-support payments, Bonnie is getting by. But she has more than $30,000 in student loans to repay and is struggling to rebuild her credit.
Still, she knows she’s come far — far enough to be able to offer her hand to others stuck in a hole. That’s why she’s establishing a college scholarship fund for single mothers. “I saw all the help people gave me when I was alone and really, really scared, and it gives me satisfaction to give other people reassurance,” Bonnie says.
Bonnie’s own example is, perhaps, the best reassurance she can offer. She often runs classes for low-income women and loves to begin by waving her Medicaid card from 1994. Students gasp. “They say, ‘You were in that situation?’ They don’t believe it,” Bonnie says. “Here I am, all dressed up and working. And then I tell them, ‘Yes, I did it, and so can you.'”
Originally posted 2012-04-04 11:32:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter