Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. -Anais Nin
Igrew up with Debbie “Deb” Stanbro -though both of us were 33 years old when we met in Santa Barbara in 1990. On the evening of January 8, 2008, across from beautiful Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, I saw Deb for the last time, hours after she had taken her own life. Deb’s final departure from Santa Barbara has left a crater in the hearts and souls of many in this town and the world. My tendency to want to frame everything in a sociopolitical context has me searching for sound-bite answers in an attempt to piece together a puzzle that is destined to remain unsolved. The targets of my grief at the loss of my best friend are many-the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath on its survivors; the accessibility and lethality of handguns; the inadequacies of our insurance and mental health systems; the pervasiveness of homophobia. Yet I am left with this excruciating grief and loss. I treasured my friendship with Deb because it was one of the few relationships in my life not rooted in or informed by the politics and activism that penetrates so much of my existence. So let me tell you about Deb. (You can also read a lengthier bio of Deb by Bonnie Beedles at myspace.com/sbartist.)
Deb was a woman of the South-born, raised, and rooted on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. She was also an “honorary Southern Californian” because of the intensity and passion with which she embraced Santa Barbara and the entire coast of California.
Deb arrived in Los Angeles in 1982 to become a rock star, and made it to Santa Barbara in 1986 to find some serenity. The foothills and beaches, bike paths and coffeehouses-all carry the mark of her presence. Deb treasured all of it and felt a deep spiritual connection to Big Sur. At the old Esalen baths several years ago, Deb and I swore we heard the howls of the spirits of the Esalen tribe of Native Americans that had once called that spot their home. Usually a pragmatist, I had to agree with her at that moment because I heard cries like I’d never heard before rising out of the waves and coming up to the baths.
Debbie’s heart, soul, and identity were a blend of the Deep South and the South Coast. Her wit and wisdom were quick, wry, subtle, and sometimes silly, but always loving. From her, I learned the true meaning of the phrase “bless her (his) heart.” The fact that Deb would say “yes ma’am” to her elders greatly impressed my mother. Deb laughed when I called her on the first morning of the January 1995 El Ni±o to warn her to get to higher ground. I’ll never forget her saying, “Oh, it’s just a little rain, Mare.” Compared to the storms she grew up with, perhaps it was. I imagined her saying that again these past weeks as sheets of rain fell upon Santa Barbara and we experienced “just a little rain.” What was that all about, Deb?
Deb was a professional musician whose powerful voice belied her petite stature. In Mississippi during the 1970s, Deb was the founder and lead singer of several popular Gulf Coast rock bands. She donated her musical talents to many local causes during the 1990s-benefit concerts for Save the Wilcox, AIDS rides, Pacific Pride Foundation, and Casa Serena Women’s Recovery Home. Her extraordinary skills as a singer, masseuse, and friend were shared with many in our community. During the ’90s, Deb also worked on the staff at Casa Serena, helping and guiding many young women as they entered and struggled with recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Deb returned to Mississippi in 2000 to spend time with her mother and reunite with her former musical partners. During this time, she also met and fell in love with Kat Carter. In December 2005, Deb and Kat came home to Santa Barbara after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the residence and business they shared. Kat wrote about her and Deb’s Katrina experience in the August 24, 2006, issue of The Independent (independent.com/news/2006/aug/23/out-of-katrinas-wreckage). Their losses were tremendous, yet Kat and Deb were embraced upon their arrival in Santa Barbara. Deb’s experience as a survivor of Katrina and a song she wrote about that experience are featured in the award-winning film, Mississippi Son (mississippison.com).
Back in Santa Barbara, Deb rebuilt her practice as a massage therapist. She also studied for and acquired her license as a personal trainer and saw several clients in Montecito and Santa Barbara. On our last hike together, the week before Christmas, I stood with my arm around Deb’s shoulder atop the Tunnel Trail and pointed out the awesome view in front of us that she treasured so much. I realized Deb’s view was clouded. She knew it, too. Deb was a valiant survivor of many types of storms. For reasons I and the rest of us who loved her will never fully know, this last storm swept her away from our lives on this Earth forever.
Rest in peace, my friend.