Pain and ambition constantly battled inside Belinda. Her body constantly attacked her soul. Illness frustrated her hard work at school. "She learned at an early age that schools punish you for being sick," Sharon said. Twice illness landed Belinda on home study. The asthma worsened with Hurricane Andrew, which struck southern Florida when Belinda was 13. That year, Belinda wrote "Bayside Story." She responded to challenge by finding ways to stand out. When a "C" in a class that conflicted with allergy appointments kept her from participating in plays her junior year, she focused on her film score project.
Belinda's senior high school year, the family sold their Florida home to start anew in North Carolina. Belinda wanted to switch from theater to music, which wasn't permitted at her old school, so she figured she'd do better elsewhere. Nothing went according to plan. She'd attended the summer music program at North Carolina School for the Arts, but did not get in that fall. Belinda instead attended the local public school. The North Carolina climate exacerbated her asthma. The familiar cycle of absences and punishments began again.
After high school, Belinda earned acceptances to Duke University and University of Miami. She surrendered those for a full performance scholarship at Brevard College, a tiny liberal arts school near the forest, the mountains, mom and dad. Belinda made it through her freshman college year -- studying classical guitar -- but her sophomore year she fell behind. Illness.
Just ... too much to deal with. Not just school, not just her health: Daddy was dying. Oz had lung cancer. He could have lived much longer. He had a rare form with a high survival rate, if caught early, but the Vietnam vet couldn't get treatment when he walked into an Asheville North Carolina VA hospital in October 1996. He said he had cancer, diagnosed at a VA in Miami. He asked for an X-ray, a blood test, said his symptoms felt like a bad chest cold. The receptionist turned him away, said they didn't have to treat him, told to complain to congress. Seven months of complaining, pleading and a misdiagnosis later, Oz's cancer was terminal. It hadn't been, but it was by then. Oz died in September of 1998. Belinda was 19.
As a college student and survivor of a disabled vet, Belinda should have qualified for health insurance until she was 23. The VA sat on the paperwork for months. Meanwhile, Belinda received state insurance as a student away from home. But Belinda never finished that year at Brevard. With "incomplete" grades the semester her dad died, the school wanted her to finish those units and the current semester's class load. Grieving, sick and worried she'd only fall more behind, Belinda dropped out of school.
Belinda settled down with her teen sweetheart, Mike Branson. The two met at the highland games at Grandfather Mountain, a North Carolina tourist site in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the Appalachians. As she sang in Gaelic around a campfire, they noticed each others' kilts. Mike studied briefly in Scotland and returned with Celtic knot rings. The pair weren't officially married but declared themselves so. They exchanged vows on Grandfather Mountain and spent the night at Grove Park Inn.
In early 1999, Belinda and Mike moved to Greensboro North Carolina - hours away from her mom and the mountain town of Brevard. She enrolled at University of North Carolina Greensboro, figuring a state school would have insurance. She figured wrong. Her state insurance lapsed when she moved - then the new county wouldn't approve her. And even as an adult Belinda was chastised and punished for missing school. She was told she'd have to attend a class on the importance of attending class. "She just gave up and got a job," Sharon said.
All grown up, Belinda had grand plans. "I want to buy a building," Belinda told her mom on the phone one day. How much? Sharon asked. A mere $800,000, Belinda told her. She wanted to open a club in Greensboro - a big dream for a young girl with no cash. Mom hadn't the money either, so Belinda put her plans on hold and got a gig as a DJ. "How she got the skills to do it I don't know," Sharon said. She'd been bitten by the nightlife bug in high school, her mom remembers, venturing out to clubs "unbeknown to her dad and I." Belinda, aka "DJLunaC," played Friday nights at Greensboro's first goth club, Célebrè Noir, pumping gothic, industrial, dark wave and retro-punk music to the young college crowd. Days, she searched for a job with health benefits. She briefly sold cosmetics for Elizabeth Arden, but lost the job after a visit to an emergency room - her boss thought she'd forged the doctors' note.
With Belinda's luck and health both miserable in North Carolina, Sharon suggested she move to Los Angeles. Yes, it had smog, but the weather was predictably pleasant. Besides, it would be a perfect place for Belinda to work as a musician, maybe even foray into film music. Belinda took her mom's advice. She and Mike landed in LA in January, 2001. Jonathan got into grad school and joined his big sis in the big city in 2003.