Diane Black didn't come from much.
Her father dropped out of school in the sixth grade, her mother in the ninth. They fell in love on the assembly line of a paper-box factory on the dodgy side of Baltimore, got married, had children and lived in public housing.
At age 4, the future congresswoman from Tennessee asked for a doctor's kit. At age 5, her family moved to rural Maryland; they were still poor, so she and her two brothers slept in the same bed, her sister in a crib beside them. All six family members crowded into a 1,000-square-foot house filled with safety, love and poverty.
"Despite all of that," she says now, sitting in her Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill, "I really never understood we were poor until I went to high school," where she was exposed to kids who could shop for the clothes they wanted, make plans to go to college or get out of town to chase bigger and better things.
The first woman to chair the influential House Budget Committee is confident the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, eventually will be repealed and replaced, but she also worries whether Americans will be able to achieve the American Dream.
"Since the age of 4, all I wanted to do was be a nurse, but my parents reminded me in the best way they could that they did not have the money to put me through college," Black said of her parents, Audrey and Joe Warren, 92, who still live in the 1,000-square-foot Maryland home where she and her siblings grew up.
In the ninth grade those brakes on her ambition loosened when she met the school's guidance counselor, Richard Whiting. "He believed in me and saw something in me that even I didn't see," she said.
Whiting spent his Saturday evenings running a community teen center. "It gave teenagers in my neighborhood a place to not get in trouble, and I learned pretty quickly that if you volunteered you got taken out for free cheeseburgers after it closed." she said.
She also got the guidance she needed to fulfill her dreams: "He just pushed and pushed me. If I got anything less than a B on a test, he would call me into his office and ask me, 'Do you want to go to college? Because, if you do, nothing less than a B,' he would scold."
Still, Black reminded him that her parents did not have the money; he dryly reminded her that a scholarship was her ticket up.
In her senior year of high school, her hard work and Whiting's determination made that happen: She was called to the school office to receive a check from a local charity for more than $1,000. It paid for her first year of nursing.
To say she was beside herself with joy "would be an understatement. I am pretty sure there was some jumping up and down.
"I was the first and only one in my family to go to college," she said. "I was very fortunate that my high school counselor saw that potential in me. I am certain he is smiling down on me every day."
When Harry met Sally
She was 16, and he was 19 and dressed in his Marine uniform. Both were attending the high school dance with other dates.
She smiled at him and promptly forgot him.
He didn't forget her.
She eventually married her date that night, and so did the young Marine, but neither marriage worked out.
Diane and Dave Black's lives intertwined in chance encounters for the next 11 years, always as friends. His first marriage ended amicably; hers ended just after she learned she was pregnant with a third child.
"When we reconnected, I kept him at arm's length," she said of Dave Black. "I was raising three small children, exhausted, and working long shifts to support my little family," and wanted to remain "just a friend.
"After we discovered how much we had in common — we both came from poor families, we both started working at very young ages; I cleaned houses since I was 12, he washed cars, went off to Vietnam, military service would be the only way he could eventually go to college … and the kids loved him …," and, then, her voice trails off.
Right before they married, he adopted all three children, and the new family settled in Tennessee.
Nurse, lawmaker, congresswoman, governor?
In 1994, Black was a practicing nurse who spent time in emergency-room care, same-day surgery and recovery-room care when Tennessee's governor, a Democrat, created TennCare, a universal healthcare plan.
"I quickly saw firsthand the dramatic impact of the flawed system," she said. "The healthcare was not good. It hurt the people it was supposed to serve and created a burden on the people in the state."
Despite never having run for office, she decided to campaign for the state legislature and, to her surprise, won.
Six years later she won a Tennessee State Senate seat, which led her to run for an open seat in Congress in 2010 and to defeat the Democrat in a landslide.
She quickly made her mark in that year's freshman class when she became its first member to have a bill become law: H.R. 2576 closed a loophole in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that would have allowed those with higher incomes to receive a Medicaid subsidy.
"I believe I am here today in Congress as a direct result of my healthcare background," she said. "My nursing is what has propelled me through my career."
House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump's healthcare bill, pulled before any full House vote in March, came out of Black's committee; she was managing the action on the House floor to make a vote happen.
"I was prepared to vote for the bill," she said. "There were some concerns from people on both sides, and I believe there is still opportunity for all of us to come together and be able to address those concerns.
"I think we just needed to slow down, take a deep breath, and I think we will eventually get it right, because we want to get it right. That is why people voted for us.
"But, look, I see what it is doing to my state. The whole system in my state is failing, our [state] commissioner of insurance has said it is collapsing, and with 14 counties in East Tennessee with no providers on the exchanges at all, we have to figure out what these people are going to do," she said.
In February, Humana, the only insurer on the exchange in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis, announced it would stop selling insurance on the Obamacare exchanges in 2018. That decision would cripple the state's three largest metro areas if no other insurance company entered the market.
Black said Obamacare affected not only people's personal bottom-line costs but also the employer market. "It actually impacted businesses' ability to hire people. We have to do better."
The former Marylander worries that too many Americans are not going to be able to achieve the American dream: "People are not necessarily able to get a good full-time job or, when they do, they are not seeing increases in their pay, and people are getting discouraged."
After eight years of no more than 2 percent growth in the nation's economy, she said, "It is becoming more discouraging for people ... this new generation will not see the same opportunities that previous generations have, and we need to find a way to improve that."
One way Black could play a bigger role in making that happen, at least for the people back home, would be to run for governor of Tennessee. Yet if she has made that decision, she's not ready to talk about it or even speculate.
"Tennessee is a great state, but it still has places where it needs to grow," she said. "Our educational system is not where it needs to be, and we need ... a system where people can grow and reach their potential."
She points to the state's absence of an income tax, its beautiful scenery and the resilience of its people during crisis as its biggest selling points. She sounds more like a candidate for governor, as each attribute or challenge that Tennesseans possess or face is reeled off her list.
Black is somber, though, as she discusses the opioid crisis that has hit not only her state but others across the country: "In many ways, people have just given up hope, they feel stuck, and this is a temporary and destructive way of lifting themselves out of that feeling of despair.
"As leaders, we have to do better," she says before darting off for a vote on the House floor.