Jenny has impacted the lives of hundreds of people in this town, but I think I’m the only one she’s raised from the dead.
A long time ago I was married to someone else. I’d been a stay-at-home mom and he traveled about four or five days a week. Let’s just say he had a lot of time to kill while I was at home baking pies and sewing frocks.
Jenny knew my ex through family connections and had thought we were the perfect couple, but in September of 2003 the wheels fell off my world when I learned that he was having yet another affair.
I’d tried to forgive his transgressions from two years prior, when I discovered he’d been paying for similar services. Back then he’d exclaimed that he was sick and needed help, and since in sickness and in health were magic words to me, I agreed to work through it together, quietly. Having two little kids at home and no career of my own at the time, I also felt boxed in.
Now I was going to have to fight my way out of this devastating and lonely black hole.
I may have tried to call Jenny first, but I may have just shown up at her house unannounced, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t remember how to use a phone at that point.
She opened the front door and looked at me, surprised.
“Hi! Is everything OK?” She asked.
“Not really. Can I come in?”
She ushered me into the living room where the two of us sat down with her husband, and in tears I told her about the past two years I’d been hiding.
Jenny’s face went white as I recounted all I’d learned, my fears about the future, my grief over the past, and my humiliation at being unaware of all that was happening under my nose. Her jaw alternately clenched and fell open, her eyes bounced from me to the wall, then back again. In the end, maybe an hour later or maybe more, I’d exhausted my story and the room fell quiet.
We looked at each other in the silence and I started to think she might ask me to leave; after all, I’d essentially come into her house and vomited all over the floor.
Jenny took a sharp breath, her eyes first resting on her husband and then quickly darting to me, and sharply proclaimed three words I’d never heard before, not from any family, or any friend, or any boyfriend, and certainly not from my then-husband.
“I choose you.”
I was stunned. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Just what I said. I choose you. It’s done. I’ve made my choice.”
“I’m not asking you to choose,” I replied.
“I know. But I’m choosing anyway. I mean I’m choosing you. This is easy. I choose you.” She nodded her head quickly and continued, “So how can I help? What do you need? Do you have a lawyer? Craig will mow your lawn. Do you need to sell your house? Do you have an agent? Becca and Sarah can babysit.”
She was in full-frontal Jenny mode as I sat there trying to withstand this generosity explosion.
She continued her problem solving, anticipating every possible scenario, but I was still stuck on her words, I choose you, and hardly knew how to respond. She was one of the first people I’d told, and I had anticipated some kind of rebuke for remaining in that marriage for two more years, knowing that anyone in their right might would have bolted for the door. I’d only considered reactions of disappointment and maybe disgust.
I went there thinking I’d spill my guts, wait for the blow, and hope for a chance at redemption in her eyes. I’d never considered Jenny’s wide-open embrace, and found myself with no prepared statement, no framework for whatever came next. She chooses me? Who says that? How could anyone choose me in this mess?
Jenny interrupted my thoughts. “We’ve got to move forward. What do we need to do first?”
Snapping out of my internal monologue I took a minute to think about her question. “I don’t know,” I replied, “I definitely need to get a job. Maybe we can work on my resume. Oh my God,” a wave of desperation hit me, “I don’t know what I’m going to do because I don’t even know what I need. I haven’t worked in so long and I don’t know where to begin. I’ve got nothing to show for all this time…”
“OK…” she responded in a drawn-out tone, as though the word were a question. Then in a sharp staccato voice she sat up in her seat and shaking off any doubt, announced, “We. Will. Figure. It. Out. We’ll work on it together and I’ll help you find a job when you’re ready. It’s kind of a hobby of mine. But you have bigger issues now.” She looked around the room. “What else? Food? I have food in my freezer. Do you like lasagna? And some cake. You’re in no shape to cook. You’re getting cake.”
I appreciated her words, telling me that her hobby was helping people find jobs, but I also thought that nobody in their right mind does that. And yet she was taking me on with both barrels blazing, full of raw certainty and willpower and energy. I must have looked a little incredulous, certainly resistant, because Jenny shifted in her seat again and became quiet.
She cocked her head and continued in a gentle voice. “Karen, listen to me. I want to help. Other people will want to help. It’s an honor to help.”
“This is too much,” I replied.
“Think about what I just said,” she continued, “If our roles were reversed, you’d do the same thing for me. If I told you I didn’t want your help you’d be hurt.”
“Yeah, of course,” I managed.
“So let me help. Let other people help. Remember this conversation and get used to allowing help because you’re going to need it.”
I nodded in agreement and with a quick nod of her head and an air of thunder, she stood up and turned toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make sure you remember it. Let me get that lasagna.”
My atmosphere, starved of air for two long years, cracked open to the sky with Jenny’s bolt of energy, and an otherwise impossible flame started to flicker through the pervasive darkness I’d been living in. My life now depended on keeping this tiny flame alive.
Sometimes having one person believe in you, even a tiny bit, is all the energy we need to kindle our own spark back to life, and Jenny’s intense belief and raw determination that my kids and I would be OK felt like a trainload of oxygen had stopped at my door.
The months wore on but my energy rose to a new high. Jenny and I talked daily and she had endured the entire roller coaster with me. Nobody tells you that divorce gets worse before it gets better, and as Jenny and I chatted I decried some new and ridiculous legal gymnastics I’d been forced to endure. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t anything to argue about as we had literally no money, and custody had already been established. By now my parents were paying the mortgage and buying food for me and the kids, while I had put the house up for sale, packed up our belongings, and started looking for a job. I was frustrated at how the situation continued to drag over nothing.
As I rambled, Jenny interrupted, and in a demanding tone she firmly laid it out for me, “Karen! Stop! What else is new?”
Was Jenny trying to divert me? Or was this her way of telling me she’d had enough? “What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m just saying What else is new! It’s a question! Is anything new? Anything at all?” She was strafing me with the same rapid-fire question, stunning me into submission.
I stammered, “I… I… I don’t know. It’s just more of the same crap as before. Every day it’s the same old crap.”
“Exactly!” she shouted, “Nothing is new! This is the same story you keep telling me, but the details are a little different. So what else is new?” She started laughing and continued, “You keep going around and around about all this baloney, but it’s the same thing you already know. So what if the details are different! Remember, you’ve handled all of this before and you’ll handle it again. None of this is news because nothing’s changed. Just keep going like everything’s steady state, exactly the same as it was yesterday.”
I’d started to pace across the floor but now I stopped and sat down. How long had I been re-hashing the same situational clown in a different costume, over and over again, as though some new outrage had occurred?
She laid it out for me then, “You’ve got to change your outlook or this will eat a hole in you! Next time this happens, just ask yourself What else is new? And when the answer is Nothing, then move along. Go do something positive in your day.”
That was indeed new, and it was a turning point that changed my drama into a b-movie that deserved far less credit than I’d given it. Of course my situation was still a mind-bender, but so what? It truly was old news, and I suddenly had the key to freedom I’d been looking for. Move forward to create something good and truly new.
The kids and I moved into my parents’ house a few weeks later and began to find our new normal. A few months later, once some of the dust had finally settled, Jenny called during the afternoon. It was strange because she was usually working during the day.
I answered the phone, “Hey Jenny, what’s up?”
“Is your resume ready? You have to send it to a company I just talked with. They’re developing a new technical support center and they’re moving fast! I told them you’d be their number one employee within the year.”
My mind full of doubt, I replied, “Geez, I don’t know that I’m technical enough for that.”
“It doesn’t matter. They’re interested so you just have to jump on it! They’ll train you and you’ll pick it up quickly. I know the manager and he’s a really good guy.”
My resume and a cover letter I’d hacked together were immediately emailed to the group as I crossed my fingers and said a few Hail Mary’s. I really needed a job, and Jenny wasn’t kidding about that hobby of hers. How did she always seem to know so many people? How did she find a job that hadn’t even been posted? These were all mysteries to me at the time.
She was right. I was called back for an interview and my first real job at one of my favorite companies was in the bag a few days later.
At $14/hour I’d never felt so wealthy in my life. Suddenly I had a modicum of control, along with health insurance and all the brilliant challenges inherent in the world of working adults, and nobody could take it away from me. The tiny spark we’d been blowing on, at last, had become a tiny flame, and I was able to move from that initial role into a sales position later that year, which set the stage for everything to come.
I’ve since learned that over the decades, Jenny has helped hundreds of people tap into her network. These conversations have led to career turnarounds, job fulfillment, and professional growth. She cheers and cajoles her people into belief, and when they finally land, she tells them she knew it would happen because it just had to, because they’re the best. I’ve had a front row seat to her deep belief in people, and I’m living proof that the power of a little coaxing, plus a few kindly laid out truths, can make all the difference.
If you ask her, she’ll tell you I was her toughest project, definitely bigger than a breadbox. But if you dig, she’ll shrug and tell you it’s good karma, no big deal, it’s just a little hobby of hers, like decorating cakes. But I know her better than that. Jenny travels with oxygen and a matchbook, and she knows how to play with fire.
For fifteen years we’ve talked constantly, almost daily. She keeps me sane and laughing and infused with possibility and I do my best to return the favor, but she operates at an Olympic pace and I’ve come to realize I’ll never catch up.
When Jenny told me I choose you, I didn’t know what that meant and she probably didn’t either. It meant that she was willing to take a stand, beyond words, by entering my yucky reality. Jenny taught me what it means to say Let’s get together—and mean it. She showed me what can happen when we send a card, bake a cake, make the call. And I’m proof of how lighting a little flame can ignite a future.