Thursday, July 30, 2015

Character of the Week: Jen from The Shelter Director/the Loving Her series

Shy, quiet, and unsure of herself. Many of us have friends like that. Some of us are that friend. Under the silence, lies a remarkable woman...just like Jen in the Loving Her series.

Jen Clark grew up in Manayunk, Pennsylvania, a town just outside of Philadelphia. She and her two brothers, Mike and Adam, along with their parents, lived in a modest apartment. It was close quarters, but it was a good home for the family. There was field out back for the kids to play, and everyone in the building was very nice.

Their neighbors, Maria and Addie were very nice ladies. The families were close. Addie and Elaine, Jen's mother, had an annual bake-off. However, they both baked quite frequently (it was more like a weekly bake-off than an annual one). It was one of Jen's fondest memories, just as it was for everyone else. There was no doubt that Maria and Addie were extended family of sorts.

Jen always loved little animals. While her brothers would play catch in the field, she was happy to watch the birds and talk to the squirrels. There were some stray cats that would come around every once in a while. Jen loved feeding them. She spent her time taking care of them, watching them. She was even able to have one become brave enough that it came over, and she was able to pet it. The animals trusted her, and she trusted them.

Animals of all sorts were a passion of hers. Jen considered becoming a vet, so as a teenager, Jen volunteered at a local shelter for cats. She loved her job. She cleaned the cages, fed the cats, played with them, and she loved being able to unite families with the cats.

It was all great, except for one thing: euthanasia.

Euthanasia took  a tremendous toll on Jen as a kid. So much so that she nixed the idea of becoming a vet. Instead, she decided to stay at the shelter, and work to help give the kitties new homes.

Jen worked her way up through the shelter. She dedicated herself fully to helping the shelter, and helping the cats. She even acquired a few along the way.

At the age of nineteen, she was offered an opportunity to work at a large feline shelter in Altamonte Springs, Florida. It was the opportunity of her young life time. She could work with a shelter that was able to tend to more cats, and that gave her better opportunities to do better work. Although it was incredibly difficult to move away from the family, Jen knew she needed to be in Florida.

She didn't leave until she came out to her family. She wasn't sure what to expect. Her parents loved Maria and Addie, but the family was fairly traditional. With her heart racing, she sat her parents and brothers to them, and came out.

Much to her delight, everyone was quite supportive of her. Neither of her parents harbored any ill feelings, and her brothers didn't mind at all. With that out in the open, Jen felt more loved and supported than ever. She was ready for her new life as an out lesbian in Florida.

Life in Florida was a bit lonely for Jen. She didn't actually know anyone down there, and she was too shy to make new friends. She focused on her work, and she developed friendships with her co-workers. Fred, a gay man who also worked for the shelter, became Jen's best friend.

Once again, through her dedication, Jen worked her way up. This time, she went all the way up to the title of Shelter Director. For years, Jen worked tirelessly building the shelter up, adopting out cats, improving the shelter's ability to care for the cats. Not one facet of the shelter or its work was ignored by Jen's hard work. She made Feline Haven just that.

Fred watched Jen work herself to the bone. He pitied her. They spent a fair amount of time together outside of the shelter. Even though Fred had an occasional boyfriend, Jen was far too shy to ask anyone out on a date...ever!

One day, Fred was able to get a pair of tickets to watch a touring ballet company. Fred adored the ballet, and he thought it would be the perfect way to get Jen out of her house. He told her about the tickets, and she agreed to go. When the day arrived, however, Jen nearly backed out. Fred held her to her promise, and they both went that evening.

That night, Jen met the most amazing and alluring woman she had ever seen: Elizabeth "Liz" O'Kane, the lead dancer in the performance. From the minute she leaped onto the stage, Jen was taken. She was completely awe-struck through the entire performance.

Seeing his friend's infatuation, Fred encouraged Jen to talk to her.

Somehow, Jen was able to muster up enough courage to talk to Liz. She even gave Liz her business card! As soon as Liz walked away, Jen regretted it all.

She was astounded when Liz actually called her a day or two later.

They go out on what Jen thinks is a date. Liz, however, had no idea. Things seem to be rolling along nicely, until Jen braves a kiss. It is at this time that we discover that Liz had never kissed - or even dated anyone.

Jen chastises herself tremendously. She is angry at herself for being so bold, and for making such assumptions. She is also heart-broken. The one time she steps out of her comfort zone, and it all comes crashing down on her.

After they end the tragic night, they both do a lot of thinking and soul searching. Liz agrees to meet Jen again, and they decide to start a slow, long-distance relationship.

Liz's touring schedule demands much of her, and as the relationship grows, it takes a toll on them as well. Jen surprises Liz with a few visits while she's on tour. Things are awkward at times, but the two do seem to suit each other quite nicely.

They fall in love, and Jen expects a fairy tale ending. What she gets is reality. The reality that her partner is a very talented dancer, and is wanted by many companies, forcing the couple to move all across the country. The reality of relationships hitting occasional lulls. The reality of life.

Reality strikes its worst when Liz and Jen live in California, and Jen needs to fly back to Pennsylvania because her mother is dying. Within the same week of losing her mother, while still in PA, Jen also gets a devastating diagnosis of MS. The icing on the cake, is that her doctor recommends that she moves back to Philadelphia. Yet another cross-country move.

Scared, and feeling as though she would hold Liz back, Jen tells Liz to stay in LA. After all the sacrificing that Jen had done for her, Liz would hear none of it. She loved Jen, and was willing to do whatever Jen needed. So with sadness and apprehension, the couple came back to Philadelphia.

Life isn't easy at first. With the loss of her mother, and the loss of her health, Jen doesn't know where to  begin. She does, however, reach out to one dear friend, Maria.

After nearly a decade, they reunite, and their friendship is stronger than ever. With Jen reconnecting with Maria, and Liz meeting Linda, they soon create a good life, and a wonderful circle of friends.

Through highs and lows, Jen and Liz, and all of their friends continue to love and support each other. Their life was not picture perfect, but Jen finally got her fairy tale ending when Liz proposed. After Liz professed her love, Jen could only say one thing, "I love you more."

Jen was a very giving person. She loved and cared deeply for all of the people and animals around her. Selfless and genuine, she is the best friend with one of the greatest stories you'll ever meet.

Favorite quote from Jen: “She talked to me. I didn’t think she would, but she actually spoke to me.”
“See! I told you.” Fred responded.
“No, you don’t understand! She talked to me. I gave her my card and she took it. I told her to call me and she said she would!”
“Wow! Nothing ventured, nothing gained I suppose!” Fred smiled.
Jen’s excitement quickly turned into fear.”What was I thinking? Now she’s going to call me! And then what?”
“You’ll answer the phone and you’ll talk to her just like you talk to me or anyone else.” Fred put his arm around Jen.
“I can’t. I have nothing to say. I’m not interesting. She’ll be bored. She won’t want to talk to a schlump like me!”

Happy reading!

No comments: