The day Jen graduated from college, she moved to Washington, DC to begin her new job. It was a perfect fit: the whole team was dedicated to helping children by reducing the barriers to adoption.
Working at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute was a dream. Jen would work until two in the morning, eyes burning and throat sore from too many cups of coffee, but was doing work that mattered. When her internship was over, Kerry made Jen her international program director. She was meeting with congressmen, explaining the plight of children looking for adoptive families in the US. They were drafting legislation with foreign governments on their child welfare policies. Jen met with foster families and read reams of files about what was keeping US families from adopting abroad. And every night when her head hit her soft pillow, Jen dreamt of children around the world who were getting homes, who were getting adopted because of the work she was doing. One less baby on the refuse heap. One less rib poking through skin. One less story to stimulate her thirteen-year-old, Reader’s Digest-induced rage. When her hours and hours at work allowed, Jen slept deeply and peacefully.
Already though, her dream was developing a few cracks. Her commute to Washington was only ten miles, but clocked an hour and forty-five minutes each day, bumper to bumper, her blouse sticking to the seat as she used the extra time in total standstills to go over her notes for the next meeting. Jen used bottled water in the console to chase away the feel of exhaust in the back of her throat, hand on the wheel, eyes scanning for any break in the endless array of Detroit-built metal and plastic. One day, the traffic was mercifully clear and she raced by blurred greenery and grey on- and off-ramps to get home. Jen happened to glance down at her wrist, where her shirt had ridden up, and noticed red bumps amongst a web of red lace.
In the driveway, she lifted her arm to the car light and looked closely at her angry skin. Hives, as though the stress was clawing its way out of her. Inside her house Jen saw that they had spread along the back of her neck and along my hips. There was nothing to be done except fill the bathroom cabinet with neatly-stacked blue tubes of ointment so she could continue the crazy pace. Jen was built to do this—guided to do it—no matter what warning flares her body sent high.
Cracks quickly turned into fissures as violet circles under her eyes turned dark blue. For various reasons, Kerry walked away from CCAI and the rest of the team drifted too. The office looked the same but felt entirely different. New culture, new faces. Jen was the last woman standing and stubbornly dug herself into her files and kept going.
When 2005 rolled around, it was time to fulfill another dream: the Joint Council on International Children's Services started recruiting Jen. Joint Council offered the chance to reach legislators, policy makers, and lobbyists to make real, systemic changes for potentially millions of vulnerable children. Now Jen went to bed dreaming of the young faces we could save from impermanence, imagined them having birthday parties, swimming lessons, prom. It was too good to turn down.
Jen was sure she would be doing this job for the rest of her life. For her first board meeting at work, she dressed carefully in a skirt suit. Jen walked up the brick walkway, which looked like it belonged on a quaint San Francisco street full of tall narrow homes. The conference room was long, with grey felt chairs and a long cherry-stained table. Jen sat by the window overlooking the tree-lined street. She was ready to make things happen.
“How old are you?” a man standing by the door asked, his eyes looking at Jen's face.
Jen set her purse on the floor and ignored his surprised eyes. “Twenty-four.” She knew she made a difference every day and didn’t think about her age much. She felt proud. She had worked her butt off, and now that work was showing up for her in spades.
Although she had been brought on at JCICS as a membership manager, she was almost immediately promoted to become the youngest Executive Director of Joint Council. Then the blue line showed up on the pregnancy test. She checked again, sure it must be a mistake. So much joy and terror in one little urine-soaked stick of plastic. Jen was equal parts absolutely petrified and terribly excited.
...to be continued tomorrow!
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