Turning 40: What Does Everybody Else Think?

So now that my big day is here (yay!!!) and now that you’ve read my thoughts on my life at its midpoint and who I am, what do the people in my life think about me? I asked them all to submit a statement for this final blog entry. No rules—could be funny, sad, irritating, scary, nostalgic—no word limit. Most of them wrote things that got me right in my 40-year-old ticker and brought this funny little prickly sensation to my eyes. Damn it, you guys! All of them wrote things that brought up fun memories and made me feel lucky to have them in my life. They inspire me every bit as much as I apparently inspire them and they make me want to be a better and better friend. If you guys are reading this, love you!

Alex: First time I met Jen, she asked me, “So, what do you think of Boulder people?” My reply was “I like them. But I am very confused by the fact that it seems like every person has some kind of food intolerance.” To which Jen dryly replied, “That’s cause they don’t have any real problems.” Gold.

Christy: I met Jen through our mutual friend Sam, who introduced us because she knew we were both writers. Even though I had a blog and was querying agents for a book I’d written, meeting Jen made me feel like I wasn’t a writer at all! Jen knew authors I didn’t know. She went to lit fests and writers’ retreats I’d never heard of. Basically, she made me feel like I had to up my game (in the best possible way).

Of course, the more I got to know her, this trend just continued. Jen is a bad ass force of nature in all areas of her life and constantly makes me breathe deep and ask, “WWJD?” (What would Jen do?, you weirdos).

Whether it’s tackling the biggest mountain, pushing myself to do a harder race, or healing a broken heart, she never ceases to inspire me to be the best, strongest, most capable version of myself. Happy birthday, Jen! Age ain’t got nothing on you — each year you somehow become more fit, adventurous and awesome. Keep rockin’. 🙂

Coral: There are a few things that are pretty obvious once you get to know Jen. Among many talents I wish I had, she looks like she’s barely pushing 30 and can wordsmith the shit out of things. So it was perfectly fitting that she assisted me crafting a craigslist add to fill the vacancy that my ex-boyfriend left the first time we met. Thinking that she was a young, hip millennial, I recruited her to help me come up with copy that would convey a casual, not trying too hard vibe to a potential new renter for my basement (little did I know she was a technical writer). I’m not sure how one doesn’t come off as a giant weirdo in my situation but fortunately Jen and her friend Phuong both seemed non-judgmental  and into helping which was cool. The real gem of this story though is that this was the day we started connecting over our trials and tribulations with the shittiest break-ups, heartbreak and how hard love can suck. I could tell that Jen was super down to earth, which encouraged me to open up to her about my newly single situation and had the feeling of camaraderie that one gets when you know the other person has been there too. I left that day hoping that we’d continue to hang out  and here we are over 2 years later and I’ve begrudgingly accepted Jen is not in fact a millennial but an very youthful looking almost 40 year old. And she is still someone I would 100% consult for a craigslist add, or turn to for an honest conversation about love and life. Cheers to 40!

Dad: When Jen was a senior in high school, she took her 1986 Ford Taurus on a ride to check out Gettysburg College. It was a Tuesday. I recall it because I was playing golf after work and that’s then the post office golf league games were. I received a call from my wife that Jennifer had broken down in central Pennsylvania. I told her Jennifer should scrap the car because the transmission had failed and that she should take the bus to Gettysburg and come home the next day. Jennifer said that the car had such a great stereo and she couldn’t scrap it. She was at a repair shop and they would sell her a very cheap, junky used car for $300. We ended up sending the $300 via Western Union. She and her friend completed the drive to the college in that $300 car. About 1 in the morning, I received a call from AAA. They were less than 10 miles from our house with the Taurus and wanted to be guided the rest of the way in. We had AAA Plus, which paid the first hundred miles of the tow, so there I was at 1:30 in the morning paying the driver $125 for the balance of the tow. The next day, Jen and her friend made it home in the $300 car. She told me that the car went so slow climbing the hills of Pennsylvania that they didn’t think they would make it. And then the car would race down the other side of the hill. We put that car up for sale for $325 and someone paid us $300, so she essentially had a free rental. She got a new transmission put in the Taurus and drove it for another 23,000 miles and got to enjoy her stereo for all that extended time. And, I might point out that she paid for it all working after school and during the summer, and then went off to Gettysburg in the fall. She came home from the college for homecoming weekend. We got quite a surprise when we saw her because her hair was green. A month later, when she came home for Thanksgiving, I had a lot of fun telling people that Jen’s hair wasn’t green anymore. And with a slight timely pause, I would say that it was now purple.

Jessica: David Bowie night: Wine, Labyrinth, and a Bowie puzzle 😀

The Book Doctors – that first Tattered Cover event we went to all those years ago. Who would have ever thought it would lead to sooooo many writing salons, workshops, retreats, and even a class we attempted to conduct on our own, assigning ourselves work and reviewing each other’s stuff.

The Chocolate Therapist… multiple times!! Including the time you lost and earring there and I managed to swing by and pick it up. You and your earrings…

Working together so many places that our bosses confuse our names. We’re interchangeable anyway, right?

Kat: First word that comes to my mind when I think of Jen is:  S T R O N G

When I first met Jen, I remember thinking, “wow, this is one strong, bad-ass chick.” I didn’t know it then, but that would continue to be a theme. Since I’ve known Jen, she’s gone through some tough stuff that would make most of us ball up on the floor for a while. Jen, however, when faced with adversity takes charge of her life and gets even stronger. She’s strong emotionally, in her values and conviction, and physically, kicking everyone’s butt from half marathons to Orange Theory. Jen’s strength has been an inspiration and has also proved to be contagious – when I feel my own strength faltering, I often find myself thinking “WWJD – What would Jen do?”

Krissi: When I first met Jen, I remember so much wanting to come off as professional and put together (I was, after all, her boss), but also sooooo wanted to be her friend! Here was this brilliant, witty, fun gal, and I was honestly bummed that I couldn’t straightaway say “hey, I’m new in town, wanna be friends?” I was overjoyed when she invited me on what would be the first of many girl dates, to join her at the Demetri Martin show. That was almost 9 years ago now, and, as some movie I once saw said, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We’ve been through thick and thin together, and Jen has been here for me through both the best of times and the worst of times. Through it all, she’s been a rock for me. She’s the kind of friend I know I can call at 2 o’clock in the morning or afternoon and know that she’ll be there for me, regardless of the request (I do try to keep those 2 am calls to a minimum). From YWTHSB to lobster mimosas, I’m so lucky to have the memories of our friendship and to know that they’re just the beginning. I’m fortunate to call her one of my closest friends and, no matter the distance or where life takes us, I’ll always be able to count on her support. Happy 40th, Jen!!! Here’s to another fabulous 40! Cheers! ❤ you, lady.

Leah: As far as I can remember, Jen was always traveling and in many ways distant. There was a lot of tension in our family that I didn’t understand when I was small. All I knew is that “Jenny hated me”.  She was “mean” and “ignored” me.  Jen likes to banter and tease, and I was spoiled.

When I was little I didn’t understand these things, so I asked our mom why “Jen didn’t like me”. Mom told me it was because I was adopted. She said that Jen had a hard time saying goodbye to the foster children and was having a hard time connecting to me because she was afraid I’d leave too.

It wasn’t long after that conversation when I remember getting my first letters. Every time Jen went on a trip she’d send me postcards or short letters. I was so excited when I’d get them. She’s write them so that they were easy for me to understand. I used to keep them in a drawer and sometimes I’d show them to my friends. Whenever she came home it was an event. I remember sitting around the table and listening to her tell stories of her adventures. It was usually someone’s birthday or a holiday and it felt like there was always cake and food.

Gradually she became warmer and I grew older. I began to understand her better. When I think of Jen, I think of someone who is smart, someone my dad brags about, and someone who cares deeply. Jen loves our brother Eddie and always talks about how she’ll take care of him if he needs her. Sometimes she’ll just text me out of the blue and ask how I’m doing. She gives the weirdest and most thoughtful gifts. Sometimes her words are harsh but there’s always a playful little sparkle in her eyes. Our parents used to say they thought she was a spy, and I believed it for years. Jen is my older sister and even though she’s always been off on adventures I know that we have a place in her heart, and I hope that she knows she’ll always be in our hearts too.

Melissa: One of my favorite memories is of our impromptu millennium road trip to New Orleans.  All of us in your little manual sports car with a case of Zima on the floor in the back.

No money, no cash cards, no phones.

A few hours in NOLA and back on the road through bible country where we promptly broke down. We took pictures at the ‘welcome’ signs for each state and ate alligator on a stick at the gas station.  We talked the tow truck driver into letting us all pile into the cab and into driving us 100 miles to Chattanooga, TN. There we met the mayor who came out to meet the Yankees in town and found a motel room with dirty bed covers and permanent residents who had keys to every room.

You stayed behind with your car until it could be fixed, saying maybe you would just work at the local subway to pay for it.  I remember the mechanic’s family helped you out since you were by yourself.  We were all so brave and carefree, but you were most of all.

I love this memory for how well it captures the possibilities and adventures we embraced in our 20s. We lost touch for a while and the world changed around us, but you never lost that sense of wanderlust.

Happy Birthday, Jen Swallow!  I’m so glad we’re still friends.

Phuong: First, let me say that I admire and look up to you so much. You are like the older sister that I never had. You inspire me to travel and to seek adventures. Your ability to plan and follow through inspires me to get my shit together. When I’m in a self-pitying mood, your “don’t fuck with me unless you can handle it” attitude reminds me that I have the power to take matters into my own hands. When things don’t go your way, you somehow always manage to make the best out of it. You don’t expect others to make things work for you – you make them work for yourself.

One of my earliest memories of you is from a cocktail party I threw when I was still living in Boulder. I was young, poor, and dying to be fancy, so I had that party where everyone had to dress up and bring some expensive liquor that I assigned them (which I would then get to keep, of course). On the day of the party, I was running late, as is my predilection, and scrambling to make some classy-seeming appetizers. You walked in before everyone else, slim and radiant in your magenta knee-length cocktail dress. You jumped right in to help me prepare the food. At one point, I looked over and there you were, perfectly dressed and made-up in a dumpy transient-roommate house at what’s supposed to be a “cocktail party” chopping up a pile of garlic. But instead of trying to avoid getting the stench on your clothes or complaining, you made me feel everything was going just fine. You’re never afraid to get a little dirty to help out a friend.

Recently, I went on a Marie Kondo-inspired purge of my worldly belongings. I put all of my books on the floor of my living room and picked them up one by one, asking myself whether the item brought me joy. In turn, I picked up a little blue book that I didn’t recognize. I opened it and the inscription on the inside read:

“Every message in here is for you from the deepest part of my heart because you were my friend when I most needed one and because I think you are incredible. Love, Jennifer”’

I couldn’t even finish reading the sentence before my shirt was wet with tears. You sent this to me during Christmas 2017 when I was severely depressed and going through ECT. You reminded me that I was loved when I needed it most. You thought of me when the demons in my mind were telling me that I wasn’t worth thinking of. And I’ll never forget it. You make me want to be a better friend so that I can make you feel as loved and supported as you have made me feel. Happy 40th birthday.

Stephanie: The first time I met one of my now best friends, Jennifer…
We met at Brasserie Ten Ten in Boulder, CO alongside both of our now ex-boyfriends and our mutual friend Sam. We all arrived before Jen. In typical Boulder fashion, we got carded – even though we were all well into our 30s … Jen didn’t have her ID, but tried to convince the server to accept her conceal carry permit. They refused and wouldn’t serve her, even after Jen asked for the manager. The manager also refused to serve her. A few F bombs and a couple big swigs of her ex’s martini later, we quickly wrapped up our happy hour.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see Jen again or if she’d even be someone I could see myself being friends with… as I was slightly intimidated by her after that. Jen and I met a few times again (less memorable events) before I felt like we became actual friends. Once Jen was rid of her ex, she was almost a new person, seeming to be much happier but still kept her unapologetic honesty which I respect. She eventually came to be one of my best friends here in Colorado, and a really great workout and running buddy (even though you’re way faster than me now). So grateful for you, Jen, and your brutal honesty – even if it has made me uncomfortable from time to time. Love you!

2 Comments

  1. What wonderful messages these are! You have a great, well-deserved, support system around you, it seems, and are known and appreciated for who you are. You can’t ask for better, at 40. Happy Birthday!

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