To most, Jennifer was just another breathing, semi-warm body that passed them on the street. She was quiet, and not because she was shy, although she was, but it was more due to a lack of inspiration – starting up a conversation about how she switched to Fresh Linen fabric softener from Island Breeze didn’t seem all that arousing. At one point, Jennifer realized she had gone 72 straight hours without a peep, not even a casual greeting to a stranger. She was alarmed by the realization and tried to start up a one-way conversation with Milo, her cat, but even he had lost interest in what she had to say over time; maybe she were better off a mute.
Jennifer, or Jenn as those on her dwindling list of friends called her, was 32, but far from having things figured out. Some might say she’s rare, and not rare as in unique, rare as in needing more time to “cook.” She was just wrapping up one hellish Saturday of pondering the value of her existence; she was caught in the toils of self-worth. The patrons sitting in the Second Cup coffee shop may have thought she were actually reading Gone With the Wind while sipping a flavored latte with extra foam, but no: 1.) she had already seen the movie, allowing her to flip the pages at random, sometimes even two at a time; and 2.) a flavored latte was too advanced and “extra foam” was not included in her vocabulary, rather a black coffee acted as her tabletop companion. Jenn scanned the pages of her dusty decoy, letting certain words surface like “courage,” “reputation,” and “my dear” – she’d never been anyone’s “dear.” It all lead to thoughts of what made her courageous, or if she ever had been, and what kind of reputation she was building up; however, she couldn't imagine she had one.
It was a one-day journey full of pit stops, stalls, and countless dead ends. There was one road in particular that she couldn’t hold herself back from plowing down, the one that begged the question of what made her any sort of “unique,” and at the end of the day, she was one thought short of an answer. Yes, she was an only child, which made her a specific kind of special, but the fact that she was the only offspring of Sylvia and Paul wasn’t anything she could list on a resume or use to pick up men. Jenn had some oddball personal possessions that were up for contention, like the one delicate, vintage tea cup she picked up at an estate sale – it was Czech and had a matching saucer with yellow and gold deco – but the fact that it had orphan twins scattered all over eBay didn’t give her points in the precious novelty category.
As for Jenn’s outward appearance, she was pale, but lacking a sufficient amount of freckles and beauty marks for one of her fairness, which crushed her chances of having a distinct grouping of marks in the shape of Jesus, or maybe the constellation Orion. She did have one beauty mark right above her lip, but that didn’t count: its originality was already spoken for. It did, however, feed an ongoing source of interaction for Jenn; it often initiated dialog, but never graduated past that particular topic, or that stage in a conversation. People would approach her, pointing out her “Cindy Crawford mark,” and she would smile and part her lips, readying them for a response, only to quickly surrender them into a smooth, vague grin – a parting gift for stopping by to visit. Why did it have to be the same as Cindy Crawford’s? Why couldn’t it just be hers? It’s not like such a mark could only belong to one person, or that Crawford had a special allotment of them that she gave out to a handful of lucky winners; you can’t go around handing out beauty marks to people like T-shirts or sticks of gum.
In terms of Jenn’s fashion sense, she had none, which meant she either copied what she saw from a magazine; the style-conscious, often togged out gal, Vicky, down the hall; or off mannequins in department stores. Jenn wasn’t a girl who turned heads for her looks, but more often because people thought there was something familiar about her – like the sweater from the H&M window. Jenn definitely didn’t want to call attention to herself, so not being an adventurous dresser left her feeling sufficiently content.
Jenn’s predictable apparel wasn’t the only thing that was working against her; she was shaken of an interesting life from birth; “Jennifer” was the No. 1 most popular name in 1980. Unfortunately, her parents hadn’t been daring enough to veer from the given by removing an “n”; she could have been “Jenifer,” and that deletion of a single letter could have been the ticket, the one that would gain her access to a more intriguing life. Jenn found herself turning every time someone yelled her name, until she began to realize 9.9 times out of 10 it was for another girl with the same 80s name who was often prettier. There was something different Jenn always noticed when her name reverberated through the open air, through the voice of the countless unknown callers to the countless unknown “others”: her name took on an alluring attribute. It was during that ah-ha moment that Jenn accepted a name doesn’t make a person, rather a person makes a name. Regardless, Jenn still held a grundge against her overly popular name, as it induced some unfortunate situations. Like every time she'd go into one of those corner shops on vacation, the ones with silkscreen shirts of palm trees and fake bikini bodies, bottles of sand, and little license plates with names on them, she'd give the carousel a spin to the “J” names, to find the same thing every time: an empty metal rack displaying a lo-res cardboard picture of what should be there with her name on it, and of course a SKU number. The constant disappointment drove Jenn to settle for keychains and the like baring the sole initial “J”; they were easier to find in stock, and she liked to think it made her more mysterious.
Jenn exhausted the gamut of qualifying uniqueness factors until she found herself sifting through “The Black Pit” – the moniker she gave her handbag – in search of drugs to calm her pulsating temple. She wouldn’t give up; she had no choice but to do the exact opposite. If she wanted unique, she had to snatch it from every unexpected person, place and thing; unique wasn’t going to happen on its own. Jenn had to make a decision: she’d either carry on through life in her almost-non-existent way or get charged enough to resuscitate her life – she’d say yes to new experiences, see the world through new eyes, put herself out there more – and rip herself bluntly from her cozy comfort zone.
This day of daunting introspection kicked her butt; Jenn never wanted to feel so beat down again. She pushed back in the velvet-upholstered, thrift-store-find of a chair she had sat in for the last eight hours, the worn-in springs and fabric capturing her sunken impression. Jenn had noticed the brightly painted mural of downtown, the vertical grains in the tabletop, the horizontal lines of her hands, everything except what was going on outside. With her double-breasted wool coat buttoned high and a knit cap upon her head, she gathered her things, and herself, and caught the first glimpse of the falling snow outside. Opening the door, a whoosh of winter air awoke her senses. Without consciously saying “yes,” she tilted her head back, opened her mouth wide, and stuck her tongue straight out. For a full 30 seconds, Jenn let as many of those icy masterpieces fall and dissolve. And then she carried on with a smile, knowing the snowflakes she just caught would never be captured by anyone else; it was the start to something new.