She was almost given the unfortunate name of Generva. On a parents.com page from March 4, 2020, the baby name, Generva is female with three syllables. Under origin, it says, unknown. Under popularity, it reads unpopular.
I don’t know why or how that name came to our parents, but soon they came to their senses and named her Jennifer.
Jen is older than me by four years, and while growing up, she was my idol. She was tall, thin, and had that oh so coveted 1980s combo of light feathery hair with naturally dark eyebrows resting above jade-colored eyes. So, it’s no wonder that when I hit seventh grade, I wanted to transform and look like my big sister.
At the time, my hair was too kinky to look like Jen’s, but my eyebrows weren’t too far off, so I dug into Jennifer’s makeup. I didn’t compare different eyeliners. I didn’t look closely or try to decide which would make my eyes pop.
I grabbed a dark pencil, and in the dresser mirror located in our shared and dimly lit bedroom, I went to work drawing in individual eyebrow hairs. I even made it to the school bus on time.
That day, everyone was looking at me. I felt the admiration bestowed on the beautiful and heard, “Did you see her eyebrows?” I had achieved the impossible! And then came my Home Economics Class.
Located on the second story of an orange brick building with cutouts of South Ogden Junior High across it, the classroom was large with an entire wall of windows. It was a bright room bathed in natural light.
“What did you do?” my teacher asked in the middle of taking roll. Everyone turned and looked at me.
“Did you do something to your eyebrows?”
“No,” I lied.
A blonde and popular girl named Carli leaned over the sewing table and whispered, “Your eyebrows are blue.”
She then took my arm and led me to the bathroom. With pink powder soap and disintegrating toilet paper, Carli helped me scrub off my brows.
Always hovering in Jennifer’s shadow, I was exposed to the inexplicable conundrums of the older teenager. I watched rated R movies and learned the brutal class systems of High School via The Breakfast Club.
I sneaked copies of High School English assigned reading and exploited the classics like The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye—books that helped build me into who I am now.
If Jen knew I was stealing her books to read them in the closet, she never let on. She probably wouldn’t have cared. I suppose she was used to her gawking shadow, and she was very kind about it.
When she found out about the eyebrow fiasco, she showed me a black eyeliner pencil but added, “Your eyebrows are fine. I don’t think you need to change them.”
In my first year of high school, my friend asked the boy I had a crazy crush on to a Sadie Hawkins dance. I was devastated, defeated.
“So, ask his friend and be in their group,” Jennifer advised.
“I can’t. Mom and dad won’t let me date until I’m sixteen,” I reminded her. Jennifer went to work convincing my mom why I had to go to the school dance. She had my back.
Many older siblings would have tried to shake off their younger sisters, citing embarrassment and annoyance. They would have treated them poorly, teased them into eating disorders and treated their budding self-esteem as nothing but a Hacky Sack to kick around. Jennifer never did. She gave me support. She gave me a sense of wonder, clues into growing into the kind of person I could be.
In my forties, I don’t need to try and look like my sister anymore. However, I still want to be like her. I want her intelligence, her grace under pressure, her quiet confidence. Everyone needs a guide, a growing-up-guru who sees your potential and believes in you. Jennifer was mine.
Whether her name was Generva, Genevieve, or Jennifer, I don’t think it would have changed the great person my sister was and is. And I don’t think I would have become the person I am today without her. Thank you, Jennifer!