Homeless to Harlaxton: Who do you want to be?

I used to say this story wasn’t for sale. My carefully constructed Stepford persona didn’t need any shadows. “Street cred is overrated.” Of course, I also used to say ka-ching! and that martinis were gross.


My fellow Chicago Now blogger, Exavier Pope, is a successful attorney here in Chicago with a nice family. He’s the type of guy to wear a polished suit and a stoic expression in his Facebook photo. I imagine he drives a German car and eats plenty of vegetables. Despite his buttoned-up exterior, he’s a rather sunny guy. He posts inspirational messages on social media like, “Expect the very best today!” and “Worry is no match for faith!”

Pope wrote a post on his blog yesterday revealing that he had been homeless as a teenager. Apparently his elite high school wasn’t made aware of this situation and he slipped by, unnoticed, going to class as normal. He graduated, but fell into some temptation as a young adult, pulled it together, put himself through higher education and now he gets to put “esquire” after his name. I’d say that is a pretty amazing story. Read it here.

What he didn’t expect, however, was the backlash. His credibility was called into question, which for someone who has worked hard to construct a public face that is airtight and respectable, this is one of the lowest blows. How do I know this? Because I have a similar story. And similar fears.

I know how Exavier did it. He did it like I did it. Working. Secrets. Luck.

I was a junior in high school when things reached a boiling point at my home. I wasn’t the type to get in trouble at school beyond “talking in class” and “not paying attention”. Well, there was an incident where I was busted by my gym teacher during laps for carrying funny cartoons in my sock*. (It was a big deal. The principal’s office and everything.) But I wasn’t a class-cutter or a pot smuggler or a spray-painter. Many years later my then-fiance, trying to ferret out any inclinations toward my future parenting asked, “and so what if you had been? Does that justify throwing your child out in the street?”

No. But that’s exactly what happened when I came home from work one Saturday. I had a rad job at an old lady salon where I washed blue hair for $4.75 an hour – plus tips! My mother, her bipolar disorder still years from being diagnosed, was in a rage. In retrospect I am wise enough to suspect her nerves were due to a family reunion happening that night (she hasn’t spoken to her 82-year-old parents in six years), but that day in June, 1997, it was me she had had it with.

She threw my belongings into our midwestern suburban yard – the type of place where lights go out at 8:00 and people decorate their porches for Easter – and that was it for me. Out. I didn’t see the inside of my childhood home for three years after that.

To make a long story very short, I showed up for school that fall, where I immediately disclosed my living situation to the Vice Principal who suggested I declare some sort of independent status with the superintendent’s office. I did. My friends gave me clothes, I fell into some luck and the generous hands of amazing people and I managed to not fall through the cracks. I graduated. I got a scholarship to college and took a semester in Europe. I aligned myself with people more cultured than myself, graduated college, moved to Chicago and created my new persona.

(I’m skipping the part about my $200 Dodge, a 1982 model with a column shifter that I bought from a woman wearing a muumuu who didn’t look up from her game show to sell it to me. I’m also skipping the waitressing jobs, the nursing home job where I wiped butts for minimum wage and the four-hour career at a taco joint at the mall where I was trained on the cash register by an eight-year-old. You’ll have to wait for the book.)

See the picture of the generic, marginally attractive 30-something, privileged-seeming lady in my profile picture? All a ruse. Somewhere inside, I’m still a 17-year-old who uses a t-shirt as a pillow case and might not have the 69 cents for a burrito at the Taco Bell drive-through.

I don’t harbor resentment against my parents. They were young when they had me and mental illness isn’t a walk in the park for anyone. Even though we don’t speak often and she still disappoints me, I wish my mom the best.

Am I telling you this so you feel sorry for me? No. If that’s what I wanted, I would have been shouting this from the tree-tops long before now. What I want you to think is that I’ve always been a fancy lady. I want you to know that you can be anyone you want.

A commenter flung an insult at me the other day that I’m nothing more than a sheltered princess. Do you know how hard it is to cultivate an image of a sheltered princess? Dude. Very. The day I figured out over-plucked eyebrows subtract about $100,000 from the perceived household income of a woman was like the heavens had opened.

Cheap, not cheap

A-HA! Looking like you’ve never been homeless is a very contrived ordeal. At first. Eventually you become what you want to be and now I have no trouble getting a sales clerk.

I suspect Exavier feels the same way. Going from a past you are embarrassed of to a present that is finally secure enough to admit to it is quite a feat. It may seem unbelievable, but we’re out there. Next time you roll your eyes at the asshole in the nice car or princess who “has it all” just picture them sweeping hair for minimum wage. You never know. They could have been homeless teenager.

And you? What do you want out of life? Who do you want to be? You don’t need permission. Do it. Be it.¬†Exavier and I know, it can be done.


 *I can draw a killer George Bush, a pig wearing glasses and my 9th grade math teacher.


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  • Jenna, I love this.
    You've been so successful at cultivating the image that now people resent you! That's pretty much of a coup I'd say. Of course you will never forget the real story. And I do think it will make quite a marvellous book.

  • In reply to Julie:

    It's all in the eyebrows, Jules. (And thanks.)

  • I don't get the comparison.

    The guy in the story had trouble when he was young, then went to law school and made something of himself. Happens a lot.

    The Drama Queen had some trouble when she was young - that a lot of people have - and now leeches off some man, trying to pretend that she is important.

    I don't get it. But if this is now your third post about one comment that rattled you, I'd say there might be something to that comment. You are being shielded from adversity and life by a man (for whatever brainwashed reason - chivalry? - on his part) and you seem to spend lots of his money, that sounds like the dictionary definition of sheltered princess.

  • In reply to DonRonson:


    Thank you for your input and comments on this thread. It is greatly appreciated.

    The comparison is we all can overcome challenges in our lives to enjoy the best this life has to offer. As a matter of fact, going to law school from my background is extremely rare. The statistics:

    1.8% of former foster youth attain a four year diploma
    Less than 1% of 1% of the 1.8% of the former foster youth to attain a four year diploma achieve a law degree. The number could literally fit at my kitchen table. That's not "a lot", that's rare my friend.

    Being kicked out of the house by a bipolar suffering mother who herself did not speak to her parents is emblematic of systemic familial issues, of which Mrs. Karvunidis has conquered by her current role as successful wife.

    The third post about her past is Mrs. Karvunidis coming to the realization covering up her shame with well sculpted eyebrows only serves to help herself and not others. Now she is ready to shout from the rooftops and empower other women, whether they come from similar circumstances or not.

    Thanks again for contributing to this discussion.



  • "Do it. Be it. Exavier and I know, it can be done."

    Oh. Come. On.

    1. You don't even have a real job, Sweetie.

    2. You seem to be inordinately impressed by external trappings of wealth / success, and you seem to think that everyone thinks that way. Not all people do. What a superficial life.

  • In reply to Swipsy:

    EDIT - I have left several MRA comments, but no more will be tolerated.


    I'm not going to debate whether a stay-at-home-mom of two young kids has value. The Rosen/Romney mommy wars did it for me.

    I'll take the sheltered princess comment as a compliment from now on. So thanks! By the way, how many countries have you been to? I mean, a sheltered person wouldn't have gotten out much, right? I've been to 22 (mostly in my early 20's, sleeping in hostels and train station floors).

    To any sane person reading, it may not be apparent that I have a hate group camped out on my blog called the Men's Right's Activists. They like to shape shift and claim they aren't MRA to gain credibility in my comments section, but one of the tell tale signs is googling my name non-stop then clicking on MRA-written articles about me in order to keep their "Google bombs" alive. It's pretty pathetic.

  • In reply to Swipsy:


    Thank you for commenting on this thread. It is greatly appreciated.

    I am married with 3 kids. My wife sacrifices a bit of her life as a professional artist to tend to me and the kids. It is a full time job that pulls on her. I try to support her best I can by working from home often. It's a push and pull operation on a daily basis.

    The statistics of abuse and molestation has increased over the last 40 years because parents leave their kids in the hands of strangers. We have decided not to leave our young children in the hands of strange caregivers. I applaud Mrs. Karvunidis for playing an active role in parenting her children.

    You are correct. The external trappings of wealth/success can undue a person's moral fabric. Mrs. Karvunidis speaks from the viewpoint that she has reached a certain point in her life where her past struggles look unrecognizable to others, thus her past is viewed by those who don't know her as shallow. It's a heavy weight to bear. She has come to the point where she can release the weight of caring what others think of her by sharing the struggles she has gone through.

    I value your comments. I do believe they help to contribute to the discussion and debate of the value of stay at home moms v. those who work and what they mean to the lives of the children they raise.

    All the best to you sir.


  • In reply to Exavier Pope:

    Well said, Exavier!

    I'm still not sure which has helped me more, the eyebrows or the college degree :P

  • Wow...

    First off, good for you! You should be proud of yourself.

    Secondly, people are aholes, and it's easy to be a jerk over the Internet (looking at the two trolls above, who says bullying just applied to teenagers)

  • Here's what I'm not getting about you MRA-types. If a woman works, is independent, and has no need of help from any man, she gets labeled a frigid bitch. If a woman and her husband have made the decision for the woman to stay home to raise THEIR children (Remember biology? It takes two people to make babies, boys), she's a leech and a drain on society. Which is it, boys? Should a woman be strong, independent, and employed full-time, or should she be home with her kids?

    Ya know what I think your issue with Jenna is? She's a stay-at-home-mom with a brain. She's not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. She doesn't live to serve her man. She's strong, independent, and also stays home to take on the job of raising the babies that she and her husband made together. Jenna is like a perfect storm of everything your misogynistic little brains hate, so it's either come here and dump venom all over her or have your heads explode.

    Jenna, I hope that seeing all of these morons with such a strong attachment to you proves that you're doing something right. If your life was really so banal and worthless, these guys would have gotten bored with you and moved on a long time ago.

  • In reply to Lindsey:

    Wow, well said. I really couldn't add anything to that, but every single line of this is so true.

    Jenna, haters gonna hate. Let 'em. They're only making themselves look bad. I think your story is awesome and I'm glad you finally shared it!

  • In reply to chibbz:

    Thanks, Chelsea! Thanks for supporting me. It's good to have friends.

  • I really couldn't have said it any better than Lindsey, but I will add something else. If you take the time to get to know Jenna AT ALL (including just by reading her blog) you'll have seen that she HAS worked hard outside of the home (car dealership, anyone?) and she DOES work hard inside the home. To be a "sheltered Princess" you would have to have never known adversity, (which is so beyond not true) and would have to not appreciate what you have. Jenna is blessed in her current life, this isn't being debated, but what you see as a "Drama Queen" waxing poetic on frills, I see as a woman counting her blessings and knowing just how lucky she is.

  • I'm amazed these MRA guys are still after you. You'd think that with their big important jobs and such, they wouldn't have time to troll the Internet. Truthfully, maybe they are jealous they can't get a woman. As Lindsey said, they don't like successful woman who take care of themselves and they don't like married woman who take care of their families. Sounds like they just hate women all around. As my Mother and most would say, "They only make fun of you, because they are jealous."

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