In 1989, the most popular name for girls in America was Jessica. In 2019 ...


Thirty years ago, 47,884 babies born in the United States were named Jessica, making it the most popular name for girls that year. In 2019, they are turning 30, along with others squarely in the middle of the millennial generation. It’s an age long burdened with expectation.

Jessica was the most common name for girls for several years — indicated by the blue line below — and grew in popularity before peaking in the late 1980s:

We found 10 people who were named Jessica in 1989 to see where life has taken them and to understand what confronting 30 looks like today.

What we found were people struggling to make ends meet, battling addictions, aiming higher in their careers, questioning their personal lives and reclaiming their confidence.

What we found is that there is no one way to be 30 in America today.

In the past three decades, the world as we understand it has become smaller. We stream on demand. We friend and like and follow. We carry the world in our pockets every day.

What hasn’t changed is that turning 30 continues to be a milestone moment — an opportunity to reflect and maybe even redefine.

The profiles here demonstrate these sentiments and the diverse experiences of a generation.

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Naples, Fla.

Jessica Leiti

She recognizes that her life at 30 is far from what she ever expected it to be and is focused on remaining sober.

By Janine Zeitlin

Jessica Leiti nestled into a chair on a small dock at her home in South Florida. She sipped iced coffee and looked out on the water. “After you have gone through some things, it’s nice to just sit,” she says.

Morning sun reflected off the canal that hems this seven-acre patch she shares with her boyfriend. He had left for work in Naples, a bastion of wealthy retirees on the Gulf of Mexico.

Leiti inhaled from the electronic cigarette her boyfriend purchased for her to help her quit smoking ⁠ — one of her remaining vices. It is a mild one considering her past battles with heroin and crack. Leiti is on the cusp of 30. As a little girl, she considered becoming a police officer. Her story now is not what she expected it to be.

“I know that this isn’t what 30 is supposed to be like,” says Leiti, who recently lost two jobs. “At 30, you’re usually successful. Or you have kid. Or at least a husband. Or at least a career. Or at least a driver’s license.”

She claims none of those things.

“The best way to deal with it is just to continue focusing on things keeping me away from things that could be destructive. You know, I’m proud of that at least?”

Those closest to her — her boyfriend, her mother — admire how much she has overcome to approach 30, sober and alive.

Leiti drew her long straight hair off her neck. Her hair is naturally red, like her mother’s. “It’s brutal outside.”

She was talking about the 80-degree heat, but that statement could also apply to how the world has felt for Leiti for much of her life.

A childhood photograph of Jessica Leiti in her Naples, Fla., home. As a little girl, she considered becoming a police officer. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Before she was born, her parents randomly drew “Jessica” from a handful of names. It fit, especially considering the connection her mother felt to Jessica McClure, widely known as Baby Jessica, who fell down a well when she was 18 months old in 1987.

“I cried and prayed so hard for that baby, and when she was rescued, I cried even harder,” said Karen Leiti, 63. “That’s when I knew I had enough love in me to be someone’s mom.”

Karen recalls what the doctor said when Jessica, her only child, was born: “I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but it’s a redhead.”

Her hair color would later fuel grade school bullies, who seized on Jessica’s mistakes.

“If you watch tapes from dancing when you’re a kid, tap dance and stuff, you’ll see the rest of the people going one way, and I’m like the only one going the opposite way," she says. “I always got made fun of in school because of that kind of stuff and because of being one of the only redheads.”

Jessica’s father died of lung cancer when she was 13, and her mother struggled to control her. “She had just lost her dad, and the last thing I wanted to do was holler at her,” says Karen. “I made some mistakes. I didn’t realize she was on drugs until when she got to be pretty bad.”

Jessica graduated from opiates and cocaine to intravenous drugs. At 19, she shot up morphine. “Wow, this is what I was missing my whole life,” she says she recalled thinking at the time.

Around then, she contracted hepatitis C from sharing needles. At 20, she was arrested after a sheriff’s deputy stopped her for riding a bike without lights and found eight syringes in her purse.

“I also observed several marks on her arm (very usual for drug users),” the officer wrote in the booking sheet. She told him she was depressed.

Over the years, she says, she overdosed several times.

Getting arrested forced her into treatment, which eventually took. She’s been sober for about two years now. “I wish I could say it was longer,” she says.

I’m still trying to find myself, I guess.
— Jessica Leiti

Her boyfriend is a straight edge to her jagged past.

“There won’t be any of that stuff around me,” says Douglas Rankin, 62, an estate lawyer and a prominent local Republican Party leader.

She prefers older men for their stability, she says. Her former fiance was in his 70s.

Leiti moved into Rankin’s home a month after they started dating. They met on Tinder, she says. “He makes me feel like I’m part of my family, which I feel like I’ve lost, and I love that feeling.”

Rankin says he was drawn to Leiti’s kindness and hopes that in her 30s, she will pursue her GED and more education. “She was doing real well until all guidance just dropped away. ... She’s overcome quite a bit.”

Karen Leiti, too, says she wishes for her daughter to be happy. Mother and daughter have lived together in Naples on and off throughout Jessica’s adult life.

“I’ve always been proud of her. Even in the drug-addiction days, even the policemen would say, ‘Your daughter’s so sweet,’” Karen says. “Now I can’t be more proud.”

On this morning, the younger Leiti’s biggest concern was finding work. She had posted a longer version of this ad on Craigslist:

29 yrs old/in good physical shape and love to do hardcore cleaning homes, offices, etc Have 4 years serving experience. (Ihop). I am told that I am a good worker, very much in tune to others and their needs.

… I can do gas station work as well. God bless and hope to hear back from someone fairly soon … ASAP would be great!

And please, no perverts.

Leiti recently lost her job as a 7-Eleven clerk, a position she held for about a year. She soon found work at an Italian cafe but was fired a few days later after nodding off while slicing cheese or bread, she says. “One of the bad, sad effects of the medicine I’m prescribed is falling asleep. ... It doesn’t look good to customers.”

Jessica Leiti in her boyfriend’s home in Naples, Fla. Leiti started using opioids as a teenager. Now, she’s navigating recovery. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

Leiti takes Klonopin for anxiety and is forgoing treatment for hepatitis C, which can cause fatigue. Her boyfriend is helping her navigate a treatment path, she says. It could be the methadone, too. She makes daily trips to a clinic. She lost her license, so her boyfriend or her mother drives her; sometimes she takes an Uber. In 2016, she was charged with reckless driving and still has fines and fees to pay.

The clinic is tucked in the back corner of a strip mall. Leiti entered through glass doors, covered with paper for privacy. On a wall is a quote attributed to Margaret Thatcher, “Sometimes you have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

She paid $17. A woman behind a glass barrier passed her a cup and Leiti drank. She felt a boost, not a high, but less heat, more relief. In recent months, Leiti has reduced her methadone dosage. She imagines a day when she will be free of this routine.

Turning 30 is not such a big deal, she says after leaving the clinic. She knows people her mom’s age who haven’t figured it all out. Maybe 40 will be her 30. “I’m still trying to find myself, I guess,” she says. “I’m made to do something more.”

Update: By the summer, Jessica Leiti faced an additional hardship: Her mother died July 3. “It’s like somebody just removed something from my body,” Leiti says. Her mother’s roommate was arrested and faces a murder charge, according to reports. Leiti says she is shocked and angry but committed to her sobriety.

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

What is one item from your childhood that you have held onto?

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

What is the last thing you looked up on the Internet?

What does your ideal night off look like?

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Albany, N.Y.

Jessica Rosario

After ending a five-year relationship, she is focusing on her music and wants people to know her name.

By Sheila Regan

Newly single and starting over in Albany, N.Y., Jessica Rosario is more motivated than ever to take her music career to the next level.

The Puerto Rican rapper who grew up in New York says she is street smart but knows how to make a campfire like the back of her hand, she was burned by love, but it’s okay: She funnels it all into her lyrics.

“It’s mostly street and love, that’s it,” she says.

She goes by Jess, but some know her by her stage name, Royelle. The name comes from trips to Medieval Times with her father when she was little. “I always think I’m the boss of things,” she says. “Like royalty: Royelle. It kind of just came with my personality.”

Rosario also liked that Royelle sounds feminine. Because, despite the sporty clothes she often buys from the men’s section and what some in her family say ⁠ — “You look like a boy” ⁠ — she is definitely a woman.

Jessica Rosario is a Puerto Rican rapper who grew up in New York. Rosario often buys from the men’s section and has an extensive hat collection. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

“I’m just not that type of girl,” Rosario says.

Once, a few years ago, she wore a dress for her friends’ wedding, but that was a one-time event.

“I don’t want to be a man in any kind of way,” she says. “I think that’s why I’m a lesbian, because I love me, so I love women.”

Rosario has moved around often, mostly up and down the East Coast, but her Queens accent betrays her roots. Her parents were teenagers there when she was born and split up soon after. According to her mother, Wilberlyn Feria, who goes by Hazel, Rosario sounds like her dad when she laughs but looks like her mom when she smiles.

“She likes to speak her mind — she gets that from both of us, because I’m like that and her dad’s side of the family — they’re all like that,” Feria says. “But the conscientiousness she gets from me.”

Rosario spent most of elementary school in Queens but moved to Florida after her father relocated there. “He was a good dad to her,” Feria says. “Even though we were separated, he was always involved in her life — take her for the weekends, buy her clothes — she never needed anything with him. He always took care of her.”

They lived in Florida for two years, but after Feria was involved in an abusive relationship with another man, she and Rosario moved to Upstate New York.

Rosario says she vividly remembers the time that man kicked her mother while Feria was pregnant.

“I pulled a knife on him,” Rosario says. “I think that’s what woke my mother up.”

Rosario was about 13 at the time.

She’s seen him since becoming an adult, she adds, but she’s not afraid of him. “He’s a coward because he beats on women.”

Rosario’s father, now deceased, was part of the Latin Kings street gang, but he kept that part of his life away from his daughter. Her mother, meanwhile, aspired to be a singer, and Rosario’s earliest memory of performing was at a talent show rehearsal when she was 4 years old. Her mother’s performing partner, a rapper, hadn’t shown up, and she recruited Rosario to replace him.

“I went up there and I did his rapper’s part,” she says. “I remember the whole crowd going, ‘Go shorty! Go shorty!’ And right then, I knew I just loved the stage.”

Soon after, her mother bought a karaoke machine to record homemade demos. “Once Jessica grabbed that microphone, she started singing Mary J. Blige songs. She couldn’t hardly talk, but she could sing ‘Real Love’ really good. That’s when I knew she had rhythm and soul,” says Feria.

Rosario wrote her first rap when she was 12 years old. But once they moved to Upstate New York, she found there was less opportunity there than in Queens, where Jennifer Lopez once visited her school. In Queens, she was part of a large community of people of color. Upstate, she says, she is often the only nonwhite person in the room.

Since President Trump was elected, she’s seen an uptick in people in her community being openly racist. “People are more proud and open about it out here,” she says, adding that someone recently called her brother the n-word.

Although she often commutes down to New York City for gigs and recording sessions, Rosario has spent the past five years in a small town near Saratoga, N.Y. That’s where she lived with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s two children before they broke up.

Now that they’ve split, she’s moving so she can more easily make regular trips to the city. In the meantime, she works as a driver for Lyft, runs a hookah-delivery business and does construction on the side.

Jessica Rosario, in the dining room of an Airbnb in Albany, N.Y., is a rapper who goes by the stage name Royelle. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

She’s hoping to get her songs onto TV, in commercials and movies, as well as on the big streaming services.

“I hope that the right person discovers her,” her mother says. “She’s different. She looks different, so she stands out. My biggest thing for her is to keep making the right choices as she has for most of her life, because that’s what is going to make you a star. Use that conscience that you have always been using.”

But being in the music business is an expensive career choice. “I’m sure if I had more of a dedicated team backing me up, it would be way easier, but I’m a one-man team,” Rosario says. “I think it has to do with — pardon my French — I don’t have big t--s and a big a--, so it’s harder to attract the men to follow me and worship me.”

Still, Rosario gets respect for her lyrics when people do hear her rhyme.

The labels, she says, “are picking all these guys that sound the same, look the same, but there’s a girl out here that y’all haven’t seen before, and I don’t look like Cardi B. I don’t look like Nicki Minaj. I’m different.”

Meanwhile, she’s working the social media angle, which doesn’t come naturally for her. “I would say that’s my weakness,” she says. “People always tell me, ‘You need to promote more on social media, that’s where it’s at.’ But it’s just that I hate bragging. I’m just a humble person. … I feel like I don’t have anything to prove to anyone but myself, and that’s what social media is.”

Social media is one of the aspects of her generation she says she likes least. But as she looks toward turning 30, she is taking it all in stride, doing whatever it takes to help her career.

Rosario recalls when her producer, now 33, turned 30 years old. “He was like, I got to start taking this music seriously. So I thought, yeah, a lot of people think, if anything, they want to take things more seriously.”

I see how people act at 56, 60, years old and I think wow, I got nothing to worry about.
— Jessica Rosario

Still, Rosario says she’s not afraid to get older. “I see how people act at 56, 60 years old, and I think, wow, I got nothing to worry about.”

By the time she’s in her 50s, Rosario wants to have traveled the world.

“I believe you only live once, and there’s only going to be one me, and I’d like to have the best life. … The older I get, the more I learn and the greater the experiences come. I’m starting to make the right choices, and the right choices lead to great opportunity, and when I have opportunities, I feel great.”

For now, the track she’s on is a solo journey.

In November, Rosario’s girlfriend, while out drinking with her friends, broke up with her over the phone. That betrayal prompted Rosario’s latest decision to move, she says, and to renew her focus on her career.

“Honestly, it’s hard for me to trust somebody right now. I’m just completely focused on my music,” she says.

Maybe if someone comes along who shares her goals, she’ll give them a chance, but she’s not concentrating on love right now.

“I’m going to take advantage of this and just work all the time,” she says. “Because I spent a lot of time playing a family woman and, you know — I don’t think I was really ready for that.”

Update: Rosario recently started a new relationship with a woman she says is supportive of her music career.

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

What is one item from your childhood that you have held onto?

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

What does your ideal night off look like?

Where do you like to shop for clothes?

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Denver, Colo.

Jessie Read

He shied away from identifying as queer but now finds working with trans, non-binary and questioning people to be his calling.

By Molly Woodstock

Jessie Read is sitting in his home in Denver, wearing blue wire-rimmed glasses, surrounded by contemporary texts on Buddhism and his two Chihuahua mixes, Eli and Harper.

“I always had a sense that my 30s [were] going to be my time to thrive,” he says. “I feel really excited to be 30.”

By many measures, Read is already thriving. A counselor with a burgeoning private practice, he has had a busy day at his other two part-time jobs: First, he led two young children through behavioral therapy, then he picked up the 5-year-old he nannies for an afternoon of pizza, ice cream and exploring at the Children’s Museum of Denver. All three children are on the autism spectrum.

“I kind of fell into it,” Read says of his work with children who have autism. “In college, I was working at summer camps, and I was always most interested in working with the kids who were most misunderstood by other staff.” Growing up in Atlanta, Read says, he sometimes felt like a misunderstood kid, too. He struggled to focus on his homework and spent middle school being “very angry and very punk.”

Jessie Read and his partner, Catie, display hand-written notes in their kitchen in their Denver home. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

As Read began to age out of his punk phase, he also started making weekly trips to visit his grandmother, Ruth Read, for pot roast and conversation. Read was inspired by Ruth’s lifelong political activism, as well as her kindness toward people regardless of race, sexual orientation or ability. “She’s where a lot of my values of justice come from,” Read says. “She’s always had an open door for anybody, and all different kinds of people from all different places seek her out and call her ‘Mom.’”

It’s an ethos that informs Read’s career, including his work with children on the autism spectrum. “A lot of behavior therapy treats kids as … robots or objects or things to be manipulated,” he says. “I’m really into their dignity and their worth and what they’re bringing into the world.”

Although he sees value in behavioral therapy, Read increasingly finds himself focused on his practice, where he counsels non-binary and transgender clients of all ages. That specialty is a natural fit for Read, who is queer and trans. But he hasn’t always felt so drawn to other LGBTQ folks. When he started transitioning toward a more masculine presentation in his early 20s, he struggled to find and accept his identity. “I was like … ‘I’m definitely not queer, and I don’t like queer people,’” Read says.

Over time, a therapist gently helped him accept his own queerness. It was one of several times an LGBTQ-identified therapist would change his life. Years later, in graduate school, Read initially shied away from working with transgender clients, thinking the subject matter would be too difficult and personal. But after seeing a transgender counselor, “a lot of what I believed about myself changed,” he says. “I was like, ‘Now I only want to work with trans people.’”

There were other reasons Read felt compelled to serve this population, too. In his graduate program, for example, he often found himself educating his professors and other students about gender, trans identity and social justice.

“There were a lot of hurdles,” says Jessie’s partner, Catie, whom he married in 2016. “He is one of the most determined people I know. When he cares about something, he’s really, really focused and gives everything that he has — and more than he has, sometimes.”

Read graduated with a master’s degree in clinical mental-health counseling in 2018 and reports that, so far, he has yet to work with a cisgender client. Instead, he draws on his lived experience and his professional training to help trans, non-binary and questioning people explore their identities in a safe, affirming space.

I identify as I don’t like gender.
— Jessie Read

“One of my favorite parts is to be able to [tell a client], ‘You don’t have to talk about being trans in that kind of way,’” Read says. “’You can tell your story to me in a way that’s authentic to you. Being trans is the most common experience in this room.’”

(When asked to specify his own gender identity, Read replied, “I identify as I don’t like gender.”)

The hardest part of his job, Read says, is being unable to control the world outside his office. Sure, he can sit with a client and talk through issues, but he can’t stop anti-transgender legislation — think “bathroom bills” — from winding through the political system. Nor can he prevent the harassment and discrimination transgender children and adults often experience from family, peers, employers and strangers.

It’s a tough spot to be in for a person so dedicated to action and social justice. “Even if it might be uncomfortable or scary, it’s really important to both of us that we stand up for the things that we believe are right,” says Catie. “Especially when it’s hard.”

Despite these intractable societal hurdles, Read seems enthusiastic about the future, at least as it relates to his personal life. He looks forward to having children and often catches himself fantasizing about parenthood, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places, such as the airport security line. “I was like, ‘Oh, we’d have a little diaper bag and carry it through the metal detector,” he says, laughing. “If I want a baby going through security at the airport, I [must] really, really want a baby.”

Jessie Read works with non-binary and transgender clients of all ages in his psychotherapy practice. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

Read is excited about other aspects of his 30s, too. Professionally, he has started a pair of support groups for “gender-expansive” children and teens and is contributing a chapter to a social work textbook about supporting trans and non-binary clients who are in the process of coming out. The recent graduate says he also hopes to carve out more free time for personal pursuits, from camping, hiking and backpacking to meditation and banjo-playing.

Read doesn’t deliberately seek out pastimes that turn his attention away from social media, but his hobbies often provide a much-needed break from the flood of negative news that frequently crowds his media feeds.

“Even on my Facebook, it’s a lot of mostly sad stories about trans people,” he says. “It’s starting to change a little bit, but we just need more good stories.” But after a day spent exploring the outdoors with Catie, he’s ready to throw himself back into his day job: improving the lives of trans and gender-expansive Coloradans.

“He’s a very empathetic person, and I think that’s going to make all the difference in what he’s trying to do, because he’s going to understand the people that he’s working with,” says Read’s grandmother, Ruth. “This is kind of a new field, and I think he’s going to make a difference. I think he’ll do very important things.”

We asked Jessie some questions.
Here are his answers.

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

What does your ideal night off look like?

Where do you like to shop for clothes?

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

(Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Seoul, South Korea

Jessica Jung

The K-pop star is living a public life but still values her privacy and family.

By Kristen Millares Young

Jessica Jung is all business.

Her comfort zone is a plane seat, where she writes the airy song lyrics that made her a global K-pop star, training for her celebrity from an early age. “My fans saw, they watched me grow,” she says.

Fame can blur boundaries. She makes friends with her stylists. She promotes products and, with them, herself. It can be hard to come back to the core of it all, the art-making, though what she does for a living, aside from running the businesses built from her brand, is entertain.

“I am always aware of audience,” Jung says, whether it be for her music videos in the five years since she was “forced out” of the South Korean girl band Girls’ Generation (SNSD), or her advertising campaigns for her Blanc & Eclare fashion brand, or the curated glamour of her celebrity for 8.8 million Instagram followers, or her reality show with her sister Krystal, or her appearances at New York Fashion Week.

“You know, I’ve been working since I was so young that it’s just in me,” Jung says of living her life in the public eye. “I don’t try too hard. I do know what they want to see and what should remain private. ... They want a lot of music. They want to see me traveling. They want to interact with me and my lifestyle, who I am friends with, that kind of stuff.”

When asked about privacy, Jung says, “It’s just a given. Even as a trainee, everything is so secretive, so private. You’re taught to keep private, not to reveal your feelings, your relationships — like, no boyfriend — and stuff like that. I learned to deal with it.”

Subjects she did not want to discuss included her dating status, though she is rumored to be in a relationship with Tyler Kwon, the chief executive of Coridel Entertainment, one of her representatives. “I don’t really want to talk about that,” Jung says of a romantic partner, “just because it’s a sensitive topic in Korea and throughout Asia. It’s still like that, culturally, kind of.”

Kwon has been photographed with Jung across the globe and spent an hour, as he jokingly put it, “lurking in the back” during a phone interview for this story.

“Some people do reality shows in their house, reveal their closet and every part of their house,” Jung says. “I keep my house private, my family private and possibly, if I can, my relationship private.”

Jung was born in San Francisco, but her parents moved their preteen daughters to Seoul after the girls were scouted by a South Korean talent agent.

“My mom was always very supportive. I don’t think she knew exactly that I would become a singer or an actress or a designer,” Jung says. “Before, she wanted me to be an international lawyer or an anchorwoman. But yeah, I think she’s happy now.”

She and Krystal “are just very different,” Jung says of her younger sister. “I never knew until I started working with her.”

In an interview that made waves with K-pop fans, Jessica said she and Krystal would film a second season of their show, “Jessica & Krystal,” in the United States, that would focus on how they spend their leisure time — picnics with friends, naps on the couch — everything they gave up in their shared hope to become icons.

Now I have a say in what I want to do.
— Jessica Jung

“Definitely, I didn’t really get to hang out with my friends growing up. I was kind of missing out on school, and I didn’t get to go to the dance parties or that kind of stuff,” Jung says, laughing.

On turning 30, Jessica says she has no regrets about spending nearly two decades on the circuit, supported by her mother.

“My mom was 27 when she had me. You know, I do sometimes think of that — how did my mom do it? Twenty-seven is so young,” Jung says. “I do imagine having a kid, but later. I want a daughter, and I want to play dress up. I want her to be a little princess.”

That sentiment is fitting, perhaps, especially considering that “Little Princess” and “Ice Princess” are among the nicknames her legions of fans have bestowed upon her.

Jung spends her birthdays with her fans, but in the years since her sudden exit from Girls’ Generation, she has been “concentrating on myself and focusing on myself, traveling alone — now that I am a solo artist, when I travel, I am more relaxed and happy, and I’m not irritated by anything. Everything is smooth, and I’m in a good mood.”

Looking forward, she says, “I am embracing my age, actually. I want to grow into a woman that can inspire people and be happy where she is. … Honestly, I try to put my happiness first. If I am happy, my work quality is better. I learned that not too long ago.”

Even with the support of a manager, representatives and other assistants, Jung stays organized enough to juggle multiple careers, all with one aim: fame, and the many fruits it yields, even though it sometimes means being too busy to eat.

“Now I have a say in what I want to do. I have a say in my music and even for my brand. I produce things that, generally, I like,” Jung says. “A long time ago, I didn’t have that.”

Still, she credits her success to years of training to sing and dance alongside other performers. “It could be frustrating at times, but you learn so much from being in a group and [being] tightly managed,” Jung says. “That’s where I learned everything.”

She made her debut as an actress a decade ago, starring as Elle Woods in a South Korean theater adaptation of “Legally Blonde.” In the past few years, she has made appearances on TV shows and was featured in the Chinese romantic comedy “I Love That Crazy Little Thing” (2016), though her dealings in China have led to ongoing legal disputes.

Jessica Jung attends 2018 New York Fashion Week. A K-pop star, she hopes to grow personally and professionally in her 30s. (Daniel Zuchnik)

But she keeps going, always. Having made music that “was very uplifting, very bright and bubbly, now I kind of want to do something different, something I haven’t done before,“ Jung says. “Something more about becoming a woman and having a stronger message.”

Her next evolution, she says, “would be like expanding my fan base.” She has her sights set on accessing the Australian and European markets.

“Koreans are very innovative. It’s a very fast-paced place,” says Jung, who goes by Jessica as well as Soo-yeon. “They switch it up and try to do new things; they learn and evolve.”

Yet, at the same time, the traditional and commercial demands of South Korean culture have produced a woman who, having profited from living life onstage and on screen, does not want to claim her partner, name her parents or discuss her spirituality in public for fear of alienating her fan base.

“I am Christian-curious. … I go to church,” Jung says. “Growing up, I never had a religion. The thing is, I am also not comfortable talking about religion. It could be sensitive.”

Fame demands discipline, drive and a certain amount of isolation. “I accept the fact that I need to cope with these kind of things,” Jung says. “If I think about it too much, or get irritated about something, in the end, it’s just bad for me.”

When asked what the next decade holds for her, Jung says: “What I ultimately want is to grow with my fans. As I become a woman — I am a woman now — as I become more mature, I want my fans to be mature with me and learn everything with me and grow.”

For her part, she plans to focus on “understanding and accepting the surroundings — accepting my age — accepting everything.”

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Emeryville, Calif.

Jessica Grant

Working in a male-dominated industry, she feels constant pressure to prove herself and move up the ladder.

By Soo Youn

In her spare time, Jessica Grant wakes up at 5 a.m., does some cardio, eats the first of three to six meals a day — two ounces of fish or lean meat and asparagus or spinach, maybe a cup of rice or oatmeal — and drinks the first glass of a gallon of water, all of which she plans and measures in advance.

Strict as it is, the regimen is meant to propel her to the next level of her most passionate pursuit — bikini bodybuilding. After winning amateur competitions in 2017, she says she hopes to compete on the circuit sanctioned by the National Physique Committee, the largest amateur-bodybuilding organization in the United States.

She’s extremely social, an extrovert’s extrovert, and training means she cuts out a lot from her life: no drinking, no meals out, no parties, no real boyfriend. When she’s building her competition body, she becomes a completely different person.

“It’s pretty cool to see her transformation when she’s doing bodybuilding,” says her friend, Alisa Shaheen. “And then when she’s not, we go out and have fun, laughing and doing things.”

In a matter of months, this 5-foot-8-inch woman will transform herself. Right before the holidays, she weighed about 150 pounds. In competition, she expects to weigh in at 135.

Jessica Grant won amateur bikini bodybuilding competitions in 2017. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Meanwhile, she works full time at a staffing company in San Francisco. Grant is someone who is often (if not always) on.

“The hustle is very, very real for me,” she says.

She’s constantly striving. She lives in the Bay Area, but she’s not a “techie.” (She’s in sales.) To perform in this world, this former theater kid is constantly asking questions so she can talk artificial intelligence and automation with her clients. She’s from the East Coast and used to wear suits and dresses. Now she’s learned to dress down to fit in. She reads the room. Constantly.

“I’m always looking to climb up the ladder. I’m in a male-dominated industry, so I feel as though I have to fight very hard for my place and to show that I’m just as good as the boys,” she says. “I feel like I’m in a race with the clock because sometimes I feel like I’m not where I want to be.”

The clock, and to some extent, turning 30.

“I am having a fit with accepting my age. I want to be in my 20s forever. I think that the society that we live in puts a lot of emphasis on time,” she says. “There’s always deadlines, whether it be work or whether it be in your personal life.”

Socially, age doesn’t matter to her. Most of her friends are already in their 30s and 40s.

One of her close friends, Dannelle Mielbrecht, is 47. They met in 2015, when she hired Grant to work at a different staffing firm. They remain close and talk on the phone at least every other day.

“Her persona is not what I typically deal with at that age,” Mielbrecht says. “She’s not just physically stunning, she’s emotionally very mature. She’s very aware of her surroundings. She adjusts so she creates a comfortable environment, but she doesn’t like drama. She doesn’t pull any BS, she’s very frank.”

There’s always deadlines, whether it be work or whether it be in your personal life.
— Jessica Grant

Grant has come to realize that a lot of the East Coast directness in her persona can come across as “brusque” or “mean” to those accustomed to the equivocating vibes of California. One former manager suggested she include smiley emoji in her work emails, which could otherwise be interpreted as “harsh.” When she moved to the Bay Area in 2015 to join her mother, who had relocated, she says she experienced culture shock.

It’s tempting to use the map of her life as a Rorschach test for America. Grant was born in New Jersey to parents who have roots in the South. (Grant avoids all of “that good stuff” her mother cooks and maintains an abstemious diet during the months she trains.)

When she was 8 or 9 years old, her family moved to Pennsylvania, “because my mother wanted us to be in a better school district,” she says. “I swear to God, that was like a foreign country over there.”

From those blue-collar towns to San Francisco, she’s had a front-row seat to some of the oldest U.S. economies to the most futuristic.

Maybe it’s because she has moved so frequently, she says, that it seems like she’s always trying to fit in — to figure out how to make tough situations work. She’s keenly aware of how she’s received, starting with her name.

“I honestly think that my name has contributed to getting me where I am in life. Because when someone sees the name ‘Jessica Grant,’ I certainly don’t think that they expect me to walk into the room,” she says, referring to the fact that she is often assumed to be a white woman.

There’s no getting around that race is a running theme in Grant’s life. Hers was the rare black family in those Pennsylvania neighborhoods. And there was real prejudice, she says, so much so that the family moved.

In college in Chicago, she did some modeling, and she thought about a career on Broadway, but her slim chances of success, particularly as a black woman, dissuaded her.

Jessica Grant in her home in Emeryville, Calif. Grant works full time at a staffing company in San Francisco. Outside of work, she competes as a bikini bodybuilder. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

“I’m so proud to see a lot more African Americans in the media these days in a lot of acting roles,” she says. “When I was younger, there wasn’t a lot of that, so I felt as though the window of opportunity for me would be much more limited than that of a white girl, or other cultures that maybe could pass for multiple ethnicities.”

“I would go into audition rooms and they’ll give me the line, and I’ll deliver the line, and they’ll say to me, ‘Okay, can you say that again but do it ghetto?’” she says. “Really? So basically the only way for me to be successful in this is if I’d be the ghetto black girl.”

Even in her current home of Emeryville, Calif., she’s aware that she’s often the only black woman in the room.

“Honestly, I think about it all the time. I really would love to have more black friends, but I hate to say it, I don’t relate to a lot of my own culture at times. Isn’t that kind of crazy, how you can be outcast from one but then can’t even relate to your own kind sometimes?” she says.

She knows she’s had an unconventional life, and she’s “just now getting to a place where I’m starting to become more comfortable with the fact that these are the choices that I made for myself thus far,” she says. “Granted, in a couple of years, will I look back at the choices I made and regret, thinking, ‘Well, maybe you should’ve did that different?’ Well, I don’t know. Who’s to say?”

Update: Grant recently changed jobs and currently works as the recruiting staff manager for Bon Appetit at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors.

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

What is the last thing you looked up on the Internet?

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

Where do you like to shop for clothes?

(Laura Buckman for The Lily)

Fort Worth, Texas

Jessica Lynch

She helped her now-husband get sober and looks forward to what the future holds for her family.

By Brittney Martin

It’s a rare gift when a 5-year-old lets his parents sleep in on a Saturday morning. It was about 9 a.m. when Jessica Cofsky opened her eyes, savoring a quiet house as the significance of the day washed over her. By the next morning, she would be Jessica Lynch.

The wedding was small, but elegant. A friend offered to host the ceremony in their backyard, which overlooks Eagle Mountain Lake outside Fort Worth, where she lives. Ribbons and foliage adorned white chairs to create a classic, rustic look. Jessica’s stepfather helped her build an arch covered in green vines and white flowers that frames the happy couple in every picture.

The couple has been together for seven years, and they share a son, Brody. Their second child is on the way. Still, Jessica wanted to make absolutely sure they were right for each other before tying the knot.

“I was always afraid of getting married,” Jessica says. “I’ve seen so many people get divorced and my parents were divorced, and I’ve just always told myself that I would never, ever go through a divorce.”

Once he was old enough to notice, Brody started asking why his mom had a different last name than he and his father.

“We were just like, ‘Okay, we have a family, we should really make this official,’” Jessica says. “We’re going to be together. We love each other.”

On March 2, she donned a white lacy dress and walked down the aisle, accompanied by her brother.

A little more than a week after the wedding, she celebrated her 30th birthday.

As far as the proverbial checklist is concerned, Jessica has a lot crossed off. In addition to being a wife and mother, she recently became a college graduate. And she’s putting her degree to work as an accountant for a family-run company that installs home entertainment systems.

“I definitely feel like there are a lot of major life milestones I’ve accomplished,” she says. “I feel good about where life is headed for sure.”

Jessica Lynch, in her home in Fort Worth, and her husband will welcome their second child in September. (Laura Buckman)

It’s a life she couldn’t have imagined for herself just five years ago, when she was unemployed and pregnant with her son. Her partner, now her husband, was struggling with a long-held opioid addiction. He didn’t have a steady job, and what he did earn “wasn’t being spent well, to say the least,” Jessica says.

She fell into a depression that persisted throughout her pregnancy.

“I felt like I wasn’t ready to be a mom,” she says. “I felt like, ‘Oh man, I hope that we’re doing the right thing. I hope that this all works out.’”

Her doubts vanished when Brody was born.

“I realized I do have everything it takes to be a good mom.”

Jessica’s husband, Jaron Lynch, says watching her become a mother was “amazing.”

“She knew right away that it was her responsibility to raise that little boy, and every single day she strives to be a better parent,” says Jaron, 36. “She loves that kid more than life itself.”

Jaron hoped having a child would solve all of his problems and force him to grow up. And eventually, he says, it did.

He was 16 when a wakeboarding accident left him with a compound fracture in his leg — where the broken bone pierced through the skin. He was first prescribed opioids to help manage the pain. Afterward, he underwent two knee surgeries and continued using the drugs for pain management. Soon, he was addicted.

“I tried to get sober when Brody was first born,” Jaron says. “I was successful for four or five months, then I gradually got back into it for two or three months. Then I tried to get sober again, and I was sober for about eight months.”

It went on like that for years until finally, nearly three years ago, he entered a 30-day rehab facility. When he left, he made the difficult decision to move into a sober home.

“During that year that I was in the sober home, I went over to Jessica’s apartment every night to put Brody to bed,” he says. “I was there every weekend, and I did that for one year straight. So, for him, it was like I was there.”

He says it was the toughest thing he’s ever done. Through it all, Jessica stuck by his side.

“She always wanted better for me and could see the good side of me,” he says.

After her wedding makeup was applied and her hair was affixed in two loose braids that joined together to resemble a crown, Jessica’s mother handed her a letter.

“My dearest Jessica,” it read, “I have watched you grow into a beautiful, caring, courageous and sensitive woman. … You took care to become the kind person that you are. I watch you carefully and take note of the words you choose to use and how you choose to treat others. … You have inspired me to become a better person, to be more tolerant, to stop and think before I fly off the handle.”

“I’m always open to hear other people’s points of view,” Jessica says.

I’m always open to hear other people’s points of view.
— Jessica Lynch

When it comes to politics, she says she voted for President Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again in 2020. Though she disagrees with his stance on some social issues such as abortion, she — like many Texans — is concerned about illegal immigration.

She says she’s not worried about her safety but believes it’s an issue of fairness.

“Everyone should have to play by the same rules,” Jessica says. “If you’re going to go to the schools and go to the hospitals, then you too should be documented and paying taxes under your own identity.”

She says people often assume that she is a “bigot” when she says she voted for Trump and that she wishes people were more open-minded. “I don’t agree with everything he does or says, but I agree with protecting our country,” she says. “I would love for everyone to be able to hear the other side and perhaps gain some understanding on both sides.”

Jessica says she feels hopeful as she looks toward the next decade of her life. Soon, she’ll welcome a new baby and looks forward to watching both of her children grow.

Jaron’s successful new roofing company will allow her to stay home with the baby, at least part time, which wasn’t financially possible for them when Brody was born.

Eventually, she might start her own business and create something for herself. She isn’t sure what the future holds, but she says she plans to stay true to herself.

Her mother’s letter sums up where life at 30 has brought Jessica:

“By the time you were 25, you had lived through sorrows and hard lessons that life teaches us all, for that is how we grow,” it reads. “You now have the three most important reasons to live life to the fullest: Jaron, Brody and baby Lynch.”

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Toledo, Ohio

Jessica Amos

She struggled with anxiety after giving birth and hopes to eventually grow her family through adoption.

By Sarah Stankorb

An American flag flaps in the winter wind outside Jessica Amos’s house, a bluish-gray two-story in a quiet Toledo neighborhood of ’70s-era homes. It’s a stable, cozy place, about 20 minutes from where she grew up.

Amos is dressed in a gray T-shirt and leggings, with 6-month-old Audrey riding on her hip. Her 4-year-old daughter, Annabelle, bounds around Amos’s legs, wanting to chat, wanting to play, wanting her mother’s undivided attention. With a gentle firmness, Amos shuttles her off to play in the other room and sets up Audrey on a blanket.

Audrey gurgles on a carpet Amos says they’re replacing as soon as their income tax refund comes.

She looks through a box of childhood possessions.

Included are a stack of pristine “Little Mermaid” books, with the “This book belongs to:” pages blank. She would have gotten into trouble if she wrote her name in them, she says. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up.”

There’s a Dream Wedding Barbie still in her box. Amos laughs at the frayed cardboard top. “I wanted to open it, as you can tell.” Next is a black Ken doll — also still in his box — her mother gave to her when Amos was 16. She doesn’t know why. Maybe to match “my parents and make biracial babies,” she says, laughing. Her laugh is easy, contagious.

Amos’s mother, Joyce Harris, who is white, moved to Toledo for beauty school and wound up working at a Big Boy restaurant on Airport Highway with Amos’s father, Jeffrey Harris, who is black and was the chef and manager there. Joyce lived in Perrysburg, which Jessica calls “the uppity part of town.”

Jeffrey was often pulled over when he would drive to pick her up.

“My grandparents actually wanted my mom to have an abortion when she got pregnant with me, because of the mixed race,” Amos says.

They thought the child would be mocked, that no one would like her.

Jeffrey’s mother wasn’t thrilled with Joyce, either. She “did not like white people,” Amos says.

The first year of her life, “my father wasn’t really around because he was denying the fact that I was his.”

Her parents married after Amos’s biological brother came along 18 months after she was born. In those early years, her father was verbally abusive to her mother, she says. While her mother ran her own hair salon, he bounced between jobs — fired from one, he told the family, for beating the boss at golf and rubbing it in his face. That “could possibly be true,” Amos says.

Do I fit in with the white crowd or do I fit in with the black crowd?
— Jessica Amos

Things changed, though, when Amos was about 10 years old and her father found Jesus. When she was 16, her parents began fostering children and eventually adopted five.

Her memories from that middle part of childhood are filled with singing, violin lessons and some of the teasing her grandmother had anticipated.

Most of her life, she says, she felt pressure to decide: “Do I fit in with the white crowd or do I fit in with the black crowd?” She is still skilled at code-switching.

She first met her husband, Steven Amos, in a junior high church youth group but found him immature and annoying. They met again during college — he literally ran into her with golf bags at the same spot, twice, a year apart. “Looking back, God kept sending me clues, and I kept ignoring them,” Steven says.

For Jessica, Steven was supposed to be a rebound. Soon after they started dating, she left for an internship hours away in Loveland, Ohio, in the greater Cincinnati area. She figured the romance would fizzle. But when Steven showed up at her door with a clutch of flowers two weeks into her internship, she knew, “Oh, he’s it. He’s the one,” she says.

Three years after they started dating, and 20 days after she graduated from the University of Toledo, Jessica and Steven were married. Six months later, she became pregnant with Annabelle. She had gone off birth control with a “Let’s see what happens” attitude and gotten pregnant within two weeks.

Jessica Amos of Toledo, Ohio,created shadow boxes documenting the births of her two daughers, 6-month-old Audrey and 4-year-old Annabelle. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Annabelle tiptoes back in, spy-like, and slinks up to her mother’s side, wanting to listen. Amos brushes the girl’s hair back gently and gives her some ideas of what she can play next.

Doctors had to induce labor when Annabelle was born; then Jessica hemorrhaged and needed four blood transfusions.

“At the time, we didn’t know how serious it was,” Steven tells me later.

Breast-feeding Annabelle was difficult, too, and Jessica didn’t leave their apartment for three and a half months. Neither she nor Steven recognized that she had postpartum depression — he thought it was hormones.

It was during this time that she had her first anxiety attack.

“I thought I was going to die.” She remembers saying, “I can’t breathe.”

“It tested our marriage in the extreme,” she adds.

Soon after, she began a ministry program at Mount Vernon Nazarene University and eventually decided to pursue pastoral counseling.

Amos has long struggled with test anxiety, and when it came time to take the National Counselor Exam, she failed. She landed a job as a case manager, offering school-based and outpatient mental-health services for children. She has since failed the test once more, her anxiety thwarting her again.

“I’ve been saying that I’m going to get on anxiety meds for four months now,” she says, “and I still haven’t.”

Moms always use the excuse, “I’ve got to take care of the kids first,” she says.

Jessica Amos at her home in Toledo, Ohio. She’ll be celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary in a few years and has two children. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

At the elementary school where she works, she offers a quiet space for children on the brink of melting down in class. More than half of her clientele have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder. Among her students are children whose lives are touched by the opioid epidemic. A few have had parents overdose and die.

Audrey is soundly asleep as Amos rocks her and pats her back, her tiny head resting at her mother’s shoulder.

“There’s a first-grader that found her mother in the next room,” Amos says of one of her young charges, shaking her head. The area of Toledo where Amos grew up has the highest drug-trafficking rate in the city.

Looking toward the next decade, Amos’s goals include passing her counselor exam and getting a raise. She wants to travel, to visit Hawaii. She’ll be celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary in a few years and has two children, but still, it doesn’t feel like she’s going to be 30. “I still feel like I’m 18,” she says.

She and Steven want to try for a boy, and after that, foster and adopt. “Seeing her family and how they respond to adopting kids and the lives that they’ve changed, that’s something I want to be a part of,” Steven says.

Will she ever leave Toledo? No, Jessica says. “This is our forever home.”

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

What does your ideal night off look like?

What is the last thing you looked up on the Internet?

What is one item from your childhood that you have held onto?

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Rowland Heights, Calif.

Jessica Llamoca

As a Peruvian American, she often felt isolated from her peers growing up, but now she embraces her heritage as an important part of who she is.

By Cat Cardenas

Jessica Llamoca’s childhood is filled with the tastes and sounds of Peru.

Growing up in a Peruvian American household in the Rowland Heights suburb outside Los Angeles, her culture set her apart from her friends.

She remembers feeling different — weird, even — when the Spanish words that rolled off her tongue weren’t the same ones her other Latino friends used, or when they stared at the traditional Peruvian meals she would unpack at the school lunch table.

But she also remembers the Spanish music that would be playing in her house when she would arrive home and the tallarines verdes topped with queso fresco or the ceviche her father would prepare for her. She remembers the trips to Lima and the altitude sickness on the 10-hour drives up into the Andes Mountains to visit her grandparents’ hometown. She can still taste the fried fish her grandmother would make in the morning and picture playing with her sister and cousins in the streets of Peru.

On the verge of 30, what used to make her self-conscious now makes her proud.

“I did struggle to identify with others, especially Latinos who weren’t Peruvian,” she says. “Growing up, it would make me a little sad to feel like I was weird, but as I got older, it was so much easier to embrace those differences. My culture isn’t weird, it’s who I am.”

Jessica Llamoca's mother, Adna, cooks lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish. Llamoca lives with her parents in Rowland Heights, Calif. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Her life couldn’t be more different than those of her parents at her age. By the time they were 30, they had uprooted themselves from everything they had known in Lima to start over in America.

Her mother, Adna, was 23 when Llamoca was born. She worked as a custodian, and her husband, Ceferino, worked as an electrician, each earning money they hoped would put Jessica and her older sister, Janice, through college. Turning 30 isn’t what she thought it would be. As a child, she says, she thought it would mean having a family and a house of her own. Instead, she is living in her childhood home as she saves up to finish her master’s degree and works as a nurse nearby.

She has been in a steady relationship for eight years, but neither of them are in any rush to get married or have children. She’s content.

As a first-generation college student, it wasn’t easy to get here.

When it came to higher education, her parents struggled to make sure they were doing everything right. Once she was in school, every decision she made reminded her of how much her parents had sacrificed to get her there. “I felt really lost sometimes, but my parents worked so hard for me to graduate and get a career,” she says. “I had to push just as hard, putting in extra work to study and make good grades.”

At first, she studied to become a physical therapist, afraid her original dream of becoming a nurse would be too difficult. The workload was difficult to manage, and at times, her sister says, Llamoca would even bring her textbooks to the bar — afraid to miss out on any of the fun, but dedicated to her lifelong goal of pursuing a medical career.

Despite being the younger sibling, Jessica was always the more nurturing one, her sister says. And her interest in medicine only grew when Janice was involved in a serious car crash eight years ago.

Jessica Llamoca grew up in a Peruvian American household in a suburb outside Los Angeles. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

The incident left her in the hospital for two months, and Jessica was by her sister’s side every day. Even when Janice was released, Jessica helped her with daily tasks, including drinking and eating, and received training on how to deliver daily shots to Janice’s stomach.

“I always tease her and say that I know I’m the reason she became a nurse,” Janice says. “It brought us much closer, and I think it gave her more insight into what being a nurse would really mean.”

As a nurse, Llamoca operates as the communicator between doctors, patients and family members. For her, interacting with patients is the best part of the job.

“You really have to advocate for your patients. It can be difficult, but when you have someone experiencing 10/10 pain, and you’re giving it your all for hours to get it under control, it feels so good to know you did something to help someone,” she says.

Right now, Llamoca’s biggest challenge is juggling her work schedule with her master’s program. Although she loves being a nurse, her experience at a smaller university brought her close with her professors and sparked a new passion: teaching. She hopes to become a professor and chip away at the lack of Latina representation in the nursing field.

I’m really proud to be a Latina and it’s nice to be part of a culture where I can be an example.
— Jessica Llamoca

“I’m really proud to be a Latina, and it’s nice to be part of a culture where I can be an example. But I want to help more of us be a part of this field,” she says.

In a few years, Llamoca hopes to be teaching. When she imagines her life at 40, she pictures herself near her family, but in a place of her own, hopefully with a husband and children. She imagines herself as a professor and as someone a bit more confident and independent than she is now.

Her childhood friend of 13 years, Sandy Cabada, says Llamoca is always striving to be better. In high school, when they first met, Cabada says, she remembers thinking they didn’t have much in common — she was focused on partying with friends, while Llamoca was always focused on her schoolwork. “She expects a lot out of herself; she’s a perfectionist,” Cabada says.

Someday soon, Llamoca hopes to return to Peru with her parents. It’s been 10 years since her family last made the trip, and in the meantime, they have collected dozens of passport stamps from countries including Spain and Tanzania.

A particularly special one is Tanzania: a souvenir from a trip to celebrate Janice’s 30th birthday. After her accident, Janice was determined to hike Mount Kilimanjaro by the time she was 30. Afraid of missing a once-in-a-lifetime chance, Jessica tagged along with her, enduring a six-day trek to the mountain’s 19,341-foot summit.

It was grueling, and even though they were exhausted beyond belief, Jessica says she considers it one of her proudest accomplishments to date: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not everyone makes it to the top, but if I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

What does your ideal night off look like?

What is one item from your childhood that you have held onto?

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Keizer, Ore.

Jessyca Jones

She expected to be more financially stable at 30 and hopes to own a house one day. After feeling like she didn’t fit in, she’s found community in an unlikely place.

By Soo Youn

To hear Jessyca Jones describe her life in Keizer, Ore., conjures up scenes from the back end of an ’80s movie. Zoom past the preppy jocks, the teenagers with shirt collars popped, driving popular girls in flashy cars. Go straight to Saturday detention with “The Breakfast Club” or any playground of anti-heroes chronicled by filmmaker John Hughes.

It’s funny, because she wasn’t born until 1989.

Still, that’s the world evoked by Jones and her boyfriend, Garrett Lee, when they talk about their “chosen family,” the regulars at their local bar, f/Stop Fitzgerald’s Public House. Their friend Kirk Kindle, the owner, set up a community hangout in his ex-wife’s house. The tagline is: “Salem’s Smallest Pub.”

It’s set up like a home — patio, board games, living room furniture — to maximize human interaction. It has hosted a wedding, sparked an engagement, and it’s where Jones met Lee. She goes once or twice a week. The townhouse she shares with Lee and her 4-year-old son, Harrison, is five minutes from where she grew up, but the f/Stop is her spiritual home. It’s where her tribe of “misfits and weirdos” congregates.

Jessyca Jones with her 4-year-old son, Harrison, in their home in Keizer, Ore. They live about five minutes from where she grew up. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

Her crowd ranges in age from their 30s to their 50s. So Jones doesn’t give turning 30 much thought.

She’s also just busy. She works four 10-hour shifts a week as a medical transport driver. She wants to be an EMT and went back to school full time. After the pain-management clinic where she worked for eight years closed, she took advantage of unemployment insurance that offered an education option.

For years, she was making nearly $20 an hour. Now she makes $15 an hour.

“I put us in a little bit of a financial rut,” she says.

When Jones thinks about money — specifically, the lack of it — and the reality of living paycheck to paycheck, that’s when the magnitude of turning 30 sinks in.

“I’m always just constantly worried about money, which is sad because I don’t want to live this way, but it’s hard not to,” she says.

When she was younger, she assumed financial stability would be a given, she says. By her age, her parents had owned a house for years, even before she was born. She rents. By the time she was Harrison’s age, she had been to Disneyland.

“I felt at 30, I would be able to afford all these things for my kid. It’s not like we’re super poor or anything. He’s in school. We pay for day care. We go do fun things as a family,” she says, pausing to do the calculations in her head. “He really wants to go to Disneyland right now, and I’m like, ‘Yeah. That would be awesome, but my job doesn’t allow me to save that much money to do that.’ Eventually I’ll get there, but I guess I was expecting to be where my parents were at 30.”

... I guess I was expecting to be where my parents were at 30.
— Jessyca Jones

Anxiety about money keeps her up at night.

Thoughts race: “What’s going to happen? What if I lose my job?” Like her mother, Jones has struggled with depression and anxiety. She was officially diagnosed at 15. For depression, she takes Cymbalta. To sleep, she’s takes Trazodone.

Jones is incredibly candid. She talks openly about her finances, her guilt about her finances, her struggles. It’s something that Lee, who was in the Army, especially appreciates.

They are partners, but after a brief marriage to her high school sweetheart, she says she doesn’t want or need to get married again.

The couple dated for a few months when he returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It didn’t work out, and she started dating someone else; that’s when Harrison came along.

“I got very good at compartmentalizing and locking down and not dealing with feelings,” Lee, 36, says while on a break from his job at a Wells Fargo call center. “There was a lot of trauma I wasn’t dealing with at all. I’m going to see a VA therapist now. The military has a big counterculture about seeing a psychologist. People think you’re not mentally tough, that you’re weak. She helped me get there.”

They got back together when Harrison was 6 months old.

“I was smitten from the moment I met her,” Lee says. “There was something about her, this energy. She was vibrant, just living life. As somebody who spent a lot of time with people who are sort of dead inside, having somebody in my life who is very much alive, and very much emotional, was a big benefit.”

Although Jones underwent tubal ligation after Harrison was born (she was sick throughout her pregnancy), Lee says the couple might adopt a child someday.

Jones is thoughtful, introspective and hard on herself. Before a scheduled video interview, she texted to say she may be late: “But I can talk to you in the car on video if need be. I had a patient code soooooo that’s where I’m at lol. It’s all fine.”

It was not necessarily fine. “I’m barely human right now,” she says a few hours later. (The patient made it to the hospital.) Her job is intense. This is the second job in which she’s had a front-row seat to the opioid crisis.

And this is where her f/Stop community becomes key to managing her depression. Hers is not the motherhood of Mommy and Me classes and play dates, and that was a deliberate choice, she says. She saw her mother isolate herself raising children and how much happier she was with a social life after Jones and her younger sister grew up.

“I love her so very much, and she was an excellent mom. I just know how depressed she was. And while I am still a depressed anxious mess like everyone else, getting out and being with my friends helps my brain. I look up to my mom, but I didn’t want to do that to myself if I could help it,” Jones says.

Maybe that’s why she’s good at rallying the troops. “She goes out. She gets people out,” says her best friend, Sara Sickels.

Sickels met Jones at the f/Stop. She overheard Jones “telling some weirdo she worked with a joke about starting their own televangelist scam and I laughed awkwardly loud,” she says.

Four-year-old Harrison plays with their cat, Titus, in their townhouse in Keizer, Ore. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Just before the holidays, Jones was prepping for a Saturday outing. First, she was getting a tattoo of the actor Danny Trejo’s face on her right thigh. The tattoo artist, Bexi, is another friend from the f/Stop.

She chose Trejo because “he makes sure in every movie that he plays a villain who dies, because he wants to show that crime never pays.”

Plus, she adds, “he’s a big animal activist.”

Later, she is going to a nearby bar takeover that she organized for 30 or 40 of her usual f/Stop crew.

Further out on the horizon, which can get lost in the day-to-day, she’s working toward her goals.

“I just want to have Harrison in a good school, whatever that looks like. Own a house, hopefully. Still be doing weird things. Going to Burning Man, that sort of thing,” she says. “I still want to do that. I still want to keep that part of my life.”

Update: Jones has become an outspoken activist against local alt-right groups. She’s now studying to become a nurse, and had to give up working as an EMT in favor of making more money. She now she works as a non-emergency dispatcher. She and Lee broke up, and she has a new boyfriend, Thomas Owing. One thing that hasn’t changed? The f/stop — Jones and Owing hang out with Lee and his new girlfriend there, “like adults.”

We asked Jessyca some questions.
Here are her answers.

What does your ideal night off look like?

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

Where do you like to shop for clothes?

What is the last thing you looked up on the Internet?

(Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Charlottesville, Va.

Jess Norby

She recently discovered her own brand of feminism and is reconsidering some of the values she had growing up.

By Ruth Tam

Jess Norby is delivering a Saturday sermon of sorts.

Her church? A windowless yoga studio heated to 88 degrees in Charlottesville.

Twenty-seven cross-legged congregants are sweating on their mats as she shares a story that sounds uniquely millennial about skipping drinks with a friend and feeling guilty about it. She closes with a broad message meant to address her guilt and whatever anyone in the room is worried about at that moment: “You,” she says, pausing, “are enough.”

Soft electro-pop begins pulsing through the studio’s speakers.

Choose an affirmation, she instructs. What do you want to be today?

Her students inhale on the beat, and exhale.

Norby was born and raised in Springfield, Va. Her parents emigrated from Vietnam as refugees and met in the United States. After they married in 1988, they had Norby and named her after the actress Jessica Lange. Her sister Catherine followed in 1993. When their parents divorced a year later, she and Catherine lived with their dad in Virginia and spent weekends with their mom in Washington, D.C.

Jess Norby and her husband, Ray, document their travel on a map in their bedroom in their home in Charlottesville. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily)

Growing up, Norby recalls feeling self-conscious about a number of things: her surname at the time (Dang) and her family’s food (heavy on the fish sauce). But her introverted personality gave her the most anxiety.

“I never was the life of the party or the center of discussion,” she says. “Even now, I don’t tend to be the one telling the long story with all eyes and ears on me.”

Yoga has allowed her to role play as an extrovert. At 29, the yoga instructor, personal trainer and social media consultant can be the only voice heard in a crowded room for an hour. She can take that attention and direct it right back in the form of affirmations.

At FlyDog Yoga in Charlottesville, where Norby teaches a power vinyasa class twice a week, she selects a theme for every gathering. Some days, her practice is centered on a quote from the Instagram-famous poet Rupi Kaur. Other times, it’s a lesson gleaned from her own life, which she knows may not resonate with everyone.

“When you share parts of yourself, people are always going to be like, that was weird. Or that’s a dumb story.”

“The older I get,” she reflects, “the less I care.”

It was during yoga training in her mid-20s when Norby says she realized she was a bit of a people-pleaser. Now, the mindfulness associated with the practice has allowed her internally to quiet the voices of others and focus on herself.

Although she says she places less stock in others’ opinions, Norby is pursuing a career in social media consulting — an industry reliant on approval from strangers.

Last year, she turned down a full-time social media position at a start-up specializing in gut-health supplements to focus on her consulting business. She took a break from her personal Instagram account and started posting on her business page with paragraphs-long captions, punctuated by the occasional emoji and a small army of hashtags.

Being an independent consultant gives her “autonomy and freedom,” something she craves in a career because one day she plans to start a family with her husband, Ray, whom she met in high school chorus and started dating after a school trip to Nashville.

Although other women she knows in the small-business community encourage her to dream big, she says she steers clear of the myth of “having it all.”

“There’s no such thing as balance,” Norby says.

Jess Norby sits in the living room of her home in Charlottesville. Her parents met in the United States after they both immigrated from Vietnam as refugees. (Maya Sugarman/The Lily )

As a child, she memorized the words to songs by the Spice Girls, but to her, the “girl power” messages of the ’90s weren’t anything more than lyrics. As she grew older, feminism as a political movement seemed extreme. It wasn’t until 2018, when her friends began talking about how the world perceived them more as objects than as people that she found she could relate.

Little by little, Norby’s feminism developed. Not because of national politics, she says, but through personal experiences. She started to view these every day grievances as symptoms of society’s structural ills.

When Ray was interviewing for his medical residency, a family member urged her to support him by ironing his clothes.

“That’s not my job,” she says with a laugh. “I have a job.”

Ray didn’t hear the directive to iron his shirts, but when he found out about it later, it didn’t surprise him, he says, given the traditional mind-set of some of their relatives.

“She works on her business late into the evening every night,” Ray says. “People assume that because I’m the medical resident, I’m the one working hard. But they don’t realize how much that puts on her and that she works just as hard as I do.”

Although her feminism developed internally, outside events have forced Norby to confront other issues she never seriously considered.

A devout Catholic until last year, she has “done a 180” on her stance on same-sex marriage and has softened her views on abortion.

“I definitely support people having choices and having control over that,” she says. “I don’t know if I’m 110 percent pro-choice, but I’m not pro-life anymore.”

After news broke regarding sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, the church she used to attend in Charlottesville sent a letter to its members inviting them to join in prayer.

“It rubbed me the wrong way that the solution was to pray,” she says. “Shouldn’t there be more action? A person to call? A petition to sign?”

In 2017, when white nationalists protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, her home of six years, Norby was vacationing in Italy. She cried in the check-in line at the airport as she read the news. She felt angry, then hopeless.

She knew that if she had been in town, she would not have marched with the counterprotesters, as safety would have been a concern. But, she says, she wanted to learn more.

Returning to her “somber, heavy” city, she learned that Charlottesville had been one of the last jurisdictions in the nation to integrate its public schools; African American residents were pushed out of her city; the roads she drives on — now marked with signs that say “Love not hate!” — were paved through the neighborhoods of black families.

Ray recalls that when he and Jess were younger, she didn’t go out of her way to learn about politics and current events, but “she’s really into that now, and she does actively seek it out and tries to educate herself.”

I feel like I could still do more, but this is a start.
— Jessica Norby

She’s learning, Norby says, but she knows learning isn’t physical action. And there are so many things she is already trying to understand about herself.

“I feel like I could still do more, but this is a start,” she says.

As a child, she says, she defined adulthood by major milestones: college, work, marriage, parenthood. So far, her life has followed that traditional path. She has arrived into adulthood, even though she says she sometimes feels squarely in the middle of her “fresh, early” 20s and her “unapologetic, comfortable” 30s.

Today, she doesn’t see herself through the lens of race, faith or gender. She identifies less with how the world sees her and more with whom she wants to become: a small-business owner.

“I think when people first meet her and don’t know her super well, she comes across as a nice, put-together person,” says Ray. “But there’s more to her than meets the eye. She works incredibly hard at everything she does. … I don’t mean to put her on a pedestal, but from what I’ve seen of her, she’s all those things.”

The two hope to have children in the coming years, and at some point Ray’s job might require a big move. But regardless of which milestone comes next for Norby, be it personal or professional, she will know how to caption it on Instagram.

She is enough.

Update: At time of print, Norby is pregnant with her first child.

We asked Jessica some questions.
Here are her answers.

Draw the three emoji you most often use.

What does your ideal night off look like?

What is one item from your childhood that you have held onto?

What is a compliment someone recently gave you?

About The Jessicas project

The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post, spent the last year traveling the country to meet the people behind these stories and explore why everyone talks about turning 30.

Credits: Amy King, Editor and Creative Director, The Lily; Neema Roshania Patel, Deputy Editor, The Lily; Joanne Lee, Designer; Maya Sugarman, Video Editor, The Lily; Whitney Juckno, Multiplatform Editor; Amy Cavenaile, Deputy Design Director, Emerging News Products; Brittany Mayes, Graphics Reporter; Chloe Meister, Animator; Matthew Callahan, Design Editor; Headline lettering by Jessica Hische; Quotes lettering by Jessica Cruickshank