She was an infant with no father. A talented student with no money for college. A newlywed with an unexpected baby.
Writing may come easily to local author Jennifer Busfield, but not much else in her life has. Described as “refreshing” by her friends and family, Busfield, with her inviting smile and bold presence, is someone people want to be around. But it was her difficult upbringing and dedication to success that gave Busfield this enthusiasm for life.
Busfield is the author of “Love Letters, Volume 1, Moving On: Growing Up,” and “Love Letters, Volume 2: Being Adult.” Both books are compilations of love letters, with Volume 2 being a longer, more serious collection. To correspond with the books, Busfield founded jabsloveletters.com, a website that encourages users to submit their own love letters.
The books and the website send the same message — “I love you” isn’t said enough. Whether it’s to a boyfriend or a best friend, love needs to constantly be expressed. Expressed, perhaps, through love letters.
Busfield was born February 11, 1981 in Jackson Heights, New York to young immigrant parents. Her Columbian mother, Margarita Krassa, married her father shortly after he emigrated from the Dominican Republic. But her father abandoned the relationship, and Busfield, an only child, was raised by Krassa.
In the summer of 1988, Busfield and Krassa moved to Burlington, North Carolina after Krassa’s attempt at a second marriage failed. But Krassa was not financially stable and was forced to work long hours.
“She lived with friends for a while, she did part time jobs, she was very driven, but because of her lack of education, she was always working,” Busfield said. “I was alone a lot. A latchkey kid. I had to get myself home by riding my bike in the dark.”
In 1991, Krassa married Andreas, a German immigrant. Although Busfield was happy for her mother, living with Andreas often proved difficult, she said. Cultural issues were immediately present, and personality clashes became apparent over time.
“I was never something he wanted, but he took on the responsibility because he loved my mom,” she said. “He didn’t really invest in me as he should have, and I, being a little girl wanting to have that daddy figure, I tried a lot. And then somewhere along the way I stopped trying, and we just kind of coexisted within the household.”
Despite the frustration and constant disagreements, Busfield considers Andreas the closest thing she’s ever had to a father. Busfield didn’t meet her biological father until she was 28 years old, because although she was interested in communicating with him, her mother and Andreas firmly believed she should have no contact with him.
“As a middle school and high school student, even though (my mom) had already remarried, it was important to me to connect with blood family,” Busfield said. “My stepfather was not keen on the idea, for (my mother’s) sake, but also I guess for mine.”
In addition to deciding Busfield would not see her father, Krassa and Andreas also took a stance on where Busfield should attend college. They gave her three options: work and go to community college, work and save tuition money for a four-year school or go to Bible college. Busfield, who had already submitted applications to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, was not content with the options presented to her.
“I went into my room and sulked for a week,” she said. “But I was very independent and very strong willed, and I was trying to figure out okay, at what point do I do what my parents say, or grow up and do what I want to do.”
Krassa was keen on Busfield attending Bible school because of the evangelical Christian neighborhood the family had moved into when they moved to North Carolina. Busfield attended Sunday School, participated in youth groups and mission trips and attended a local Christian school before transferring to public school her sophomore year of high school. Although the Christian school was academically solid, Busfield said she was frustrated by the lack of recognition of non-Christian higher-education opportunities.
“They just assumed you would go to one of the Christian schools or universities, so they had Christian universities come in and talk about what they do and what they offer,” she said. “Transferring to the public school and being identified quickly as a high grade student, (the college search) turned into an academic pursuit.”
Determined to be academically challenged, Busfield decided she would pay her way through college at UNC Chapel Hill. Her parents purchased the sheets for her dorm bed, but that was the extent of their help. To pay her tuition bills, Busfield worked as a parking attendant, and when she couldn’t pick up enough hours, she took a job at Starbucks. Busfield graduated with a BA in English in August 2003 after taking summer sessions to complete her credit hours. Although she didn’t have a typical college experience, she has never regretted her decision.
“I’m sure that going to Bible school would have been just fine; it wouldn’t have been as hard,” she said. “But what I’m most proud of is that I evaluated my options, I chose what I wanted, and I made it happen.”
Krassa said Busfield’s determination is one of her most estimable characteristics.
“She is tenacious when she wants something and works hard to achieve it,” Krassa said. “(I admire) her intelligence with just the right amount of humility mixed in.”
In October 2003, Busfield married Kevin Busfield, who she began dating fall semester of her sophomore year at UNC. When Busfield announced her marriage, Krassa pulled out her own wedding album to show to the new couple. This gesture was emotional for Busfield, who had only ever seen her father in the two pictures her grandmother had given her in high school. But Busfield no longer felt an urgent need to speak with her father, she said.
“It was really important, and then I got married, and it wasn’t important anymore,” she said of her longing for a reunion with her father. “It was one of those like, ‘okay, one day.’ Because I have my own family and I need to invest in that.”
Busfield and Kevin decided to wait five years before having a child, and Busfield began working as an 8th grade language arts teacher in the Alamance Burlington School System. She said this was a particularly fun job because she enjoyed interacting with the kids and sprucing up the syllabus.
“I followed the curriculum in that we covered the objectives, but that language arts book was so boring,” Busfield said. “I totally loved rocking their worlds with Edgar Allen Poe and “The Lottery,” and I read some O.Henry with them. The classroom was always a blast.”
But before the year was over, Busfield unexpectedly became pregnant and was forced to quit the job. The pregnancy also meant giving up her dream of receiving her Master’s in Education. Busfield took a job at Citi Financial Group and later at LabCorp to support her husband and young son, Rand.
In the spring of 2008, shortly before Rand’s third birthday, Busfield found out Rand was living with high-functioning autism. She began researching early intervention strategies and individualized education plans. She joined online networks for moms with autistic children.
The same year, Busfield received more unexpected news. Her father’s girlfriend had found Kevin’s name associated with Busfield and reached out to Kevin after finding his contact information online. Busfield and her father began emailing back and forth, and later in the year she decided to go to New York to see him.
“They say blood is strong, and I think it’s true,” Busfield said. “You can try and cut family out, but there’s no denying it.”
Upon meeting him, Busfield said it wasn’t so much hard feelings that were present, but more an unavoidable awkwardness.
“Fathers and daughters are supposed to have this great bond and all these sweet moments, and we’ve never had any of that,” she said. “But really, whatever happened between him and my mom was him and my mom.”
Busfield, who was going through her own marriage struggles, said meeting her father as a married woman was helpful in allowing her to understand the complexities of her parents’ relationship. Through connecting with her father, Busfield also found out she had a half-sister, Katherine. Upon meeting her, Busfield saw the same charisma and passion she sees in herself.
But as one relationship began, another was disintegrating. After struggling to make things work with Kevin, Busfield left with Rand for Oklahoma in 2009 to clear her head. She stayed with her friend Shelby, whose husband was away serving in the Air Force.
“It was a highly emotional time, but it was really nice to be in a new space,” Busfield said. “I kind of wish everybody could have their own Oklahoma experience.”
In Oklahoma, Busfield began the Love Letters blog, where she posted love letters written for significant people in her life. From that point on, she became serious about expanding her online presence.
After 11 weeks away, Busfield returned to North Carolina in May 2009 to give her marriage a final chance. After much negotiation and discussion, Busfield left Kevin for good in October. The divorce was final in January 2011.
“I didn’t see what I needed to see from the other side,” she said. “I didn’t feel like it was wanted, because to me, if you want something, you have actions to prove it, not just words.”
In addition to counseling, Busfield was able to move on from the divorce through the love and support from her friends.
“We were close before, but during that point of her separation, because I’ve been through the same thing, we really started seeing each other and talking to each other more,” said Calvetta Watlington, a friend from high school.
After returning to North Carolina, Busfield continued to blog and explore social media. She took a job as an administrative assistant at WebSpark, a web development company, and her role soon grew to operations manager. She recruited her friend Joe Wilson to the company, and their relationship began to grow stronger as they spent more time together and helped each other expand their portfolios.
“We dated for several months, but we’re just really good friends now,” Wilson said. “The thing I really like about her is she’s so interested in everything about life, and where her friends are going. It makes me think more about those things through trying to answer her questions.”
In summer 2011, she began researching what it would take to self-publish her work.
“Part of my platform is that love letters aren’t just ‘oh, I love you’ to a partner or to a husband or to a boyfriend,” she said. “It’s moments of love and appreciation and value for somebody who has made a really positive impact in my life.”
When Busfield’s first book was published in November 2011, she embarked on what would become an inspired journey to accomplish her long-term ambitions. Her pen name — which she shortened from Jenny to J.A. — became a popular Google search. Readers gravitated towards her online platforms to learn more about her published works. She began assisting other newcomers in setting up a digital presence and portfolio.
Although all of the 50 letters published in Volume 1 were written for specific people in Busfield’s life, she chose not to include their names in the book.
“Each letter I could talk about who it is in reference to,” she said. “I leave that out in the books because I want people to be able to insert one of their own experiences.”
Watlington said she appreciates that readers are able to relate to the love letters.
“In the letters, even though when you read them it’s knowing she’s experienced these things, they aren’t so specific as to where you can’t think of a situation you’ve been in where you’ve felt that same way,” she said.
This aspect of the book stems from Busfield’s willingness to print details of her personal life. Without this vulnerability, the purpose of the books wouldn’t be served in their full potential.
“She gets very raw with her emotions with these letters,” said Jennifer Bringle, who interviewed Busfield about her recent success for an article in the Greensboro News & Record. “It was really refreshing to talk to someone so open with their emotions and willing to share that with the world.”
Despite Busfield’s professional success, loose ends from her relationship with Kevin persisted. In order to ensure their old house in Mebane was fixed up, Busfield moved back in with Kevin after the divorce. Busfield said she has learned to make it work in order to keep Rand within his school system and allow him to stay close to his dad.
“It’s the overall best option with the consequences I can live with,” Busfield said.
Busfield is constantly brainstorming new projects and is in the process of writing a third book. In order to spread the word about her upcoming ventures and continue to promote her published books, Busfield began working with the Elon Microfinance Initiative, a student group on Elon University’s campus that works as a liaison for small businesses.
“I think she knew that if we work together, it would increase her publicity and it would essentially help both of us,” said Elon junior Erin McGuiggan, a member of the initiative.
“We had people write love letters which she then posted on her website,” said Elon junior Alexis Deprey, vice president of operations for the initiative. “She was an inspiration for a lot of aspiring authors.”
But it’s more than just authors who see Busfield as an inspiration. Krassa says she is constantly impressed by her daughter’s success and is incredibly proud of her.
“She knows how to grasp and dispense truth without apology in a way that leaves you feeling like you have been enriched by her presence, like you learned something new about your life that you can use with others, like you have grown a little yourself,” Krassa said.