Jennifer Longdon Wears Her Heart on Her Facebook Page

Page 3 of 7

You might be tempted to say that Jennifer Longdon's on a roll, but she prefers you'd leave the wheelchair jokes to her.

In recent days, she's found it harder to smile. All that work has taken its toll on her body, as well as her van. With little financial support from the government and less from freelance writing, she struggles to pay to keep up both, and she's just posted on Facebook that she's in danger of losing her health coverage, because of an administrative snag. Her Facebook friends rush forward with support and advice about advocates for the advocate.

She posts late on a Friday afternoon that, regretfully, she's home for the night instead of out with friends:

So, I'm missing my girls this evening because I've been too active and now my feet are alarmingly swollen and I'm stuck at home, feet up and facebook.

Paralysis. It's not as bad as you think.

This is followed by pictures of the sunset taken outside her house, her favorite Irish toast, a couple of memes.

And finally, this status update:

This is one of those moments where it's all so hard — everything is breaking or broken, I can't manage it any more. I am so lost in "the system" I can't find myself, and my body is screaming because I've pushed it too hard for too long — I just want to give up. But I won't. And tomorrow I'll start again. Here we go . . .

An argument you hear often from gun-control advocates is that it's easier to stave off an attacker armed with a knife or a baseball bat than with a gun. That may not be the case for some of us, but you could definitely make the case for Jennifer Longdon and her fiancé, David Rueckert.

Rueckert ran a successful martial-arts school in town; he was a four-time world champion. Longdon was his student, but she'd had an interest in martial arts long before she moved to the Valley in 1999.

"Doesn't everyone want to be a ninja?" she asks, laughing, then gets serious and explains that she was raped by an acquaintance in 1985 and took a women's self-defense class after that.

It was "transformative," she says, recalling the feeling of breaking a board on the last night of class and thinking, "Fuck, yeah, I am all that."

Longdon was born in Urbana, Ohio, the kind of small town where "if I did something wrong on the playground, it got home before I did." At 11, her parents moved the family to Chicago. She says she's been estranged from her "huge, rowdy Irish Catholic family" since she was 23 and confronted her parents about their drinking. All has not been forgotten — or forgiven.

"My mom was way smarter than my dad, and I spent my childhood watching her dumb herself down."

Longdon did not intend to repeat that mistake. She says her father refused to let her go to the college of her choice, so she worked a series of odd jobs — with computers, cleaning houses, retail — 'til she settled on an office job that led to work as a legal secretary.

She met her husband, Jack, on a blind date and it was "love at first sight." He built cabinets and made furniture, and she got good at translating legalese, working for a hospital insurance department.

They had a son, Matt, and life in Chicago was pretty good — but they were restless, she says, and decided to move someplace else to open a bed and breakfast. They wanted four seasons, so Phoenix (an initial contender) was out, in favor of Bloomfield, Illinois. But then a former colleague offered Longdon an administrative job in Arizona — and the Longdons decided to make the move. The B&B never happened.

Jennifer had given up martial arts when she got pregnant with Matt, though she held onto her sparring gear. They arrived in Phoenix in the summer. Determined to keep her tween son busy, she enrolled him in at a local martial-arts school. The owner was a man named David Rueckert.

They were both married.

"We were friends first," she says, adding quickly, "That's not code — really, we became friends."

Ultimately, she asked Jack for a divorce and took off for several months to work out of town. Rueckert's divorce proceedings followed.

At some point during all this, Longdon and Rueckert became a couple.

Longdon's relationship with her son got complicated (and stayed that way for a long time), but she was happy. She took up martial arts again. She was training as a massage therapist, working for a hotel company setting up properties, and teaching at Rueckert's school.

"I loved my life," she says. And she loved Rueckert.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.