In third grade, I decided I would read every book in the school library. My elementary school was located in a small rural town. Every grade from kindergarten to 12th shared a central library. It was a lofty goal for a 3rd grader but it was not the NYC Public Library. Perhaps, one day. I was not the kind of girl to be interested in princess stories, so I began there. I would get the worst section out of the way, first. Throughout the year, I made my way through the kings and queens, the fiction and nonfiction, the classics, and the biographies. To this day, I believe that experience shaped in part the person that I am: filled with a little wonder, a lot of hope and some practicality, with room for fairytales.
The library was my sanctuary. I escaped into princess stories, true stories, and the lives of history; a temporary shelter from the turmoil that filled my childhood home. My father was violent and physically abusive. My mother was too afraid, she wasn’t strong enough to shield us or fight for her freedom. Books protected my heart, my mind, and my future. I could dream. I fell in love with justice, sitting on the floor of my bedroom closet, reading by flashlight. My father often did not approve of the books I borrowed from the library, above my grade level by light-years. Bringing them home was one of my first acts of rebellion. I was like Tom Sawyer, Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Nancy Drew, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Curie, and sometimes, I was a princess. In every story; there was a truth, justice, and conflict to overcome. There was a hero or heroine who so very often was an ordinary person, like me.
When I was twelve years old, I faced my father in a courtroom. I was terrified but courageous. The judge sent my sisters, brother, and me to live with our grandparents. There, we learned about love. The first night, my grandfather hugged us before we went to bed. He was a big bear of a man, a real-life Santa Claus. He hugged us the second night and the third. After a few days, I took my grandmother aside and asked her to please tell Grandpa to stop hugging me. I wasn’t afraid of him. It was simply too much love for a child that had never been loved. Later in life, my grandmother said that Grandpa cried when she told him that his Aimee didn’t want to be hugged anymore. He cried, and he kept on hugging us. One night, I hugged and kissed my own small sons goodnight before sending them off to bed. Afterward, I sat on the sofa in the dark and cried. Grandpa knew the hugs would teach me how to love my children someday.
I turned seventeen, a single pregnant mother. Days before my son was born, I married his father. In the months to follow, I learned that he was a violent and abusive drug addict. Once again, I found myself looking for sanctuary and in need of justice. In the middle of the night, my baby boy and I were escorted across county lines in the back seat of a patrol car. I was granted a protective order as part of my divorce and made a new life that began in a women’s shelter.
Twenty-one arrived and a friend suggested that I should enroll in the local police academy. I laughed. Me?! Then, I remembered Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Perry Mason and Matlock watched with my grandmother. I thought of my family in blue, my new friends, and the officer and his wife that had embraced us and took us in from the shelter. I considered the times I needed justice in my own life and all of the people that stood up for me. Why not, me? So, I began my journey in law-enforcement and non-profit work in different fields but with one theme, social justice and protecting the vulnerable. My pain became my power; empathy, passion, and compassion. Tempered by practicality but always living in hope.
Here I am today. I have raised children, married and divorced, completed a degree, and fought a life-threatening illness and won. While always finding a way to be of service and to pay-it-forward in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin…that in this way a little good will carry on into the world.
Law school isn’t the next chapter in my story. It is the next book in my library; a little wonder, a lot of hope, some practicality, and a dash of a fairytale.
To Peas & Carrots, Thank You
(This story was written to be submitted with my law school applications.)Change starts with a story.