Archive for September, 2010

Bad Luck Cadet #1 – Accidents Happen

September 28, 2010 9 comments


To my mother. When you told me I could be the first female president of the United States, I believed you. When I told you at age forty-five that I was going to the police academy to become an officer, you believed me.

Post One

Realization: My Life Isn’t Over

My midlife crisis started with a broken hip that began with a smart horse and a dumb rider. I was forty-five years old and forty pounds overweight. My horse was in great shape and enjoyed my pain tremendously. He laughed all the way to his new owners. I cried all the way to the hospital.

I convalesced for two months. During that time, I watched television, read books, surfed the internet, and ate loads of junk food. My forty pounds soon became fifty and depression set in. I was one of those very lucky people who had never suffered depression, so I can’t be positive of my self-diagnosis. It may have been the pain pills.

I imagined the rest of my life in a bed or moving slowly from room to room with a walker. I wanted so much more but it took a long convalescence to open my eyes. Before the accident, would I have had the determination to go for my dreams? I’m not sure. What I am sure about is lying in bed made me realize I would not go gently into the night. My life was not over and more than anything I wanted to live with more than broken dreams.

You see, before my life as a wife and mother, before a high school counselor crushed my dreams, I grew up wanting to be a police officer. As a child I was a tomboy. I broke my arm twice performing dare-devil stunts on roller skates and once playing football with the boys. I fished like a pro and camped with my father and siblings along the Chattahoochee River with the bare necessities. I literally swam with the alligators.

My freshman year in high school I walked into my newly assigned counselor’s office prepared to align my academic schedule to my childhood dream. It was 1975, in a more progressive part of the U.S. known as the San Francisco Bay Area. My mother, one of the first women working for Intel Corporation as an electronic technician, made me believe that all things were possible.

I sat down on the wooden chair in a small office with glass windows looking out into a large rotunda with students heading to class. I faced a woman with a gentle smile and intent eyes.

“Have you thought about what you want to do after you graduate?” she asked.

“Yes.” I answered with all the hope of a fourteen year old. “I want to be a police officer.”

Her eyes changed, the smile disappeared. She shook her head and with no hesitation in her voice she crushed my dreams. “That’s no job for a young lady. You need to choose something else.”

I often wondered if the other counselor, a man, saying the same words would have had the same effect. I truly don’t know. I have no memory of where the conversation went after my counselor denied a course of study that would have helped me achieve my goals. The rest of the visit in that office is entirely blank.

I don’t even remember thinking about becoming a police officer after that. I wish I could say I made good choices in my high school but I can’t. I fell in love, had two babies by the age of eighteen, and rented a small one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet with a husband as disillusioned about the consequences of parenthood at such a young age as I was.

The one positive, besides two incredible daughters, was my husband. He worked hard and did everything he could to keep a roof over our heads and provide for his family. Neither of us graduated high school; we dropped out our junior year because of my pregnancy. The silver lining is that we both graduated with a California Proficiency Certificate after taking an all-day test at age sixteen. Taking the time to complete the test at my mother’s urging would open unknown doors for my husband.

For me the test didn’t come into play until I was forty-five. At the age of twenty-one, I purchased—with money from a car accident—a small used-books store in Phoenix, Arizona, and began the second chapter of my life. The store gave me a way to bring my daughters to work and avoid the high cost of child care. We moved to Arizona with the dream of buying a home. We accomplished the dream but had very little money left at the end of the month. For the next twenty years I surrounded myself with books, expanded the store several times, and helped make a living for our family that now included three daughters. An eight hundred square-foot store became twenty-four hundred square feet of used and new books with a coffee bar. I hosted a radio show at two local AM radio stations about books and performed subcontract work for publishing houses by picking up their authors from the airport and escorting them around the Phoenix area for television and radio interviews. I would host book signings at my store with internationally best-selling authors, and the glorious part was that publishers paid me two-hundred dollars a day to do it.

My list of best-selling authors included Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Iris Johansen. Being paid to hobnob with such talent was a highlight of my bookstore career.

In 2001, I sold my store, concentrated on my radio career, and ultimately discovered a long-term career in radio was not something I wanted. In 2003, we moved into the Arizona mountains with our youngest daughter and joined the small-town demeanor where everyone knows everyone’s business and life moves slower. I always wanted horses, so we purchased a house on an acre and added four horses to our family—Tequila, Sunrise, Blacky, and Biz. I became a cowgirl and left my city roots behind. All of this brings me to the accident on Tequila.


An ad on the drugstore bulletin board changed everything:


Small Town Police Department is hiring!

Must have a crime free background.

Must work well with others.

Must be able to physically undergo the rigors of the police academy.

Must be able to complete what you start.

Must be 21 years old but you’re never too old.

Academy begins August 13.


Six months away. A dream from the time I was a child. I pictured myself in a police uniform.

I stepped back from the ad and my reflection appeared in the glass. I was an overweight slob with no excuses.

I needed to change.

I looked back at the ad. Could I do it? And regardless of what the ad said, was I too old?

The next morning, I woke up with new ambition. I pulled on my shorts and a T-shirt along with athletic shoes, waited for my husband, Tim, to leave for work, and then headed outside. I walked and jogged until I thought I would die. Sweat covered me when I dragged my tired ass back into the house. I didn’t stop there. I managed twenty sit-ups and two push-ups before hitting the shower.

I woke up the second morning with aches and pains in my arms and legs. The pain moved me a step closer to that long forgotten dream. This was the beginning. One mile of walking and running turned into two miles of running. Twenty sit-ups turned into a hundred, and two push-ups turned into twenty. I kept my dream to myself for five months. My oldest two daughters were married, one to a Phoenix police officer. My youngest daughter, who had just graduated high school, moved to the city for college. I couldn’t hide the loss of weight from my husband but it was easy to hide the goal.

On the day I filled out the ten-page police application, I told Tim what I wanted to do. This is the same man I fell in love with as a teenager. He said if a career in law enforcement is what I wanted, go for it.

My youngest and middle daughters approved. My oldest wasn’t as enthusiastic. She called me back and told me her husband said I would never get over the wall. They were not cheering me on the way the rest of my family did but that was okay. No one would stomp on my dreams again.

I finished the paperwork and turned it in with a week to spare. I remember the look on the woman’s face when I rested the application on her desk. She was nice but obviously thought I was crazy. Again, it didn’t matter. My sights were set on the police academy and I would not give up.

A few days later, the department called me in for the first round of eliminations. There were sixteen people in the room along with Sgt. Spears, who was in charge of the applicants. He told us he would begin checking our backgrounds after we passed a written examination.

The test was mostly multiple choice. I was stunned when two men walked out without finishing. I spent the first hour answering questions and the second hour checking my work. The test wasn’t exactly hard but you had to analyze your answers carefully.

I looked around at the young applicants. All appeared to be in their twenties. Doubt set in. How could I compete? I turned in my test and went home feeling dejected. The next morning I pushed myself and ran three miles. I exercised until I could barely stand upright. It went on like this for three miserable days.

Sgt. Spears called and wanted to speak with me in person on the third day. He scheduled the appointment for 1300 hours. Thank God I was an army brat and knew what he meant. I arrived three minutes early after waiting around the corner for twenty minutes so I wouldn’t appear too eager.

I was shown to Sgt. Spears’ office. He looked me up and down as I entered. Not in a male/female sort of way but in a “she’s completely lacking” sort of way. He asked me to have a seat.

“What makes you think you can be a police officer?” he began.

After a deep breath and crossing my fingers, I replied, “I’m organized, intelligent, and I love mystery novels.”

He rubbed his forehead and then the back of his neck. He shook his head and then looked at me again. “From what I’ve found so far you have a clean record. As we dig deeper, are we going to find something different?”

One thing had been bothering me. We lived in a town of about thirty-five hundred people, predominately Mormon, and very conservative. “I’m a Democrat,” I answered. Police officers in Arizona are overwhelmingly Republican—my son-in-law being one of them.

Sgt. Spears just stared. I did the same without breaking eye contact.

He shook his head again. “You scored the highest on the written test. I’ve been giving that test for three years and yours is the highest score ever.”

This does not say much for America’s youth. The test was not difficult.

He continued, “If everything checks out, you will need to pass a physical and psychological and polygraph tests. You will also be required to meet Cooper Standards for running, push-ups, and sit-ups. Can you?”

“Yes, I can,” I answered emphatically.

He studied me another minute. “Okay, we’ll be calling one way or another by early next week. Be ready.”

I held my elation in check as I went out the door. It wasn’t hard.

What the heck is a Cooper Standard?

The story continues…

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