THE EARLY YEARS
My story starts just a couple of days into Kindergarten. It was September of 1988. I was waiting for the bus with all the other kids from the neighborhood when I saw a boy getting picked on. I didn’t know him but I felt compelled to step in and defend him from his bully. I couldn’t help myself. I stepped between the bully and confronted him head-on.
The bully looked at me with my ponytail and little pink glasses undeterred. He lunged at me. To his surprise, I threw a sidekick to his stomach and knocked the air out of him (A special thanks to Daniel LaRusso, The Karate Kid, for inspiring me to join Karate early in life!). It felt good to defend someone that either couldn’t or wouldn’t defend himself. I earned a “special seat” on the bus trip to school and then another one in the principal’s office for my efforts but that bully never picked on anyone in the neighborhood again. I would end up earning my first-degree black belt in 1992 when I was just 9 years old and be consistently successful in my performance at many tournaments.
My extended family devalued women and diminished their accomplishments constantly. It was hard to reconcile that my views could be so different than those around me which led me to believe I was the issue rather than their own shortcomings. It gave me a chip on my shoulder, a drive to be better and do better to prove them wrong. I never let anyone tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted because I was a girl–a short one at that.
My “I can do anything” view of the world molded my personality with every friend, acquaintance, and sometimes even strangers. It manifested itself by being compelled to inspire, support, and help everyone around me. Whether they lacked confidence or support or needed help standing up for themselves, my passion was to help them and to make a positive impact on their lives.
MY TEEN YEARS
I was a member of several clubs, volunteered in the community and at our local hospital, and participated in numerous school, community and travel sports teams. I even garnered some attention from college scouts for softball at one point.
At home, I had immense responsibilities in helping with my three younger siblings while also helping take care of my sick grandmother. At school, I was being bullied by boys for being “fat” or “too developed”. At my friends’ houses, I was being hit on by their dads who saw a well developed and impressionable young woman. The pressure was immense and I wilted under it.
In high school, I was victimized by someone that claimed to care about me, a boyfriend that hurt me in terrible ways. I felt powerless and weak. The experience was horrible and pushed me further into depression. I carried that experience with me well into my early 30s. I will never forget how I felt but I now know I was not the weak one in that situation, he was. I am a survivor, a fighter, and to this day my resilience is an inspiration to the people in my life that really do care about and love me.
After a year at VCU, I decided I did not like Richmond as a city and I felt isolated at school. In 2002 I transferred to Tidewater Community College back home in Chesapeake, Virginia where I could continue my education. I used that time to earn my associate’s degree and to adjust my plan. After graduation, in 2003 I enrolled at Old Dominion University to earn my bachelor’s degree. I still wanted to travel, discover, and unearth the wonderful stories of the past but found that my experiences pushed me in a different direction now. After enrolling I was informed that the school would no longer continue its archeology department. Frustrated and not willing to transfer again, I re-evaluated what I wanted to do. With some soul searching I found that I wanted to understand what happened to me, why I felt so victimized, and how society influenced life as we know it. It was my secret therapy- a form of self-therapy I wouldn’t discover until later wasn’t doing me any good. I wanted to help others that had similar experiences to myself. My instinct to fill the gap and protect the vulnerable led me to pursue sociology and criminal justice.
During my time at ODU I joined Alpha Xi Delta sorority in 2004 and ended up living at our house on campus in Norfolk, Virginia. I no longer felt so isolated. It did wonders for my confidence to take part in group events, fundraisers, and start making my way in the world. In December of 2005, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Sociology and Criminal Justice.
I thought heavily about getting into law enforcement after graduating. The idea of making a difference and being an example in the community appealed to me, but I lacked confidence in my physical abilities. I carried the burden of thinking I wasn’t good enough. Like so many people out there I listened to the negative voices and let myself believe the lies they told me about myself so I put that thought to rest and moved on. I thought about being a probation officer. I thought about social services. At the same time I was studying for the LSATs just in case I decided on law school. That was an option at the time. With no viable job offers at graduation, I moved to Washington DC in January of 2006 at the behest of a friend. After all, what did I have to lose?
THE CAPITAL CITY
I loved setting up businesses and mergers and acquisitions and learning the ropes. I loved working with corporate real estate closings. But, I never felt like I fit in, either in the company or in the city. Those old feelings of not being good enough plagued me and tore down my confidence. It didn’t matter that partners of the firm were fighting over who got to work with me. I never really settled in with any confidence. My parents had moved to North Carolina during my last year of college and I visited them from time to time. Now in DC, I found myself drawn to NC more often and came to love the sunshine and fresh air. I longed to be outside again away from the crowds of the city. I was commuting underground in the metro and working long hours inside a highrise. I longed to see the green of the trees again. I longed for people greeting each other everytime a door was opened.
While I had learned a lot, the time in DC had taken a toll on me. I had gained an immense amount of weight from being constantly overworked and from the depression that continued to grip me. I wasn’t sure what my future held and I couldn’t seem to pinpoint what I exactly wanted to do but I was struggling and welcomed the change. I was ready to find happiness and hoped it was ready to find me. In October 2007 I gave my notice, packed my stuff, and moved to Johnston County, North Carolina.
MOVING TO NORTH CAROLINA
I am lucky to have supportive parents that were in a position to take me in during the transition and support me until I could find a better position. That position was with the Secretary of State’s office in their Corporation Division, or at least I thought. I had spent my time in DC drafting and filing state corporate filings amongst other higher level tasks, I was made for this. I was excited to have the opportunity to be on the other side of the table helping people set up their businesses and help ensure they knew how to stay compliant. I was excited to help others succeed! But…I wasn’t hired as a document examiner or auditor, I was hired to answer the phones with no prospects to move up into the work I wanted and had been trained to do.
That was a difficult time and I felt lost and worthless. I had gone to school, worked hard, and gained a lot of experience and yet found that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life or in my career. I sat down and thought about my options and what I wanted to do with my life. The same threads from my childhood continued to bubble to the surface, I wanted to help people and I wanted to make a difference but I wasn’t sure how.
SERVE & PROTECT: JOINING THE RALEIGH POLICE DEPARTMENT
I started running, working out, and getting myself into shape. I had always been an athlete but never conformed to the athletic girl body shape with curves that would not be exercised away. I refused to let that stop me and went all in. I applied and to my delight, I was accepted! I started as a pre-hire with the Raleigh Police Department in June of 2009 until the next academy started. I would be part of the 96th academy class. I still remember the day we picked our motto– “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.”
I wasn’t the best runner in the academy but made up for that by being strong and always willing to give my best which earned the respect of all of my academy mates. My martial arts background served me well and my willingness to stick up for fellow officers and never shy away when someone was in need earned me additional respect. I carried those traits with me the rest of my career. That is something I take a great amount of pride in.
I worked my butt off and graduated from the academy and field training. I was assigned to work downtown out of the Cabarrus street station. My first beat assignment was Historic Oakwood and then I moved to Glenwood South and finished out my time on foot patrol on/around Fayetteville St. in the heart of downtown.
Stepping into the police force was a culture shock. It is a male-dominated profession and there is a weariness about females and their ability to perform up to their standard. I had earned the respect of my academy-mates but was forced to start over again and prove myself constantly.
The constant stigma that women were weak or lazy was pervasive and could only be proven through hard work and determination. I felt pressure to win over everyone and it was exhausting.
I flourished early in my career and in 2010 my passion led to a Chief’s Citation within my first year on the job after completing all of my training. The Chief’s Citation was awarded by Harry Dolan, the chief during that time. It was an award that recognized the top officers of the department in designated areas of police work. I was one of only a handful of officers throughout the entire department of 700 to be recognized for most guns recovered and making the streets a safer place. I felt immense pride that what I was able to do had such a huge impact where gun violence is so prevalent. Yet, no matter if I had more arrests, more cases solved, held my own in a physical altercation, gave perfect testimony…whatever…it was never good enough. People needed more proof. My physical fitness, no matter how hard I worked, was never enough. Worse, the culture of the department was such that if you took a vacation or sick days you were seen as lazy.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the work and was having fun doing something I loved. I would keep working and keep proving myself because I was positively impacting people’s lives. It’s not always about arresting bad guys. I got to help parents with a sick child, give an encouraging word to a teen girl, or just be a role model and an example. I got to experience things so ridiculous you couldn’t make them up if you tried. Like pulling someone out of a submerged car who was eating ritz bits crackers.
A ROLE MODEL IN THE COMMUNITY
Being a member of the police department forces you to see the worst of people. In my time as an officer I had to pull my gun, I had to tase people, physically defend people sometimes against themselves and sometimes for others including myself. I was even involved in a car chase or two. My career saw me get pepper sprayed, tased, involved in more foot chases then I can count, spit on, cursed at, have guns pulled on me, and had a knife thrown at me. I had disgusting things thrown at me. I was harassed verbally, sexually, and physically while on duty while people laughed about it.
It’s a job that doesn’t end when you take off your badge at night and no one ever tells you that. Running into someone in public that you’ve arrested and threatened your life is a panic-inducing moment. They see you and your family and you have no idea what direction, if any, they will take the encounter. Worse off your family may not understand it is a real danger. Which is even more panic inducing.
Good people in the community remind you of why you signed up to protect them in the first place. I’ve had people buy my lunch a time or two while I was on duty which is a great feeling. The pay isn’t great and having people care enough to acknowledge what you are doing and lend a hand is so appreciated.
There were plenty of times when calls got physical and I ended up at home with bumps, scrapes, bruises, and an aching body. It’s part of the job and it’s expected. You’re expected to literally bleed for the community you serve and put your life on the line when that uniform is on. You are expendable. Each day you get home and are thankful that the bumps are minor. That is until one day they aren’t, and that’s what happened to me.
A FIGHT FOR MY LIFE
He disobeyed my commands and I recall thinking he was going to pull a gun and kill me and my partner. I remember looking around and seeing people everywhere in the bus station. Some looked in shock, some just moved along like nothing was happening. It was our job to stop him from hurting them, us, and even himself.
I am told that I called for help on the radio but I have no recollection of that happening. There are flashes of an altercation like a bad dream. I remember the look on his face and him throwing an elbow at me. I was in a fight for my life until backup arrived and helped subdue the suspect. In a fog, I looked around for my glasses that were knocked off and broken. Sirens and paramedics asking questions came and went like ghosts.
I am told that I processed the suspect at the jail. I don’t remember that either. I don’t remember the drive there, the paperwork, nor the drive home but I made it. I know I had a horrible headache and I felt like the whole world was off center like I had lost my balance and couldn’t find it again. Everyone around me chalked it up to the stress of the altercation.
I don’t remember going to work the next day, but apparently, I showed up. Someone commented that I had a black eye. There was a welt on my leg. My shoulder was in pain. One side of my head was noticeably tender and swollen with more spots to be found later. As I sat down to write my report that morning the feeling of something not being right became overwhelming. My partner suggested coffee but quickly realized that wasn’t going to fix anything as I became more disoriented, dizzy, fuzzy, and confused.
I deteriorated quickly but officers are supposed to tough it out. The culture told me I was fine and that there was nothing wrong with me. I did my best to ignore it and just deal with the pain to avoid ridicule. I didn’t want to appear weak and let my squad or department down.
Shortly thereafter my partner found me lying on the floor in my office and unable to tell her how I got to work or what I had done the previous day. She alerted my captain who ordered my sergeant and partner to take me to the city nurse. I was taken to Rex Hospital where my symptoms continued to worsen. I had trouble recalling my name or my birthday and I didn’t know where I was. My spirit was still there and I’m told that I was able to make a flirty joke with a male nurse so I had that going for me
PHYSICAL INJURIES AND TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY
It was determined I had suffered a concussion, multiple contusions, and a few other physical injuries that needed further looking into. I was told to rest and take things slow. The scans didn’t show any bleeding but my symptoms warranted a follow up with the neuro specialists at WakeMed Rehab.
Some time went by where I apparently drank copious amounts of orange juice (something I wasn’t particularly fond of typically) and slept all the time. More effects were becoming glaringly apparent. I thought I was living in the house I grew up in. I didn’t know the year. I don’t know if I had a boyfriend at the time, but I think I kissed a friend thinking he was my boyfriend.
It is surreal acknowledging the fact that you are actually seriously hurt. It’s a whole other thing when you don’t have any faculties where you can realize what is or isn’t happening. It’s like being a zombie where you’re living but somehow devoid of life at the same time.
All I could do was sleep. If I wasn’t in a quiet and dark place I felt overwhelmed and overstimulated. I felt powerless and lost. I was in a permanent fog without the ability to communicate it to anyone. Later, a doctor would compare what I was experiencing to what it is like for people with some forms of autism.
Eventually, the doctors at Wake Med determined that I had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during the altercation. Things began to be pieced together by the medical staff. My head was still swollen a full month after the attack and was for nearly six months after the attack. Light and sounds would send me reeling to the point I would end up in the fetal position. My memory failed me constantly. I struggled to speak, was constantly nauseous, and even saw my vision diminish to a blurry tunnel with spots everywhere.
My motor skills suffered and I had a hard time walking. It felt like I was drunk on a ship in a stormy sea. I lost strength in some parts of my body. Migraines were constant. And my personality had changed. I struggled to find the right words to match the situation. I was acting in ways and saying things I never would have said before. While my parents cared for me, they didn’t always know the extent of things. It would seem that I was there and present, but my mind wouldn’t be there.
I had physical therapy and cortisone injections for my neck and shoulders from the assault. I was sent to physical, speech, and occupational therapy. My therapists were amazing. One of my therapists was astute to notice that my brain used some unique coping mechanisms to blend in to try to hide what was really going on. We had to sort through that via some very hard work and dedication.
In speech therapy, we worked hard to regain some facets of my speech and language and how to handle when I couldn’t find my words to communicate. She figured out I hadn’t been eating. I thought I was, but I would forget. After all, I couldn’t cook anymore. I didn’t know how, plus I forgot things so quickly or didn’t retain them it wasn’t safe for me to do that. She taught me how to set a calendar with reminders. Meds here. Food Here. Check in with X here. Appointment here.
She worked with me and we came up with a post-it system (which to some extent I still use today). I had post-its and a check off system every day for everything I was supposed to do. And for well over a year, maybe into year 2, I used that system to make sure I showered, shampooed, conditioned, put soap on my puff, wash my body and so on down the line. Everyday tasks even a small child takes for granted.
When I was taken out for appointments or tiny excursions I looked like everyone else. Very put together. How? My mom checking to make sure I was dressed appropriately for the weather because I never knew what month it was or even the year or the season. She knew jewelry and accessorizing made me happy, so she made sure she put me together. It was exhausting to look normal on the outside but feel miles from it on the inside.
I worked so hard to get back to being myself but no one ever knows how hard you work behind the scenes and they make judgements. I was constantly being told I was fine by friends and acquaintances and so I pushed to act how I thought they saw me before the assault. I kept trying to work out, like I was auto-programmed. I ran a scheduled 5k with in a few months thinking if other athletes get concussions and run I can too. Well, I ran it, and I suffered for it. It wasn’t just a concussion, it was a brain injury.
I tried to travel but it was horrible trying to function and keep it together when you can’t remember even the simple things. People saw me trying to find a semblance of normal and again pressed that I was fine. I wasn’t. I was far from it. I was struggling to keep up and yet fell further and further behind. I continued to struggle with admitting I was sick and hurt while looking, “normal”. People would get impatient with me when it took extra time to do little things like get out my wallet. They would look at me like I was crazy when I had to ask for help to remember where I was. It was scary to feel like I lost control and couldn’t trust myself.
I struggled with all of the things that came with my TBI. I was struggling with my own psychology and personal relationships. I struggled with listening to everyone else (not the medical staff) telling me I should be further along in my recovery. All the while being told by my medical staff that what I was experiencing was real and it would take a lot of time to heal. As far as we have come in medicine, the brain still has not been figured out. There was a complete lack of understanding from people in my life about what I was experiencing and what the timeline was for me to get better, or even if that would ever happen. Time. People don’t understand time. I worked so hard in therapy but still struggled with everything.
I couldn’t read for a long time. My therapists had to work with me on how my brain was processing information so I could learn again. To make matters worse my eyes wouldn’t focus so the process was even more difficult. I had to go to extensive therapy for that issue as well. I had to wear special glasses and then prisms after that for over a year.
RELEARNING THE BASICS
Aside from the other issues I also had PTSD that manifested in horrible ways. It ground my progress to a halt for a long time. I had to continually remind myself that healing is a process and I had to be patient with myself. Having to step back and wait in a fast-paced world is more difficult than people think. I learned a lot about myself and how to love myself enough to be patient.
I had the good fortune of being sent to an amazing therapist. She really helped me turn my life around. She went beyond my injury and showed me where I was hurting in my personal life by letting people walk all over me. Everyone did it and I allowed it without boundary, friends and family included. In my dating life I attracted men that treated me terribly and I wasn’t expecting more from them. When I mentioned above I studied criminal justice in an effort to understand what happened, as a form of self-therapy – here is where I learned I did more damage than good. I just dwelled in a place of darkness. Never healing. Never letting go. Using real therapeutic methods and working hard during the therapy process instead of hiding behind your walls brings you into a completely new space. A bright, loving, and happy space.
Dealing with the trauma of the assault and PTSD allowed me to take stock and re-evaluate what I wanted in life. I was able to quiet the noise and start taking control of my life again. I had worked hard and loved myself as a result. My new mindset allowed me to set boundaries and hold people to the same standards I had for myself. I was willing to let things go that didn’t measure up.
I was still a distance from where I was but I was learning to adapt and get stronger physically and mentally. I wasn’t content to just be back where I was but to come back even better– I knew I deserved it. That mindset got me through setbacks and struggles along the way. People that I thought loved me fell out of my life but I had the strength to accept that and press forward. I had learned to accept things, forgive, and set boundaries which had an immeasurable difference in my life. Once I did this I felt lighter and the happiest I had been since I was a little girl.
I learned new ways of caring for myself and my body at its current ability level. No more heavy weights. No more pushing until I my body would fail. There were a lot of limitations and I had to learn to go easy on myself. I took to mediation, tapping techniques, essential oils, and yoga in a different way. I didn’t know there were other forms of yoga apart from power yoga 🙂 I even took to art therapy – painting especially. I had never been creative, but painting during this time allowed me to express myself without the frustration of words. While not good, it was easier to paint than it had ever been. I enjoyed it.
I allowed myself to start asking questions about my future and to dream of what life could be, I started to look forward to things. My therapist once asked me what I would do if time and money were no object. What would make me truly happy? I struggled with questions like that for a long time but was so grateful to find the answers and know I could achieve them. Between the injuries and life as a cop, I had to learn to feel again. Being self-aware of feelings and emotions is a struggle. Let alone finding the words for it.
RETIRING FROM THE FORCE; FINDING HAPPY
I had moved on to feel rejuvenated. I wanted to give women a chance to feel as good as I did. Supported, confident and beautiful. It took this horrible event for me to realize a lot of important stuff about myself and life in general. When I thought about my future I knew I needed to create a warm, loving, beautiful and creative environment where not only I could thrive, but anyone I encountered could as well. I just needed to find the right place to make it happen.
At the “gentle nudging” of a friend, I started dating again. I was still in various forms of therapy, so I found myself feeling inadequate and coming from a place of disadvantage. Physically yes. Mentally, especially. Emotional, nope I got this! At least I had that. Overall though, I felt like I wasn’t fit to date or experience love because I was still working on me and wasn’t a “whole person”. I had to overcome that and put it to rest. Nevertheless, I starting dating and fell into the same patterns as before, with the same types of men and unsurprisingly got the same results, Einstein was right.
I excitedly took my list to a friend and explained that I was no longer going to settle. That I had written a list of things that I wanted in a partner and if no one measured up I was ok just being by myself. I will never forget the look on her face and the tone she used as she explained that I was asking for too much and I would have to compromise. I refused to listen, each and every item I wrote was important!
I began a journey into what I called conscious dating. I was always polite and courteous but being empowered to speak up and not be treated poorly was met with constant backlash. I was called names and put down constantly when I pointed out something that didn’t match with how I was being treated or what I was looking for. It was so empowering to get up from a table and leave when a date had run its course rather than sitting awkwardly to conform to some standard.
I learned from each experience and practiced setting expectations and adhering to boundaries. If practice makes perfect I had to have gotten close because there was a LOT of practice on bad dates. With each one, the process got easier and after an exhaustive 9 months of my dating experiment, I was just about ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. I was steadfast in my commitment to myself not to settle and was ready to swear off dating for good. I was serious. I figured I was better off by myself then lugging a crappy partner along for the ride. I confidently told my mom I was going on my last date and that I would be back soon as I walked out the door.
FOUNDING OF THE PERKY LADY
I have a goal of fitting a young girl for her first bra, having her come back to get something for her wedding dress, her honeymoon, her new bras as motherhood changes her body in beautiful ways, for her children’s graduations and weddings, and everything else life has to throw at her. It’s an amazing thought to be part of someone’s journey through life and be there to support and encourage her along the way.
My whole family came to help me open the store. It was surreal to see this historic home in downtown apex transform from an office to a place I am proud to call my own. When I opened the doors I made sure to have beautiful pieces to fit almost any shape and size. I decided on the motto of, “Magnify the woman within” because I wanted to set an expectation. The women in my shop are beautiful when they walk in the door but we have all struggled with doubts in ourselves. It is my goal to magnify that woman we feel inside but all too often hide from the world. I want that strong and confident woman magnified so she shines like a beacon.
The business model at The Perky Lady is different on purpose. When a woman walks through our doors she can expect a friendly greeting and a staff dedicated to body positivity. I don’t sell our products, I let the customer explore everything we have to offer and let her sell herself with the feeling that comes from the perfect fit and style.
I also wanted to help the amazing husbands, fathers and partners out there by setting up the shop in a way that invites them in. I’m truly inspired to see when men/partners come in with their wives and support them through the fitting experience or buy a gift card and send their significant other in to be pampered and taken care of. At The Perky Lady, I keep notes on size and style preferences to better serve and to alleviate the anxiety of having to start over the next time you walk through the door. I keep a wish list as well to help out a Valentine’s Day surprise and even offer full date baskets on special occasions that include everything from dinner, champaign and a fun and flirty something for after desert.
EMPOWERING WOMEN IN THE COMMUNITY
I’ve even personally made an emergency trip to a high school to help one of our client’s daughters before stepping on stage. To me The Perky Lady isn’t a building or a person, it’s a way of life. One that hopes to magnify all of the amazing and beautiful women out there and help them on their journey, wherever they happen to be in it.