The Career I Never Had
A Life Planned But Never Lived
That's what I grew up hearing.
I don't know how to dream any other way. Most of my dreams kept changing though, there were just too many things that I wanted to do.
Always, I wanted to be a writer. I want to see my name on the shelves of bookstores... while there are still bookstores to hold those shelves. Writing is a difficult career choice so I was told to go to college and have a back up plan.
I studied Psychology. Adolescent Psychology first, Criminal Psychology came later. Most people were surprised by the choice. I've always had a passion for animals and they assumed I'd want to follow that passion into a career. I did in the end, but that story has already been written. This is about what came before.
My favorite television show was Criminal Minds. They would make references in the fictional series to real life serial killers and after every episode I'd find myself researching the people they'd mentioned. I was fascinated.
I started studying psychopathy and sociopathy and learning about the big names. Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Ramirez, Radar... seemingly everyday people who committed crimes of such atrocity that their names live in infamy forever. I thought I wanted to be in the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Just like on the TV show. So I researched that too, I needed to know how fictional the show was.
It was pretty fictional.
While the unit is very real and is composed of FBI profilers, I came to learn that the true profiling, the studying of the actual criminal mind, happens in units that exist behind the scenes. Housed at the main FBI Headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, is a crime research facility composed of the CIRG - Critical Incident Response Group, ViCAP - Violent Criminal Apprehension Program and the NCAVC - National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. The three teams bleed into one another and together, they study, analyze and develop profiles based on patterns that emerge in crime.
That was where I wanted to be. The description on the FBI's informational website drew my attention and created a path in my mind. I wanted a career studying criminals. ViCAP especially caught my fancy. From the site:
[The three units together] facilitates communication and coordination between law enforcement agencies that investigate, track, and apprehend violent serial offenders. VICAP maintains a nationwide data information center that collects, collates, and analyzes crimes of violence (i.e., homicide, attempted homicide, missing persons, child abductions, sexual assaults, and unidentified deceased persons). VICAP analysts examine crime data and patterns to identify potential similarities among crimes, create investigative matrices, develop time-lines, and identify homicide and sexual assault trends and patterns.
Yes. Yes to all of it. I wanna study serial killers! Sign me up! Where do I sign? I'm in!
First, you have to join the FBI. So I figured, I could put my time in through the Behavioral Analysis Unit, that which started it all, and work my way up to ViCAP.
It was all I thought about. I researched serial killers, mass murderers, terrorists, cults, spree killers - the Big Five of multiple murder. I knew them inside and out. I understood the differences between a psychopath and a sociopath. I knew the quantifiers that separated a serial from a spree from a mass murder. I learned about the biggest crimes in world history.
I became a one-woman ViCAP unit, studying patterns already detected and piecing together crimes already solved. Dreaming of the day I'd end up at Quantico.
And then... Sandy Hook happened.
Babies. They were just babies. Killed execution style in their classrooms. Heroic teachers peppered with bullets attempting to be human shields for children that weren't their own. I cried for three days.
Could I really be a part of a world where something that awful was to be studied and analyzed? I started to doubt my conviction to become part of a world that would put me face to face with people the likes of Adam Lanza.
My boyfriend at the time took me to Newtown. I had to be there. I had to stand in the place where it happened. We lived close by. We obviously couldn't go into the school. It was only two days after the shooting and it was cordoned off by police tape, guarded by stoic officers holding sentry in the cold December air.
We stood among many other people in the street outside of the elementary school. No one spoke. The only sound that could be heard were the muffled, strangled sobs of people staring at a memorial that stretched for miles. Flowers, stuffed animals, photographs and letters lined every single block of a quaint quiet town with white picket fences. One of those fences held my gaze. It was lined with Christmas stockings, each holding the name of a child that no longer lived. Each stuffed with a teddy bear with angel wings and a single white rose. It was the most heart breaking thing I'd ever looked at.
The entire town was broken. You could feel it all around you. The rupture within so complete that even the air itself felt broken. Forcing back my tears, I looked at my then-boyfriend and only spoke two words.
We got back in his car and drove in silence to his house.
A couple days later, he told me I needed to be at his house early the next morning. We were going on a trip. He wouldn't tell me where.
Early isn't an hour I enjoy. Not knowing where we were going, I had no clue what to wear so I dressed in jeans, a nice shirt, my coat and my ever present six inch stiletto high heels.
As we stood outside of the FBI building in Manhattan, I wished I had made a different choice. He'd made an appointment for me to speak with an FBI Agent. This man, Agent Morris, was nearing retirement and was heavily involved in recruitment and training of possible FBI candidates.
He didn't seem all that thrilled to meet me at first but became intrigued when he asked me why I wanted to join the FBI and I told him honestly that I wasn't sure I did. He asked me a series of questions regarding my understanding of the unit I had at least considered joining. Those questions were easy for me to answer. I knew them inside and out.
In the end of over an hour and a half conversing with this FBI Agent Morris man, he told me not to give up so quickly, to think it over, and that we'd talk again soon.
I was sure I'd never hear from him again.
I was wrong.
He had my phone number and my address from the form I'd filled out in his office just to speak with him. He'd sent me an FBI sweatshirt and a book written by John Douglas, one of the founding fathers (so to speak) of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. The book was titled, 'The Cases That Haunt Us'. It was about unsolved crimes, and the note that accompanied it was all about how the good guys don't always win and to become one of them is to accept that fact.
I read it cover to cover in just one day.
In the television show, they solved every case, caught every killer, even if it took an entire season. But that's not real life. Real life was Sandy Hook. Tragic, awful and at times incomprehensibly evil. Could I accept that and enter that world? Part of me wanted to, a large part that was hard to ignore. My mind wanted to understand these people. Human beings without empathy. The idea had been endlessly fascinating until its victims became children. The fascination remained, though it was tarnished in the blood of the innocent.
But what had I expected? Serial killers in the real world are not Dexter. They don't select their victims based on the terrible things they do, they choose innocent people. Child, adult... age didn't define the fact that they didn't deserve to die a ritualistic torturous death at the hands of a person who lacked the one thing that makes human beings relate to one another.
Agent Morris called me on New Years Day. He offered me the opportunity to be mentored by him. He would teach me, if I was willing, everything I needed to know to get into and succeed within the FBI. I was still wary of whether or not I could truly handle it, but it seemed like a good way to find out if I had what it took to be accepted. There was a hiring freeze anyway so I could use the mentorship to learn and hopefully, by the time the freeze was lifted, I'd know what I wanted. So I agreed.
The FBI used to have internships. But that program was dissolved due to budget cuts and safety risks.
I spent over a year training under Agent Morris. Being near retirement, he was off active cases, once a part of the Homicide unit in Manhattan's field office. He was a certified sharp shooter and sniper and he taught me to shoot. Under his tutelage, I became certified as a sharp shooter myself in only 7 months.
His methods weren't always as orthodox as you'd imagine an FBI Agent would employ, but they worked. I learned more in the 16 months I spent with him than I had ever learned in any type of schooling prior. He became like a second father to me. He, along with other Agents and police officers he enlisted to help, developed challenges for me to teach me how to pass the FBI's famed Hogan's Alley.
Hogan's Alley, an entire town constructed for the sole purpose of training law enforcement agents contained different scenarios, actors and the most frequently robbed bank in the world.
It's designed for failure. You fail so you learn. The challenges designed especially for me, I failed as well. I died nearly every week. But I learned. Boy, did I learn.
He gave me closed cases to solve. I would see evidence in the same order that the actual law enforcement on the case had seen it. I would be asked who I'd like to speak to and why. I would be told who they had spoken to and why. My stomach strength was tested by showing me crime scene photos from Jeffrey Dahmer's house over lunch.
He gave me a list books to buy and read and cases to learn and discuss. We went through different types of homicides. I learned about gangs, cults, terrorism, and of course serial, spree and mass murderers. My book collection, along with my knowledge base, grew and grew.
Serial killers were my favorite. I remained as fascinated by them as ever and that fascination only grew stronger the more I learned about them.
Charles Manson was also of particular interest to me. Deemed the most dangerous man in America when he was still alive, yet he never killed a single person himself. He was imprisoned for a crime that does not even exist in laws today. He refused to attend his own parole hearings because he wouldn't put his freedom in anyone else's hands. He would delight in being interviewed because he loved to try to throw eager reporters and behaviorists off their game. Especially, if they were women. He'd invite them to join him in the bathroom, to get the 'true essence of Manson' through his bowel movements... though he put it slightly less, shall we say, eloquently?
I wished I could have interviewed him. That would have been very interesting.
When my time with Agent Morris drew to a close, my desire to join the FBI and work my way into ViCAP had been restored. I felt confident that I could handle it and that the work would excite me. The hiring freeze, however, remained.
I moved to Florida, a car hit an opossum, I decided to pursue a career helping animals and I became a vet tech.
I called Agent Morris when I changed my mind. I told him what I wanted to do instead and he wasn't surprised. In our time together, he'd come to know me very well, my love of animals included. I was worried he'd be disappointed in me and feel I'd wasted his time but he told me to follow my heart and that as long as I did that, I'd be doing the right thing.
He's retired now, living in Illinois where he's originally from. We still keep in touch from time to time. I invited him to my wedding but he couldn't make it.
My fascination with all things true crime remains a part of me. Serial killer trivia floods my brain and true crime documentaries are what I fall asleep listening to.
My mom even got me a subscription game called Hunt A Killer, where every month I was sent a new box of clues to unravel a crime. I absolutely loved it. I created my own murder board and worked through the case. She got me another the following year that came all at once. A box full of clues to solve a crime.
I took it pretty seriously. So did my chinchilla.
What I once thought would become a lifelong career, turned into a hobby. I haven't been to a shooting range in a long time but I'm pretty confident the ability remains.
I know that becoming a vet tech was the right path for me. I am where I belong and I'm doing what I love.
There are times I do wonder what might have been though. Would I have passed Hogan's Alley? Would I have gotten into ViCAP? Would I have the salt to be face to face with serial killers and question them about their crimes? Would I have found the connections?
I will never know.
But I will always carry with me the memory of the most exciting 16 months of my life, spent training with an FBI Agent. It's a title I will never hold as my own, but will always maintain a note of reverence in my heart.