It was July 2016. I was working at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite the spectacle of the election year, my assignment was humdrum. I was one of the Secret Service agents escorting the media buses from their staging area to the convention venue. It was a five-minute ride through a heavily guarded, gated area. All day long, back and forth I went, listening to griping about delays due to motorcade movements or demonstrations. I heard, “I’m live in five minutes. What’s the hold-up?” at least ten times per day, and I ignored a handful of awkward remarks from passengers. One cameraman said, “Hey, does the Secret Service have a sexy calendar like firemen? Because if you’re in it, I’d buy one.” Each time I passed a sweaty coworker posted along the route, I’d remind myself to appreciate this luxurious and rare post in air-conditioned buses.
The RNC coincidentally fell one week before my transfer date to Washington D.C. and at the tail end of my divorce. It had been a rough year. My marriage had fallen apart the previous summer. Then in March 2016, Former First Lady Nancy Reagan passed away while I was assigned to her Los Angeles-based protection detail. Within a week of her passing, several members of her detail, including myself, received transfer orders. I requested that my transfer be delayed to give myself more time to consider my options, but the request was denied.
I’ve been known to ignore my intuition when I don’t like what it’s telling me. Intuition can be funny that way. I’ve often assumed my intuition needed the corrective lenses of my internal justifications and reasoning, which is just another way of saying that I’ve been known to make excuses for bad decisions. But in this situation, I knew the truth all along; I just chose to twist it to accommodate my latest insecurity or someone else’s wishes.
A couple days into the convention, I woke with a start, the scratchy sheets on my university dorm room bed crinkling like paper at the disturbance.
“I have to quit,” I said aloud with certainty. My hand flew to my mouth in my shock– at this sudden conviction. But I just knew. I sent my boss my final resignation before my shift. I told him I was taking control of my life, and I would not be reporting to Washington D.C. after the convention.
I couldn’t believe I’d done it. I was a responsible and practical woman who was quitting my job. Was I crazy or brave? I didn’t know yet. I was too busy mentally preparing for the consequences if this turned out badly.
Word of my resignation traveled quickly, and my phone was flooded with well-intentioned advice and condolences. Many of my colleagues felt that denying my request was unjust on the agency’s part, but I had made my decision and wanted to depart gracefully. I reminded myself of this each morning as I donned my suit and gear.
The night the RNC concluded, I walked to the Command Post for my suitcase. While everyone went back to the dorms to pack for the Democratic National Convention, I caught an Uber to the airport. I looked at my badge and my agent lapel pin, knowing this would be the last time I’d see myself wearing them. A lump formed in my throat. I loved this job. What was I doing?
The following week, I drove to the Los Angeles Field Office. I signed a bunch of forms, returned my gear, and my former supervisor simply said, “Good luck to you, Mel.” It was done.
I walked to the elevator landing, feeling naked and light without the gun and annoying government cell that buzzed constantly. As I waited for the elevator, a man walked up. I didn’t know him, but that wasn’t unusual in a larger office like Los Angeles.
“Hey,” he said pleasantly, “are you one of the new agents? I haven’t seen you before.
It hit me like a gut punch: I’d already been replaced. Already forgotten. My job had been my identity for nearly a decade. Now, in an instant, it wasn’t. I had learned how strong I really was with this agency, that I could dig deep and accomplish big things at a young age. But the years had ticked by, the long hours and travel had taken control, and I’d grown away from the 22-year-old girl who proved she deserved the badge. I still recognized that motivated girl, and hated the stranger I’d become.
I sobbed and sobbed in my car, unable to drive and consumed with sadness. It was the end of an era, a drastic new beginning I’d initiated by finally acting on the intuitive voice saying the last thing I wanted to hear. I was not a quitter. I was just getting started, and it hurt so badly. But I just knew.
Melanie is a former U.S. Secret Service Special Agent who writes and speaks about her experiences on the job and how they shaped her into the woman she is today.