“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man [or two women] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt
(Jamie Collins & Jessi Toronjo on a recent publicity tour in New York City, where they taped a national television show to promote the book.)
I used to think I knew what that quote meant from a few past experiences. Jury trials immediately come to mind, as a litigation paralegal. I felt as though I had given everything of myself I had to give in those situations. I left them feeling proud. Better than I was before. But, today, reflecting upon that quote more deeply and pondering my own life experience over the past three years, I realized that, for the first time ever, I have actually lived out the meaning behind that quote.
Looking at past jury trials, I realized that I was being paid to be there, as a paralegal for the law firm(s) for which I worked. Did I give it my all? Absolutely. I loved and thrived in every minute of every moment I’ve ever spent in a jury trial on behalf of clients. But today, I realize that in order to truly live out that quote – to really live it to its width, depth, and breadth – a person must have something personal on the line. No immediate pay off. No paycheck. No forced steps to guide a person. No promise. No clear road to get there. They must strive, and toil, and sacrifice. Give more than they think they have to give. Extend beyond their current state of being to stretch and grow into the person that the arena will require them to become. They have to, at times, appear crazy to those around them. Like they think too big. They expect too much. They have to be so inwardly convinced that they can accomplish epic things that they are able to gallop through the paralyzing self-doubt and countless obstacles that will inevitably be found on the path. The roadblocks. The bad news. The crippling defeat. The blow to the head, or the heart. But still, they carry on. Still, they toil. The whisper within them carries them past what seems viable, or expectantly possible, what seems realistic, to blaze past their current inner turmoil and overwhelming surroundings and into their true potential. To look fate in the eye and take from it what they will. To rise up beyond what others see, or believe, or require of us, to do the thing we truly think we cannot do. The thing we feel called to do. The thing that we absolutely MUST do. And finally, I had found it — that thing that kept me awake at night. The thing that consumed my thoughts by day. The thing that wielded the power to make me feel uncertain at its worst, and at its best, made me feel most alive.
Three years ago, I set out to write the book to tell my cousin’s story. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was revisiting a part of my past that I swore I never would. It was too dark. Too painful. It left me tearing open scars of the past that had long ago healed over. I wasn’t a lawyer, nor a therapist. Who in the hell was I to write her story? I had to curb my doubts and fight my way through self-inflicted fear on more occasions that I can count. I had to convince myself that somehow, some way, I would be able to do this incredible thing, to write a book, when I had no clue if I could write one at all. I had to be willing to pay the emotional price (and later, the financial one) to make this book, her captivating story, a reality. And you know what? That’s exactly what I did. My face was marred by dust. I didn’t know if I would stand victorious over the pages or faceplant in the arena. All I knew is that I couldn’t stop writing it. This book was too important. My cousin’s story mattered. And despite how ill-equipped I felt to tackle a book this big, I stepped into that arena. And I refused to step back out of it.
Today, I am proud to announce that the book I wrote to tell my cousin’s story – I Am Jessica: A Survivor’s Powerful Story of Healing and Hope will be published on April 29, 2019 — the 30 year anniversary of the tragic murders that annihilated my cousin’s life, shook my own, and put an entire community into the throes of grief, profound loss, and immeasurable mourning. This year, my cousin is taking her power back. I’m helping her do it.
Some stories were meant to be told.
This is one of them.
Here’s our blurb from the back cover:
A shocking 1989 quadruple family murder and the little girl left behind to tell the story.
As a child, I was known as “Jessica Pelley.” When I was nine, I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house for the weekend. While I was away, my entire family was murdered. I would spend the next 30 years fighting, crawling, and clawing my way through the darkness. This wasn’t just a national news headline, a cold case, or a true crime show. It was my family. And my life. I was the broken little girl left behind to tell this story. I am now “Jessi,” in the pages of this unapologetic memoir, set free.
Check out our Book Trailer HERE
Buy the book at Amazon:
Or Barnes & Noble:
(I gotta tell you the hardback version is GORGEOUS. It costs a bit more, but man, it’s a great looking book. And if you ever find yourself in a room with me, I’ll totally sign it! We’ll be announcing the World’s Largest Paralegal Book Club soon. My cousin and I will be meeting up to answer your questions on Facebook. Grab a copy and go follow our page: https://www.facebook.com/iamjessicabook/ It’s gonna be epic.)
From the arena, we’re posting this in memory of my Aunt Dawn and my two little cousins, Janel (8) and Jolene (6). You may be gone. But you will most definitely not be forgotten. (We made sure of that.) May survivors rise on the words of your story. May those who know survivors finally understand. And may everyone else buckle up for one heck of a story.