The 70 year old woman's voice filled with disgust. "Stop being such a fucking pussy, John."
Monica took me under her wing when I was an undergraduate. She was the professor whom grad students avoided. They routinely failed her classes. If you've never been in grad school, trust that you get As just for showing up. She thought that was pure coddlesome insanity. A former Army officer, she was and remains the only woman I've ever known to have fired shots in Vietnam. A hard drinker, a hard smoker, a hard person. She insisted that we address her by her Army rank, not "Doctor."
"Cap'n," I would nod as we passed in the hall.
When we met, I was just struggling to survive school. She saw who I would be before I did, and she took me aside and told me exactly what I was good at. That doesn't happen often in life. It is overstatement to say "I owe her everything," but it's understatement to say that I wouldn't be who I am now without her intervention then. At a time of my life when I needed a nudge, she stuffed me into a cannon, aimed me in the right direction, and lit the fuse with her omnipresent cigarette.
She is my first and favorite mentor.
Craving unconditional approval, I called her this week. "What's wrong?" she barked. I instantly dropped all pretense of calling just to say hi. I whined about my feelings of failure regarding mentoring Darcy. I had wanted to do for someone what others had done for me, and I fell so short that I felt guilty. I hadn't failed just Darcy and myself but everyone who had ever helped me. I couldn't stop thinking about my debt to them. I wanted forgiveness from my own mentor. I wanted absolution. Monica listened for a while and lent some sage advice. And then she called me a fucking pussy.
I lowered the phone and stared at it. Is this why I am the way I am? I wondered.
We chatted some more, and I felt a little better, I guess, in as much as my mentor calling me a pussy can make me feel better. And then she wrapped things up with a bow.
"You know, John, you just might not be any good at this."