For Dr. Marilyn Todd-Daniels
By Jessica McClendon (2016)
I said goodbye to someone yesterday. Not goodbye for a time or in death, but goodbye to a journey we had taken together. Goodbye to the “us” that had been. I thanked this person for the role they had played in my life for 17 years as my mentor, my professor, my caretaker of sorts.
She’s 80 now. She feels the heaviness of age. I’ve never seen her as old. I’ve always considered her so much larger and stronger then me. Her giant soul made her seem heads above all. But yesterday, as I wrapped my arms around her body, I realized how tiny she actually was. Her head resting on my chest. I laughed and said, “when did you get so small?” She smiled up at me, “well Jess, I’m 80. Today I feel it.”
I’ve loved her from the beginning, more then my 15 year old heart could express. But we stayed in the places we were – the mentor and mentee. She advising me, leading me, telling me the missteps, applauding brilliance. Me, in some way taking her for granted.
When I got the phone call from my mother telling me that my mentor was sick -was doing her end of life paperwork, was feeling weary- the magnitude of the last 17 years came in like a flood and thinking of a world without her was almost more then I could bear.
I had to tell her.
I drove the hour and a half to her sprawling Victorian home in the country.
We had smoothies and iced water on her back porch and I leaned forward:
“I need you to know that you changed my life. I don’t know who I would have been without you. I am so grateful that you saw potential in a scrawny, awkward, 15 year old girl and took me under your wing. You didn’t have to. I love you so much and I am honored to have known you.”
It seemed appropriate somehow. We both knew. Our relationship had changed into something deeper.
“Jess, it has been such an honor. I am so proud of you. You done good kiddo.”
I cried as I drove away. I said goodbye to the child I had been with her. I said goodbye to my adolescent neediness. Goodbye to being broken and helpless by her side. I’m strong now, thanks to her and if the time comes, I’m ready to carry her if she needs me to.