In the beginning…of her young life, anyway…there was very little that was good. Cecile lived in a dysfunctional family plagued by alcohol, violence, and abuse. The baby of the family, she should have been doted upon and made to feel special and unique. Ironically she was made to feel unique, but not in the way little girls should be made to feel. She felt like she was the only one who knew what it was like to feel fearful, terrified, dirty, and shameful. She had felt this way as long as she could remember and had no one to thank for her earliest living nightmares other than her own family.
There. That writing exercise was finally done. It had taken her the better part of a week to complete the assignment dished out by her new psychiatrist. Dr. Pendarvis had asked her to write about her childhood as though she was an author composing someone else’s biography. Cecile had struggled with not only what to write, but how much detail to go into. The only element she was vague about was the blow-by-blow account of every negative incident in her past. She could not go there, not because she refused to, but because she couldn’t remember the details. A good bit of her childhood had been expunged from her memory or so it seemed to her.
Cecile neatly folded the paper that contained her writing and tucked it into the outside pocket of her handbag. She felt the smooth surface of the designer logo-emblazoned bag. It reminded her of when she received it as a gift from her late husband, Atlanta hotel magnate and societal patriarch, Thomas Latimore. She mindlessly left her apartment in mid-town and walked to her car. She had to get to a 10:30am appointment where she would give the doctor her writing assignment. She tried to concentrate on her driving but her mind drifted back to the summer she met her husband and the day he gave her this purse.
It was a Tuesday. She had recently arrived in Atlanta and had met him only two weeks before he surprised her with the gift during lunch at a cafe in Buckhead. He called it a “welcome to Hotlanta gift” and she was taken aback by his generosity and his attempt to speak the lingo of the day.
It was all so much to digest at once; being in Atlanta, getting a great job, meeting Thom, and receiving a gift. She was a small town girl in a big city. She had landed a job as the assistant to the president of a prestigious private art and design college. Thom was a strikingly handsome man, though he was quite her senior. And then there was the fact that Cecile was unaccustomed to receiving gifts; not just costly gifts, but any gifts at all.
Little did she know at the time, the Liz Claiborne handbag he presented to her as she shyly ate a huge Cobb salad was the first of many niceties Thom Latimore would bestow upon her before and during their marriage. Neither was she even remotely aware what a paltry precursor it was to the estate he would some day leave her at his passing.
A horn sounded and her attention snapped back to the Billy Squire song blaring through the sound system in her car. She loved the Atlanta oldies stations. As she hurried up Peachtree Street to get to her appointment in Sandy Springs more memories bombarded Cecile’s mind. She vividly recalled the day she arrived in Atlanta in July of 1987. As she disembarked from the small commuter plane that flew her in from the Savannah airport the heat and humidity hit her square in the face. The smell of jet fuel, exhaust fumes, and the hot runway wafted toward her. It was invigorating. She had actually made it.
How someone as green as her came to escape that Louisiana swamp town she grew up in and eventually arrive in Atlanta was, in itself, practically an act of God and no straightforward tale. Hell, there she sat more than a decade after Y2K and she still wondered how she managed to survive her childhood and teen years. “It is pretty miraculous,” Cecile thought, reiterating the exact phrase that entered her mind when she saw the Atlanta skyline for the first time all those years ago.
When she thought about it, Cecile realized she had no clear memories of her life before she was 10. Now that she was seeing this doctor, it was coming back to her in bits and pieces. What she did know was that nothing before that time was good. With that epiphany she instantly felt a rush of adrenaline in her veins. Her brain instantly tried to recall her childhood by piecing the fragmented memories together. Cecile dodged haphazardly in and out of morning traffic and all she could think of was the overwhelmingly compulsory need to escape. She did not know from whom or what she should escape, but it was so real to her she began to sweat like mad and hyperventilate uncontrollably. Her body went numb, her mouth dry. She could feel her heartbeat pounding her eardrums. She felt as though she would faint.
She careened her shiny black 7 Series BMW into the first parking lot she could find. She slumped over the tan perforated leather steering wheel and fumbled to adjust the air vents so they would blow straight onto her face. With her eyes closed she managed to take slow, deep breaths and tried to get her head screwed on tight. Her thought process was like a demon-possessed pinball, bouncing frantically from one bumper to the next. She tried to stop the flashes from her past from entering her mind but it seemed the harder she tried to stop them, the more quickly they came and the more lightheaded she got.
Suddenly there was a loud rap on the driver’s side window. When she jerked her head up and looked to her left Cecile recognized the middle age rent-a-cop that stood directing traffic in the middle of a nearby Peachtree Road intersection every weekday morning. He looked concerned as she slowly powered down her window.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” he asked.
Cecile stuttered, “Um…yes. Yes, Sir I am fine. I, uh…..it’s um…a menopausal hot flash. That’s all. I just had to stop to regroup. It’s okay.”
As the silver-haired officer smiled and nodded knowingly he wished her a good day. She let the window up and vigorously shook her head to clear the fog in her brain. Reaching into the arm rest console she retrieved a monogrammed linen handkerchief and tossed it into the passenger seat. A bit more digging and she found a wad of fast food paper napkins. She dabbed at the perspiration that covered her face, throat, and neck. Thank God she was wearing her hair up in that new style she found online yesterday or it too would have been soaked. She hastily reapplied her lipstick and zipped back into traffic as she chided herself out loud, “God, Cecile. Get a grip on yourself. You haven’t even hit menopause. You’re such a liar!” Her voice softened and she whispered under her breath, “I have to admit it was a damn good cover though. Girl, you’re good.” She gave herself kudos for her quick thinking and her uncanny ability to think well on her feet, make up a highly plausible lie, and deceive whomever she took a notion to deceive….even in the midst of freaking out. She fancied herself having been born with the innate abilities of a professional con artist as she had possessed them her entire life. That much she didn’t have to struggle to recall.
Soon she arrived and parked at Sandy Springs Physicians Tower. Cecile was haunted by the thought that this session with her shrink would go no other way than horribly. She needed to psych herself up. She was in the habit of talking to herself. The advent of cellphones with wireless earpieces and mics built into earbud cords made that habit appear less crazy. “Smile,” she told herself, “be positive, think happy thoughts.
The happiest memory she ever knew had nothing to do with the wealth, power, or social standing she had attained by marrying Thom Latimore at a young age. Conversely, it had everything to do with having been stolen away in the night four years prior to her arrival in Atlanta. Cecile had been rescued and taken to south Georgia’s coast. At the time it was a blur. She came to herself a week afterward, living conspicuously as the only white person in a black family the predominantly poor, black neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia known as Dixville. Although she lived in one of the worst places on the south side, in the Hopkins Homes projects, she did know now, deep down in her spirit that it was the single best thing that ever happened to her up to that the time. She poignantly realized that her then 15 year old mind could not possibly have fully grasped how that fateful trip had the potential to change the course of her life.
Now, at midlife, it had been years and years since she had spent any real time thinking about her past. She spent so many years since then recreating her past to suit the situation. Without question all these thoughts and memories from her former life were Dr. Pendarvis’ doing. Seeing him was what she had to do at this point. Cecile didn’t really have a choice since her personal attorney had advised her to seek an evaluation after Thom’s death.
The time leading up to her weekly doctor’s visits made her apprehensive and anxious. While she was in the chair she was practically a basket case and when she left the well appointed doctor’s office she felt a mixture of relief, dread and excitement. She was inevitably relieved when each session was over, but she always dreaded the flood of memories that were sure to follow.
Seeing Dr. Jonathan Pendarvis left her feeling like she didn’t know which way was up or down. The feeling was akin to losing her grounding, her firm footing if you will. She was definitely on the proverbial slippery slope since she started seeing him, emotionally anyway. And it didn’t help that he looked like a young Brad Pitt. She secretly wished he looked more like Julia Roberts’ ex-husband, the homely Lyle Lovett. It certainly would make these visits a lot easier. Thinking about the good doctor, Cecile swung wide the heavy glass lobby door, straightened her straight black hair and threw her shoulders back. She took a deep breath, pasted on a smile to die for, and started toward the elevator. Every ounce of her buxom 170 pound frame sashayed and did so gloriously.