The Slave Quarters
Chapter 22 – Back to Work
By Rock Kitaro
The coastal city of Savannah should be called the City of Spanish moss. There are giant oak trees at every turn and the aged moss hangs like garland throughout the year. It’s the oldest city in Georgia, a history replete with tales of the Civil War, colonial pirates, and remnants of the grand Old South.
Its college town atmosphere reminds me of Athens, except it has more character reminiscent of antebellum class and sophistication. Horse-drawn carriages are one of the key stables for tourism. The many churches, statues, monuments, and Victorian age street lights…it makes the city a time capsule by which one could escape from the modern world. Liberal Arts is huge in the area. Even on a crisp Thursday afternoon, one could hear a distinct cello or some classical string arrangement carrying with the wind.
It’s not my first time to Savannah. To date, I’ve solved three cases here. The last one involved the disappearance of a teacher who was so fascinated with the pirate folklore that she managed to get herself trapped in an old dungeon. By the time I found her, the rats had stripped her to the bone. The graphic image has scarred my mind and ever since, I’ve dreaded the idea of coming back. Between Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans…the ghosts really are the worst.
Thankfully, I’m not here on official business. I moseyed on down after stopping by Augusta to testify at Det. Griffin’s Internal Affairs hearing. It’s been one whole week since I helped solve the Slave Quarter mystery. Det. Griffin was still a mess but my guilt no longer held me down. Griffin will probably spend the next three years in and out of the psych ward. And here I am indulging on a decadent dish of shrimp and grits at a highly recommended kitchen near Hutchinson Island.
It’s a satisfying meal. My belly is full and my schedule is clear for the rest of the afternoon. So as per usual, I seek out aesthetic beauty in the form of quaint scenic parks where I’m least likely to find horrible humans beings. Notice how I said “horrible”. I don’t mind the company of other humans so long as they’re good and decent. It’s been my experience that horrible human beings don’t bask in nature’s glory. If they do, it’s rare and brief.
The golden sun glistens through the browning crowns of Reynolds Square. The blue jays and robins are tweeting their lovely tunes as they bathed in the jade waters of a trickling green fountain. I’m wearing khakis and a cream-colored sweater vest over my shirt and tie. The cool breeze and a soothing scent of jasmine makes me feel lighter than a feather.
Indie Rock plays in my earbuds as I stroll the park on a grass stained walkway of maroon colored bricks. My mood is so chill, so cool. That rare sensation of “be free” enters my bloodstream causing my hands to wave along with the groove of the guitar. My shoulders bounce along with the beat. I don’t care who sees me, it’s all good. It’s all gravy. Dog walkers and joggers smile as they pass by. Single mothers are checking me out. I smile and nod to everyone. These are good people. It’s a good day.
I should be heading back to Atlanta. I have to work in the morning. Apparently Jessica and Leanne picked up a gangland murder that threatens to break the stability of Atlanta’s most prominent mob family. It wasn’t my case, and yet, for some stupid reason I feel responsible for those women. Call me chauvinistic if you want, I don’t care. They are my women and I protect my women. Yes, it’s this old-fashion obligation that compels to make one final stop before getting back on I-16. When a man makes a promise, he follows through. It’s just one of those things.
So here I go.
The John Wesley Institute of Child Development is a three-story hospital located in the heart of downtown Savannah. Its modern, sleek architecture makes it stand out amongst the neighboring Gothic buildings. The institution is committed to providing the best medical and psychiatric treatments for children struggling with severe emotional, physical, intellectual disabilities. From what I heard, it’s one of the best. It has the honor of being the next generation of FDR’s Warm Springs institute for Polio.
I sneeze on purpose to conceal my face from the cameras above the entrance. Of course, I realize how pointless this is as I enter the facility and spot five more stationed around lobby. Dark shells cover them so I can’t see what direction they’re facing.
The place is beautiful and immense. Murals of rainbows, sunshine, and clouds adorn the walls. Lovable cartoon characters are stickered to the windows and doors of private offices. Smiling dinosaurs, unicorns, knights and princesses serve as the crown molding, draping the sides of hallways. The most eye-catching feature is the huge indoor playground with soft matted floors. It’s a plastic castle of chutes and slides. No expense was spared in making this place childproof. Safety is priority one.
As soon as I enter, I steal the attention of nearly all forty mothers in the vicinity. These are the mothers of autism, polio, and birth defects. I have no desire to play with their hearts. My deepest respects and sympathy goes out to them. I sense their strength as they bury their sadness behind smiles of optimism. These mothers and sisters don’t lament the cards life has dealt them. Every single one of them has the look of admirable determination. Every single one of them feels grateful and blessed. If I were a millionaire I’d give more than half my fortune to see their every need and want was accounted for. Not out of sympathy, but duty.
Anxiety starts to kick in, so I pull out my acting skills and project the air of that British secret agent everyone’s so fond of. It starts with the raising of a single brow, the way I let my gaze dictate which way my head turns. I stand up straight with my chest out and breathe in through the nose, slowly and steady.
“Excuse me sir, may I help you?” the young receptionist asks from behind the desk to my left.
I approach with one hand in my pocket and a confident smile cemented in place. “Yes, thank you. I was wondering if I could speak to someone with experience regarding children with extreme cases of phobias. Particularly agoraphobia and those prone to panic attacks.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
For discretion, I move closer. “Young lady. My wife and I have only just moved to the area. As you can imagine, we love our child dearly. Money is not an issue. I’m willing to pay whatever the cost to provide the best possible treatment. I was told that this is that place. Am I misinformed?”
“Oh no!” She gushes. “It’s just that most people make appointments to speak with a specialist. But if you’d like, I can see if someone’s available to give you a tour.”
“Yes. I’d like that. Thank you.”
“Okay, hold on. Let me see who’s in their office.”
I step back and turn away to let her do her job. In truth, I’d rather not go on a tour and accidentally leave an impression by which someone could later testify against me. But I understand the protocol. In fact, I’d be alarmed if they let just anyone wander the premises without supervision.
“Sir! Someone’s coming down right now to receive you. Can I just have you fill out the visitor’s sign-in sheet?”
“Yes, of course. And ma’am, thank you so much.”
From her gushing smile, something tells me she’s used to dealing with less cordial visitors. Probably members of a fractious family who still haven’t worked out the kinks of a custody hearing. She stares at me like I’m a breath of fresh air but I wish she wouldn’t. Even in the visitor’s log, I use a false name. Not a fake name, just false.
Hard heels clack on the tile flooring. I turn to see a man almost my age, maybe a little older, but with short brown hair and glasses. He seems amped up like he’s in a hurry but puts forth the effort to appear congenial.
“Hello there! I’m Dr. Spacey,” He says in an effeminate country accent.
“Good afternoon. Coolidge, Jimmy Coolidge.” I say with a firm handshake.
“Well, hello hello! I understand you’re interested in enrolling your child at the John Wesley Institute of Child Development?” he says, leaning in way too close.
“Yes. That’s right.”
“Outstanding! Well if you’d like, we can walk and talk and I’ll furnish you with an overview of our lovely oasis of health and restoration. If you please, follow me.”
He chats me up as we traverse the hallways taking in the facility’s state of the art features. It has an indoor swimming pool. There’s a giant computer room where children can have their own interactive stations to receive lessons and improve their motor skills. The cafeteria workers are all chipper and seem to take great pride with dishes as simple as steamed rice, baked chicken, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
On the 2nd floor, we see more partitioned rooms as opposed to the great open spaces of the 1st. Specialists provide individualized care to groups of children and preteens, no more than five in each group. It’s on the 2nd floor that Dr. Spacey lowers his tone so as to not distract the children.
It’s here that he reduces the flood of information flowing from his mouth and inquires about my own affairs. He asks about my wife, my job, and more importantly my son. I don’t enjoy lying to him and it certainly isn’t fun to embellish the struggles and hardships I’ve had to overcome. When I talk about my fictional son’s agoraphobia, I’m merely revealing my own experiences and the strategies I use to cope.
I tell him that some of remedies I have my “son” apply involves the act of arriving at public venues before anyone else to get used to the surroundings. I explain that we locate the exits at every venue to make us feel safe, that escape was within reach. And perhaps the most beneficial remedy to agoraphobia is to have a purpose. If I’m there to do a job, I have something to focus my mind on so my anxieties don’t get the best of me.
After a soliloquy where I reveal all of this, Dr. Spacey stares at me with such fascination. I’m not going to lie. I’m sure if he’s impressed with my dedication to my fictional son, or merely infatuated with me. It feels uncomfortable.
Turning to face a classroom, my attention is draw to an elderly woman wearing the fabric costume of a black and white dairy cow. She’s tending to three toddlers in a room where the blue carpet displays the letters of the alphabet. I approach the window view and my chest fills with a mixture of triumph and satisfaction. This woman’s smile is so loving, so enthusiastic. When a little girl reaches out and gives her a high-five, the woman jiggles with joy.
It’s so cute. I chuckle.
“You really do love children. Don’t you, Mr. Coolidge. Your wife is a lucky lady.” says Dr. Spacey.
My cringe comes in a wince. Thankfully, he’s behind me so he didn’t catch it.
“Dr. Spacey, thank you for all of your information. I must say it’s a lot to digest. I’m wondering if I might have a moment and perhaps I can come visit you in your office with any follow-up questions.”
“Oh!” Dr. Spacey says with surprise. “Well that’s no problem at all. I’m located on the 3rd floor, office 319, just past the corridor where you’ll see a magnificent rainbow dipping into a pot of gold.”
“Ha! I doubt I’ll miss that. Thank you.” I say with another firm handshake.
He prances off…Haha, Sorry. He walks off down the hallway and even throws a smile over his shoulder. I find him adorable, but not as endearing as the old woman dressed as a dairy cow. It appears her three toddlers have branched off to scribble in coloring books. She compliments one of them but I can’t hear what she’s saying. I don’t need to. She’s so dramatic and animated. It’s not hard to discern the love is real. The children respond well to her. She’s amazing.
Then, almost abruptly, she struggles to raise her stout frame and leaves the children to their own devices. I watch as she skirts around scattered blocks towards the door and out the hallway. She doesn’t turn to see me at first, but she knows I’m here.
The brighter fluorescents accentuate the shadows of her wrinkles, the spots of discoloration in her aged visage. She approaches with the confidence of an experienced tutor who’s dealt with more than her fair share of interrupting parents. She’s not upset or frustrated by my presence, just curious. That, and I assume she just doesn’t like to be watched.
I smile and nod before a word is said.
Breaking the ice, I begin with, “I hope you realize how remarkable you are. I’ve never seen children so engaged in any one activity. At least not an activity that doesn’t involve a joystick or loony cartoons.”
Her laughter comes in sharp high-pitched ripples. I don’t want to sound mean but she really does look and sound like a turkey.
“Thank you! The children are a treasure. An inheritance and a blessing as the good book calls it. Do you have a child enrolled?”
“Not yet. My wife and I have only recently arrived. But after a well-spirited tour, I’m strongly considering it.”
“And what’s your child’s condition?”
“Agoraphobia. Among others.”
“Oh, so sad. Humans are created to congregate. We are social creatures by makeup, genetically and spiritually. And bless you sir. Bless you for seeking out the necessary treatment. I know it’s more difficult for fathers to admit their sons or daughters may be different from the others, but it doesn’t make them any less.”
Her words are therapeutic. I need more. “Go on,” I whisper.
“Well, every man or woman has their scruples no matter how normal or different they may be. A gorgeous person has to wrest with doubt and uncertainty towards individuals who show them favor. An intellectual has to tolerate and adapt to a world where they feel surrounded by Neanderthals. People confuse passion with sensitivity. And depending on your culture or how you were raised, fear and strength can be one in the same or two opposing forces on a very contradicting scale.”
“With agoraphobia in particular, it will be especially difficult because society has become so socially integrated with the progression of technology. It’s not just with crowded or public spaces that one may face anxiety, but also through social media, the expectations and boastings of what I like to call “broadcasted relationships,” as well as hierarchy in the workplace. Almost everything now depends on how well you function socially. Your talents, production, and actual contributions to society have to take a backseat. These are interesting times. It’s very dreadful. Very concerning indeed.”
I’m like a deer in the headlights the way I hang on every word. Sadness and regret bubbles up and escapes in a heavy sigh.
“Oh, hey, hey, hey. It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to be all right. Listen to me. You already took the first step by accepting his condition. And by coming here you’ve elected to do something about it. Most fathers are stubborn. Through pride or financial difficulties they refuse to acknowledge. They forgo professional treatment, which inadvertently worsens the symptoms. You should be commended. I know your wife and child must truly appreciate what you’re doing. Come here. Give me a hug.”
We embrace with her patting me on the back. This woman. In less than three minutes she’s done for me more than any other doctor has ever accomplished. I can’t help but chuckle in an emotional release.
“See! It’s going to be alright Mr…”
“Coolidge. Jimmy Coolidge.”
She smiles with a nod. “Well, Mr. Coolidge! Pleasure to make your acquaintance. Everyone around here calls me Ms. MooMoo or Dr. Yeager. But of course, my friends call me, Crystianne.”
Yes. I know.