Creative Writing by Bruce Whealton

Bruce Whealton

Chapter 5: Meeting Celta

Bruce whealton

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I found the above photograph, a high school yearbook photograph – Celta Camille Head through I had not known her in high school. In fact, she is 8 years older than me.
In this photograph of her, she is 16. She’s thirty-one now when I meet her for the first time.
After I graduated from Georgia Tech, I was feeling good about my career prospects, and I had a new
direction in life. I had a clear path in front of me. I finally knew what I wanted and how to get where I
was going … or so it seemed upon graduation from Georgia Tech in December of 1989.
The problem was that I chose to move in with my parents after graduation. This would be a decision that
haunted me for the rest of my life!
Ironically, just as I somewhat regretted my decision to move in with my parents, knowing how toxic they
were, what began in the 90s would make this time period among the best years of my life. I’m talking
about the chance I had to meet Celta in 1990. Also, the opportunity that I had to volunteer with the social
work team at Georgia Regional Hospital – a state psychiatric hospital was so rewarding. I learned so much
and I realized that I have a knack for this kind of work – psychiatric social work.
The work I had done in undergraduate school got me to this point. I knew that I had developed some
powerful social and communication skills during my five years of undergraduate studies. I had learned to
demonstrate empathy. I had overcome so much of the social anxiety that I had previously.
I want to tell you about someone special that I met.
I knew that some work needed to be done before I could begin to realize my dreams and to find success in
my field. I was making a transition from having a degree in engineering to working as a social worker, a
psychiatric social worker.
As I was saying, I met Celta in 1990. In an earlier chapter, I stated that I had only one date during my
years at Georgia Tech. There was one other time when I went out with a girl who was a cousin of one of
my best friends but we had only one date. That was my entire dating experience since I was too shy to
date in high school.
I wasn’t expecting anything special or amazing to happen in 1990.
I met Celta in an unusual setting. She had been in the hospital when I met her, making this story even
more complicated, unexpected, and unplanned. She had anorexia. That is why she was in the hospital for
a short while – her weight had gotten dangerously low. She was about four foot eleven and weighed under
60 pounds when I met her. Maybe less!
Even as I write this, I feel a bit uncomfortable mentioning these facts. How can one measure a person or
their worth by their weight?
I had a cousin who suffered from anorexia and one of the medical interns mentioned Celta saying that
maybe by becoming friends with her I might gain some insight into anorexia. This was different than my
usual role as a volunteer with the social work team at the hospital. I will discuss that later.
The idea was that I could be friends with someone, or I could meet with someone as a member of the
social work staff. Intuitively I knew that these boundaries are important.
It was Wednesday, January 3, 1990. I walked into a room at the hospital and saw her pacing. She seemed
frustrated. I remember how they had dragged her to another building to be weighed. As our eyes met, I
could feel a sense of serenity and peace.
This wasn’t how I imagined this moment. In my imagination, I had thought about ways I could get to
know her and gain some insight into a mysterious disorder called anorexia. I had not been assigned to do
a social work assessment on her so I wasn’t approaching her in that capacity.
At this moment, I did not feel any sense of pressure to make an excuse to talk to her. My mind was at
peace. What was it that I felt?
A smile washed across her face as if it hasn’t been there in a long time. Maybe this was my own
impression of what life must have been like for her for a long time. I wondered what she was thinking as I
moved toward her.
“Hi, I’m Bruce,” I said, “I am a volunteer with the social work team, but I am finished with that for the
day. I wanted to meet you.”
“Hi,” she answered. Her smile remained the same. I noticed that she didn’t seem to be responding as she
usually does when she is approached by members of the staff.
“Can we talk?” I ask her.
“Do you want to go outside?” she asked me.
There was a swing outside where two people can sit together. It reminded me of the one that my
grandparents had on their porch.
I realized that at this moment I was not brainstorming or rehearsing things to say as I usually did when I
met someone new. For the first time in my life, I was meeting a person and not feeling fearful or timid!
Sitting there on the swing, outside seemed almost like we had privacy, as much as was possible to have
when you are out in the open.
I explained that I am not here to gather information. “This isn’t my job.”
She just smiled.
“You seem almost happy,” I said, jokingly.
“I will be here for a while,” she said with a bit of a laugh that conveyed a sense of resignation to her
situation. She then explained that she had been in the hospital before.
I would visit her almost every day just before she was discharged. We would walk around the grounds,
and I began to tell her things about myself and my own experiences in life. I think she enjoyed listening to
me and sharing even the most mundane events. There was no one else that she described as being part of
her life other than a mother and father.
She listened intently… with concern and interest.
Before long she was writing letters – diary entries of everything she observed… the smallest details all laid
out for me like some running conversation. Sometimes she mailed the letters to me and other times when
I showed up, she gave me the letters.
It did feel a bit awkward because I had not thought that I was coming here to make a friend and I wasn’t
sure that doing so was okay. I was just starting out in the field. Before long, it seemed like the patients
and staff knew we were friends. I was Celta’s friend, and I also was part of the social work team/staff.
Those were two entirely different roles.
It was March and just two months had passed. “I want to show you something,” Celta said, inviting me to
walk. “See how they have faces?” she said pointing to some pansies.
I found myself momentarily making out the expressions on the human-like “faces” on the flowers.
On the next few visits, I noticed that the pansies seemed to smile or frown at us as we gazed upon them as
if they reflected our feelings that day.
Celta had asked me to draw an image of how I saw her. I laughed and said that I cannot draw, but I asked
if I could draw the picture with words. Perhaps she wondered whether I was attracted to her or found her
I learned that her name was chosen mainly by her father who was interested in Celtic and Gaelic history.
Her sister’s name was Gael, as in Gaelic.
She returned to Augusta, Georgia when she was well enough to leave the hospital. Our friendship was
growing. Her financial situation was a big problem, and I was worried about her. She was so thin, and I
was so worried about her health because it was obvious to me that she was at an unhealthy weight.
In the next chapter, I will begin to describe events shortly after she left the hospital.