Tonight is the time to write about Cameron. There is freedom both in flying and in coming down to earth, and each entails a decision. Coming back down to earth is an act of trust that the voyage will be safe, that there will be a welcome landing. Cameron has been flying in outer space now for some twenty-five years. Could it be longer? And tonight—actually this very night–he may be willing to land, to come down to earth, to trust the instrumentation and the vision of others to bring him in for a safe landing— for Cameron’s flight has been in deep fog now for the majority of this multi-decade joy ride.
When I first met Cameron, Rob’s youngest brother, he was at sixteen and over six feet, every bit as tall as his three brothers, so much like them. The span of ten or more years between him and the older three seemed invisible. At sixteen he had had wit and humor, an easy laugh, and a maturity about him. In fact, he’d already embraced a love affair with India Pale Ale, even at that tender age. He ventured up to northern Scotland for certification as a plumber, and there met Victoria, a tiny Australian nurse who had come to Scotland for a year’s specialized training. The family sent word that she was warm, patient, and lovely. Soon, we heard that Cameron had ventured back home with her to Sydney to try his luck in a new land. Smitten and sodden with love for Victoria and ale, Cameron began a new life, on a new continent, a world away from everything, everyone he’d ever known. He ventured out into the frontier of Australian culture, and he flew into a new life with an Aussie woman in one hand and a frothy pint of IPA in the other.
Several years passed. We would often receive holiday phone calls from Cameron and Victoria about their progressing romance. Eventually they married and their life together eased along much as the flow of good, pale ale on tap. Two children arrived just a year or so apart, and there was much good cheer over that. Then a stretch of quiet ensued.
We speculated: Cameron had sunk deep roots into his new life in Australia. He had found work. Victoria’s family had embraced him, apparently, we assumed, as he had none there. He was immersed in being a husband and father. Only the tiniest bits of news of his circumstances trickled out to us and to the rest of the family.
About five years into Cameron’s venture in the new land, his mum suddenly became ill, diagnosed with lung cancer—the heavy fine frequently levied against those who fell into the Scottish tradition of heavy smoking. From the time of her diagnosis, she had been given perhaps two months, maybe three, and the family in Scotland sent word to Cameron that her illness would soon overtake her. A trip back home was too far and too costly for Cameron. Thus, he was left, unable to have given her his goodbyes, and unable to have grieved with family at her funeral. He was a world away. At moments it felt to him a galaxy away. The unfathomable distance took its toll on him, and he grieved her death awkwardly, without respite or resolution.
Then, a mere few years after that, Cameron received word of his father’s sudden death. The news was harsh and grim. Just as Cameron’s mum, his father was a victim, too, of the tradition of heavy smoking and had developed emphysema. With a lack of oxygen slowing his gait, Cameron’s father had tripped on the curb during a morning stroll to the butcher’s and fallen beneath the wheels of a lorry. He had died instantly. When the phone call came, Cameron lost his footing and fell sideways onto a chair. He could not speak. Again, the cost of flying back home was impossible for him to manage. No goodbyes to his mum—the brutal loss of it had remained an open lesion on his heart, and now his father had been snatched from him. The youngest of the four, Cameron had been closest to his dad. Cameron sat alone, his face in his hands, and tried to imagine a world without his mum, and now his dad, never seeing either of them again, never having had the peace of telling either goodbye. Knowing Cameron’s fragile state, his three brothers pooled funds together and sent airfare to bring him back to Scotland to be present at his father’s funeral and burial.
Without a current passport, Cameron arranged for emergency bereavement travel with the condition that he not debark the plane during the long flight from Melbourne to Singapore, then through to London, and finally to Glasgow. He agreed. For forty-some hours Cameron sat on the plane, alone in the cramped quarters of strangers. When the plane disgorged passengers at various destinations, the crew—so sad to hear of Cameron’s family loss—comforted him with beer and spirits. They gave him all the liquid compassion they had, all he wanted. On the endless journey through the sky, Cameron floated in a dream of his home of Scotland, floated in a sweaty haze from the free spirits and beer that pulled him in and out of consciousness.
Cameron’s flight arrived in Glasgow and, even with emergency measures, legal waivers, and a temporary passport, it came too late. Landing there in the dark of night, Cameron knew that his father’s funeral and burial had already taken place, and a wave of nausea went through him. He opened the door into the family home in the midst of the wake, heartfelt and teeming with family and friends and solemn, yet his brain perceived not one but two hollow entities, two agonizing absences, the cruelest being his father’s. Fueled with lavish quantities drink and grief, Cameron fell through the door with cries and tears, screams and garbled obscenities. He looked around at the gathering and, in his fatigued and drunken state, bellowed in rage, “Where is he now? Where is my father?” A scream tore from him with such loss and agony, and he pulled desperately at his sweater and shirt as if to rip open his own chest. A quiet fell through the wake.
Cameron himself was almost unrecognizable to us. His thick, bronze hair was nearly to his waist, his beard full to his chest, his eyes crazed with too much loss and booze. He clutched at his brothers with his large hands, he yelled curses at the gods and at all of us, and he bellowed out his pain so audibly—just fucking raw it was—and my heart pounded with animal fear. This was my first sight of Cameron in years—I mean, they told me it was Cameron, but the person before me was a stranger. Yet it was as if a savage, tormented animal had suddenly been thrown into our midst, and I was stricken with fear. Shrieks and shouts of agony continued to pour from him, and his arms swung in every direction.
I took Rob’s hand and would not let go. “He’s frightening me.”
“He’s in terrible grief.”
More bellows and clawing at the sky and thumping of his chest.
“I don’t care, Rob. He’s scaring me.”
“Be patient with him. He’s just lost his father. He missed the funeral. He’s grief stricken.”
I took our two young daughters by the hand, and we went upstairs. There I clicked the bedroom door closed, and we sat quietly together, my arms around them. I would leave the three brothers and crowd of family and friends to put back together the shattered pieces of Cameron as best they could. Still, I could hear shouts and cries, screams and curses. The wall shook from time to time, and I could visualize Cameron’s fists pounding against the sheet rock downstairs. Waves of fear passed over me, and I kept our daughters close in the bedroom.
The next morning, quiet ensued. I ventured down the stairs, one cautious step at a time. I could hear the sounds of the rest of the family gathered in the kitchen. There in the living room sat Cameron, alone, still wearing the same rumpled and stained clothes as from the night before. His hair and beard were wild, in disarray. The last step below my feet squeaked, and Cameron’s desultory, crazed eyes came to rest on me.
“Good god, WOMAN!!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs at me, “Who the fuck are you??? What are you staring at??? God’s truth!!!” He then roared to those in the kitchen, “Who is she?? ‘Struth! Who is she??”
I hoped I might recognize Cameron—at least a vestige of his former humanity– under the layers of matted fur and booze, but he was a being who had lost all grounding. The wildness in his eyes sent chills through me. His voice boomed so loudly that I trembled, fearful that he would strike someone, anyone, our children, me, with his wild flailings, or that he might shatter the room with the pounding of his heavy fists.
The next day Rob and I decided to cut short our visit by several days. We had paid our respects. We had grieved the loss with our family. We had comforted each other. We took our girls and left for home in the U.S. Life for us resumed, a bit sadly with the loss of Rob’s dad, but we went on. We soon heard from the brothers back in Glasgow that Cameron had stayed on a month in a drunken stupor and then returned to Sydney. The Scottish family had mounted an all-out effort to soothe him, calm him back to himself, but it had been impossible. Contributing to the turmoil, they relayed, was that Cameron had cut a swath through the drink there, vastly out-drinking even his Scottish kin.
After Cameron returned to his family in Sydney, news of his life there became scarce except for phone calls that came at odd hours. Cameron began this new practice of reaching out by telephone at all hours of the day and night when he was in a drunken stupor. When the calls came, sometimes Rob would pull himself out of a deep sleep, would listen for a moment, then hang up the receiver. Sometimes one of our girls would laugh along with their crazy uncle and try to make sense of his slurred rantings. On three separate occasions, Rob, down under on business, took the opportunities to visit Cameron, and he told me with sadness and pity after the visits that Cameron undoubtedly had gotten the worst of the Celtic drunken genetics. He’d always worried, he said, that one of the brothers would get it really bad. In truth, myself completely unfamiliar with the roller-coaster hell of drinking cultures, I’d always wondered what “really bad” meant, but now the picture was coming clear. Cameron had definitely out-drunk the best of drunken Scotsman and Australians, lost really staggeringly in the genetic lottery. And so it was: a boding sense of helplessness, of Cameron having spiraled out into the dark, deep waters of his own fugue state, unable to swim to shore, and no one able to reach him with a life saver. That was the way it remained for several years: bleak news of Cameron punctuated with ranting, drunken calls in the dark of night.
In recent months, the silence broke open like a festering, bulging boil, and urgent word came via Victoria that she had done her best. She could no longer abide life in a house with an insane alcoholic. She needed to have him go. Cameron hadn’t worked in eight years, she told us. He hadn’t even spoken a word to his two children in more than five years, as we were stunned to learn. We, and the close family in Scotland, were sickened to hear the painful realities as she filled in the blanks. Now, she needed peace. She had moved out. The kids had long since fled in disgust and fear.
“Talk to him, Rob. Please just talk to him. He needs to leave, and I don’t know what else to do,” Victoria pleaded. With trepidation and little hope, Rob telephoned Cameron to find him at home, on the third week of a drunken bender and almost incoherent.
“You’ve got to help me, Rob,” Cameron pleaded. “I’m alone, so alone. Don’t know what to do.”
“Cameron. Listen to me. When you are sober. call me. Do not call until you are sober. I will help you then as best I can, but do not call until you are sober. Get yourself to an AA meeting. Get some help. Do this for yourself, and I will help you.”
Employing the harshest of “Scottish therapy,” Rob hung up.
More calls began.
“Are you drinking, Cameron? Have you visited AA yet?” Rob would ask.
“Yeah, I’m drunk and don’t need AA! And fuck you!”
“No Cameron,” Rob would sigh and shoot back. “Fuck you, Cameron. Call me when you’re sober.”
The daily drunken calls from Cameron lasted for more than two months.
“Are you drunk, Cameron? Have you been to a meeting?”
“Yeah, I am. And I’m not going to those depressing meetings with those losers! Fuck you, Rob!”
And Rob would hang up.
One night when Cameron called, he told Rob that he’d just smashed up the dining room chairs and several lamps, and he couldn’t find new light bulbs to replace the shattered ones.
“You’re drunk, Cameron.”
“Yeah, I’m fucking drunk, you fucking asshole. Victoria’s gone. The kids are gone. And so what! I’m going to fucking die in the fucking street somewhere, and you don’t even fucking care. You’re just going to let me fucking die. So fuck you, Rob!”
“No, Cameron, “ Rob said patiently but firmly. “When you stop drinking, I’ll help. Until then, as long as you’re drinking, fuck YOU!” and Rob would slam down the phone. Scottish therapy?
Cameron sat alone in the house with his cache of beer, nursing his stubborn Scottish pride, calling brothers to his aid, but Rob had already telegraphed the word to the family: If Cameron calls sober, tell him call ME. If he calls drunk, tell him to call me, and hang up immediately. Victoria called with tears and word that she had checked on Cameron, and he’d sunk in deeper. The house was in a shambles, broken to bits by Cameron’s rage at the world that had forgotten him, by the family that had abandoned him, by his poor turn of luck. She believed that this was the crisis that would take him.
Many nights over the last month, Rob sat with white knuckles, waiting for word of Cameron’s death now that Victoria had fled, imagining the dead body, cold and pickled with his own alcoholic consumption. It tore Rob to pieces. This was his baby brother.
“I know he probably won’t make it,” Rob told me with such sadness in his voice.
“He’s too stubborn to get sober, too stubborn to call. He’s proud like me, like my brothers. Like us. Worse, though.”
Today we took a drive to have some quiet time and to consider the various possible outcomes with Cameron, death increasingly becoming the likeliest among them. We pulled up in front of a nearby café for lunch, and Rob’s cell phone rang through the car. Over the speaker-phone, we could hear Cameron sigh heavily, his voice brimming with panic and choking with tears.
“Rob. Rob. It’s me, Cameron. Don’t hang up. I’m sober. Haven’t drunk for five days. I’m in trouble, really deep in shit. Please help.”
Rob exhaled from a reservoir within him. I reached over and squeezed his hand tightly. We looked at each other and nodded. I opened the car door quietly, slipped out, and made my way to the café where I would wait for Rob while he would try to throw a spar to a drowning soul.
Abigail Jardine has taught and written for many years. Her stories focus on gender, family dynamics, and American culture. She lives in California.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365′s Facebook page.