Chapter 22 – Bitter Farewells (New York)
The atmosphere in the police station is so depressing that I feel like turning around and running out the door as soon as I set foot there. Camille walks head down between Tyler and me, wrapped around her on her right flank, and holding my hand on her left. The fluorescents give the gray walls a ghostly atmosphere, like a nightmare.
But aren’t we living one?
The four of us go straight to the nearest window―the fourth person is Nora if you haven’t guessed. Cam’s adoptive mother has been given the news, but they don’t want her to come yet until things are resolved. So far, in Tyler’s exact words:
“There are enough of us to fix this mess and tuck Camille in.”
A rather friendly officer attends to us immediately and as soon as she hears the reason for our visit, her eyes open wide and she composes a gesture of compassion while indicating the corridor to which we must go.
Camille, on the other hand, doesn’t say a word and stares at the floor tiles almost all the time, even when we sit in those uncomfortable chairs that populate the waiting rooms of any administration in the country. At this point, Tyler reports that he is going to try to find some refreshment and is happy with the nods that Nora and I gave him. Camille, as she lets go of her brother’s hug, simply accepts mine and buries her head in my shoulder without saying a word. Tyler sighs and heads for the drink machine with his shoulders slumped, while Nora comes over to sit next to Cam and hold her hand.
None of us say anything, although we’d like to. I, in particular, am so frustrated that I want to scream and beat it out with whatever object I can get my hands on, but I know that wouldn’t help Cam.
The minute Tyler comes back with several bottles of soda in his hands and hands them out to us―Cam denies hers, but I hope I can convince her to at least give mine a sip―a cop comes up to us asking about my girlfriend. The four of us raise our heads and Tyler stands up in his full height even taller than the officer that came, tiny in comparison. However, his tone is kind and solicitous when he asks:
“What’s going on, Officer?”
“It’s time. We need someone to confirm…” ―he takes a quick look at Cam which gives me the creeps, and I notice how she, after coming out of her apathy, stares at him in tension― “if it’s him.”
Confirming my worst fears, Tyler turns to Camille and crouches beside her, almost until their heads are at the same height.
“Are you ready?” He asks softly. “If not, I can go in…”
But, to everyone’s surprise, she denies strongly, interrupting him, and stands up.
“Come on,” she mutters under his breath, the first word I’ve heard her say in the last two hours.
And so, following the cop, both siblings leave Nora and me alone. And neither one of us knows what to do or say. At least, until Nora sees that I don’t look away from the door through which the motorcade has disappeared and touches my arm to bring me back to reality.
“It’ll be all right, Moose,” she tries to reassure me with a smile that doesn’t reach her clear eyes. “We’ll all be by her side.”
I swallow spit.
“I don’t know if I should be here,” I admit, a little embarrassed. Being next to Tyler and Nora, ‘the great Gages’, intimidates me a little; even though they are my ‘brothers-in-law’. Camille…
“Moose”, she interrupts me without violence. “You’re one of the family,” she looks in the direction I was looking a few seconds ago. “You love her, don’t you?”
I swallow again and yet I can’t help the hoarseness when I answer:
“Much. Since forever.”
Nora then smiles fondly again and squeezes my hand tightly.
“Cam is very strong, you know. She’ll get over it,” she says, winking at me and adding, to my surprise. “Plus, Tyler is a lot calmer if he knows you’re there to take care of her every day.”
My face must have reached the temperature of a nuclear oven in a second, but she makes no mention of my shame and yet points to a spot across the hall.
“Come on, they’re coming out.”
The atmosphere of this place is depressing, although it’s no wonder. After all, cemeteries are places of sadness. And what I regret the most is that I now have to share it with the helpless creature that I surround with my right arm, praying if only for a second that this will only be a horrible nightmare―for her smile to return. For getting my whole girlfriend back and not feeling that I’m barely holding a piece of her soul since the others have been diluted between shock andtears.
When we returned to Tyler’s house last night, where he and Nora claimed that we would be calmer than at the residence or at ‘The Safe’, I know in good faith that Camille did her best not to let me hear her cry. Unfortunately for her and me, she didn’t make it, and we barely slept. Not even our mutual warmth has been able to dispel that storm cloud that now follows us everywhere.
The sermon is ending and the few people who have come to tuck us in―Cam’s friends from University, Luke’s, Andie’s, Chase’s and the people from ‘The Streets’; my parents ―are coming to give their condolences to Camille, flanked by Nora, Tyler, her foster mother and me. When she sees me, my mother comes to hug me and I let go, though without losing sight of my girl. With her hair up and light makeup, dressed in black and upright as much as her mood allows, she looks older, more mature―she looks painfully beautiful. Andie, Chase, and my friends also greet me discreetly, although they all naturally turn to Camille.
After exchanging a few words with each other, however, the audience disperses until, in the end, only she and I are left in front of the grave. Her family tried to get her to go with them, but Cam asked them to give her a few minutes. I’m about to leave too when I hear her voice.
“No, please, stay”, she whispers in a tone I hardly recognize. “Where is her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice? ―what has sadness done to her? “Please.”
Of course I can’t refuse, and I go around her body with my arms.
I almost feel that she has lost a lot of weight in these two or three days, but it can be because of the stress and the pain. I’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t go any further. We both stay quiet, looking at the fresh dust until she finally opens her mouth.
“They say he was drunk when a taxi hit him on Sixth Avenue,” she sighs and wipes away a tear; but, indeed, she hasn’t cried as much as I expected. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Don’t say that Cam” I’m scolding her for not being able to help it.
No one should say such things about a father, let alone a deceased one, despite what he might have done―but she doesn’t agree.
“He was never a good person, Moose,” she tells me quietly. “They put him in jail for something very big. He was never a good example. And yet…”
He seems to want to add something but ends up crying. All the tension accumulated in the end has broken her dikes and I can’t do anything but embrace her with all my love.
“At heart…I thought he could change. That day, in the park… I thought that…”
I hold her head against my shoulder and caress her hair, trying to reassure her but not succeeding.
“It was your father, Cam, whether you liked it or not” I’m lifting her chin with my finger so she’ll look at me. “Sometimes we wish our parents were our heroes and those who praised all our successes, the role models… But many times it’s not like that. They disappoint us as much as we disappoint them.”
Cam grimaces and turns her head back to the tombstone.
“Well, I’d say he took the cake on that one. After all he did…”
“He can’t hurt you anymore,” I whisper by her hair. “But you have the right to remember him as the father you know he could have been,” I caress her cheek. “Maybe it’s for the best.”
Camille, after a moment’s hesitation, nods.
“I don’t know if it’s the best one,” she admits, “but maybe, despite everything, it’s the least painful option to go on.”
Goodbye, Dad. Despite everything.