All it takes is a single movement, and Cameron's off Sloane's parents' diving board and sinking to the bottom of the pool. His air bubbles up and away and he's immersed, he's going under.
Cameron has always feared death. No, he corrects himself, he's always feared everything, but his fear of death is a simple one: he does not want to see his life flash before his eyes. He's always suspected it would be an unpleasant revelation. But he corrects himself again, in this seemingly endless period of suspension between life and death: he hadn't wanted to see his life flash before his eyes. Now he does. He's ready for the revelation.
And it comes.
The first day of kindergarten, and Cameron was clinging to his mother's hand, desperate not to be left there, somehow aware of the change before him. "Cameron," his mother said briskly, firmly, "it's time for you to go." She peeled his fingers off her hand and walked away, her keys out and ready. She didn't look back.
(It's time for you to go. Cameron, in the pool, finds it interesting that she didn't say it was time for her to go.)
Cameron stayed at the door of the kindergarten classroom for what felt like a long time, ignored in the bustle of kids louder and pushier and faster than he had ever been allowed to be. His eyes filled with tears, and he was crying, and his mother didn't come.
Instead, a kid - the loudest and the fastest one in class - stopped and looked at him, his expression one that would become as familiar to Cameron as his own face. "Come on," he said. "Kids who cry get candy." And he took Cameron by the hand, and towed him up to the teacher. "He's sad," the kid explained. "Because his mommy left him all alone. But he's not alone now, because he has me." The teacher nodded, and Cameron was presented with a bowl of candy to pick from.
The other kid got to pick a piece of candy, too. "For being such a sweetheart," the teacher said, beaming at him.
That other kid, of course, was Ferris. The two poles of his life were fear and Ferris, and there they were, together on the first day of Cameron's school career. This is so significant that Cameron would laugh, if he wasn't drowning.
In fifth grade, Ferris hatched a plot, one that would get them an eleventh glorious viewing of Star Wars in place of the math test they were supposed to take. And Cameron balked.
"We're gonna get in trouble," he said.
"We're not going to get in trouble," Ferris said. (Under the water, Cameron marvels at that. Even then, ten years old, Ferris had that confidence. Cameron has never had it and always wanted it, and the closest he could ever get to it was standing next to Ferris.)
"What about the test?"
"Mrs. Berkowitz will let us make up the test," Ferris promised.
"She's gonna call our parents," Cameron predicted. His heart was pounding, because he wanted to be near Ferris, but he knew better than to take the risk. Risks did not work out for Cameron Frye.
Ferris switched tactics. "Cameron," he said. "Do it for me."
Cameron hesitated, and Ferris moved in for the kill. "You can see Star Wars with me," he said. "Or you can take the math test and find a new best friend."
And Cameron went. He spent ten minutes wondering if he was going to throw up in the men's room before the movie, and the adventures of Han and Luke and Leia - but mostly Han, Cameron always watched the movie for Han - were underscored with his pulse, which never really stopped pounding out Cameron's mantra: you're going to get in trouble, you're going to get in trouble, you're going to get in trouble.
They didn't get in trouble. Mrs. Berkowitz let them make up the test the next week, which gave Ferris time to study. Or, actually, gave Cameron time to teach Ferris what he'd missed while he was passing notes with Brandi Miller.
Cameron learned from this two things:
- The universe loved Ferris in exactly the same way it hated Cameron.
- Cameron's purpose in life was to be wrong so that Ferris could be right.
Cameron grew up on schedules. Every hour of his day had a specific purpose and appropriate activity, and he knew them all as well as his own name and followed them without really thinking.
Ferris knew the schedules as well as Cameron did, but he didn't follow them. He used them.
From seven to eight was the Dinner Hour at Cameron's house. No one answered the house phone; instead, it went to the answering machine. Cameron's father and mother discussed the news of the day and certain carefully-selected cultural events. Cameron stared at his plate. At eight, Cameron's father went out to the garage, and his mother went upstairs for her alone time, and Cameron went to his room for his quiet time.
Ferris had no trouble putting this to his purposes. He did three hang-up calls in a row during the Dinner Hour - Cameron watched his father's face get redder and his mother's lips get whiter with each one - and Cameron knew that meant he had to call Ferris back during his quiet time, or Ferris would call again and interrupt his mother and there'd be hell to pay.
So he'd sneak downstairs and hide in his father's study and dial the number. And Ferris, on the other end, would pick up and say what was on his mind. In October of sixth grade, what was on his mind was mostly Aureliana Castagno. She was beautiful, Ferris told him. She spoke Italian. Her family ate interesting food and had a summer home in Lake Como.
On successive calls during quiet time, Cameron learned that:
- They had gone to the movies. Ferris had paid. (Ferris never paid. Usually not even for himself.)
- She laughed like an angel.
- She held Ferris's hand.
- She kissed him.
(Cameron knows now that he wasn't thinking about kissing Aureliana. He was thinking about kissing Ferris.)
Cameron woke up with his pajama bottoms sticky. Alba, the housekeeper, washed them and never told his parents; it was the start of a lot of things she didn't feel the need to tell his parents. Cameron still wishes his father hadn't fired her.
In ninth grade, Ferris met Mr. Rooney. Cameron could have told Mr. Rooney how it would go - Ferris was the unstoppable force, and Rooney only dreamed of being the immovable object - but Rooney didn't ask, and Cameron didn't offer. He knew better than to invite trouble. Ferris might be unstoppable, but the universe was perfectly willing to open fire on Cameron's ass.
Ferris's proposition was simple: change Cameron's schedule so that they had the same classes. His first shot was through Mr. Rooney.
"Cameron has an anxiety disorder," Ferris told Rooney. Cameron tried not to bug his eyes out at Ferris, because - seriously, did he have to be the freak? (Cameron knows now that, yes, he had to be the freak. He was the freak, and he is the freak. And Ferris always knew that, from that first day of kindergarten.) "He generally gets very upset if I'm not in class to provide moral support. He also has severe health problems, and since I am the picture of good health, I can easily provide him with notes and tutoring as needed to ensure that he remains up-to-date in classes he's had to miss." Ferris leaned forward, dropping his voice, which was one of those moves that should be asinine - seriously, like Cameron couldn't hear him? - that really worked for Ferris. "His family situation is - difficult," he confided. "We're very concerned for him."
Cameron waited for the universe to rearrange itself for Ferris's benefit: for Rooney's eyes to well with tears, for him to agree that the world would be a better place if Ferris was in charge, for him to get out the candy bowl. Instead, Rooney narrowed his eyes and said, "I can see right through you, mister."
"Then you'll know I have nothing but sincere concern for my close friend," Ferris said cheerfully.
"You've gotten away with this before," Rooney said, eyes narrowing, face flushing. "People - maybe even educators - have let you push them around." He stood and put his hands on the desk, and Cameron, who had been intimidated by far better than Rooney, recognized it for an act and was still scared by it. "Well, let me tell you something. It stops here. These are the big leagues, and I will whip you into shape, Mr. Bueller."
Cameron felt his balls attempt to retreat into his body. Ferris grinned and said, "The school board would probably frown on the reintroduction of corporal punishment, Mr. Rooney. Thanks for meeting with us. I'll be sure to tell Cameron's parents how supportive you were." (Cameron knows now that that was a threat - a totally empty one, but a threat. At the time, he just thought Ferris was bluffing, and waited for the flaying to start.)
Out in the front office, Ferris said, "I don't know why I started with him. Always go to the person in charge." Cameron opened his mouth to point out that they'd tried that, and it hadn't worked, and they had a class together anyway, and, seriously, was it necessary, but Ferris was already smiling at the secretary. "Hi," he said. "Can I call you Grace?"
Grace was very sympathetic and helpful.
They had their classes together, all four years of high school.
From this, Cameron learned two things:
- He wasn't the star of the show. Ferris was the star, and Cameron was a supporting player.
- He wasn't even the comic relief.
By twelfth grade, Ferris was bored. He'd worked every scam he knew. He'd made money, he'd made friends, he'd made Homecoming King. "There's no challenge here anymore," he told Cameron during quiet time their first week back.
"You could try making it through the year without Rooney putting your nuts in a sling," Cameron offered. "That'd be a challenge."
"Rooney's small time," Ferris said. "There's got to be something better out there."
"Unfortunately, we're stuck in here," Cameron pointed out. (He looks back and knows, knows that those words led him to the whole crazy day: the sausage king of Chicago, Danke Schoen, the Ferrari, this moment under the water, and he thinks maybe that counts for something - maybe Ferris isn't running everything. Maybe Cameron's in charge of his own life, however much of it is left.)
"You're right," Ferris said.
"Of course, you're wrong, too." Cameron could hear Ferris typing something. "We're only as stuck as we choose to be."
Something in Cameron rebelled at the thought. (Something in Cameron resonates to the memory.) "We're not the ones making choices, Ferris."
"But we should be."
The next week, Cameron had an asthma attack in PE, and Dr. Roth said he needed to stay home for two days. The first morning, Cameron settled himself in bed with tissues and his inhalers and two books and his humidifier, and then had to unsettle himself when the phone rang.
"Let's make some choices," Ferris said. "For starters, I choose not to go to school today."
"Ferris, you're going to get -"
"I'm not going to get in trouble." Cameron could hear Ferris's grin. "I have bronchitis."
"You don't have bronchitis."
"My father thinks I do, and he's in the city, and my mother's away at the Realtor pep rally thing. I believe this is what is known as an engraved invitation."
"I believe you're what is known as a fucking lunatic," Cameron said, and then he took a fast breath - was he wheezing? He reached for the inhaler.
"You aren't having an asthma attack," Ferris said, and Cameron put the inhaler down. "I've got Star Wars on tape. And popcorn. And miniature peanut butter cups."
And Cameron put down the phone and went over. It went pretty much like he expected; they sat together on the couch, with Cameron hyperaware of every part of Ferris that was touching him (shoulder, thigh) or close to touching him (his entire right side, pretty much). Every time Ferris moved, Cameron felt it. He flushed. His heart rate picked up. He stared at the screen - stared at Han, focused on Han, and thought about Han, except that was a complete lie. He was staring at Han, but he was thinking about Ferris.
Halfway through the first movie, Ferris went to get them more sodas, and Cameron went to jerk off in the Buellers' upstairs bathroom. (Ferris's ideas got bigger and crazier - Cameron is the still-living-if-only-for-the-moment proof of that - but Cameron's responses never changed.
Cameron thinks maybe it's time they did.)
Cameron realizes, there under the water, his lungs starting to ache from lack of breath, that he was right all along. Near-death experiences bring revelations. He's had two of them:
- Ferris may walk on water, but
- Cameron doesn't want to drown in it.
He's not going to be afraid any more.
"Ferris Bueller, you're my hero," he says. He can say it now because it isn't true.