What follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance.
My lawyer says I should tell the whole story. Where we went, what we did, who we met, etc. As you know, Laura, I'm not a reticent person. I'm talkative — you could even say chatty — for a man. But I haven't spoken a word for days. It's a vow I've taken. My mouth tastes old and damp, like a cave. It turns out I'm not very good at being silent. There are castles of things I want to tell you. Which might explain the enthusiasm of this document, despite what you could call its sad story.
My lawyer also says that this document could someday help me in court. So it's hard not to also think of this as a sort of plea, not just for your mercy, but also for that of a theoretical jury, should we go to trial. And in case the word jury sounds exciting to you (it did to me, for a second), I've since learned that a jury gets all kinds of things wrong, cleaving as it does to initial impressions, and in the end rarely offers the ringing exonerations or punishments that we deserve, but mostly functions as a bellwether for how the case is going to skew in the papers. It's hard not to think about them anyway, my potential listeners. Lawyers. Juries. Fairy-tale mobs. Historians. But most of all you. You — my whip, my nation, my wife.
Dear Laura. If it were just the two of us again, sitting together at the kitchen table late at night, I would probably just call this document an apology.
Apologia Pro Vita Sua
Once upon a time, in 1984, I created another fateful document. On the surface, it was an application to a boys' camp on Ossipee Lake in New Hampshire. I was fourteen and had been living in the United States for only five years. During those five years, my father and I had occupied the same top-floor apartment of a tenement in Dorchester, Mass., which if you've never been there is a crowded multiracial neighborhood in Boston's southern hinterlands. Even
though I had quieted my accent and cloaked myself in a Bruins hockey shirt, and tried to appear as tough and sulky as my Irish American counterparts who formed Dorchester's racial minority, I was still mentally fresh off the boat and was still discovering, on a daily basis, the phenomena of my new homeland. I remember the electronic swallowing sound of a quarter by the slot of my first video-game machine, as well as the sight of a vibrating electronic toothbrush, and how, one day while I was waiting for the bus, a boy not much older than me drove up to the curb in a Corvette convertible and hopped out without use of the door. I remember seeing many sights like this and more, because the feelings they brought up were confusing. At first I'd feel a pop of childish wonder, but this wonder was followed by the urge to stuff it back, because if I were a real American I would not have been in the least impressed with any of it. Self-consciousness was my escort, a certain doubleness of mind that I relied upon to keep myself from asking stupid questions, such as when Dad and I drove across the border of Rhode Island one day on an errand, and I resisted asking why there was no checkpoint between state lines, for I had — if you can believe it — brought my German passport with me.
I first saw the brochure for Camp Ossipee in my pediatrician's office. I studied it every time I was sick until I slipped it in my jacket and took it home. I stared at this brochure for weeks — in bed, in the bath, hanging from my pull-up bar — until its pages started to stick together. The American boys in the photographs hung suspended in the air between cliffside and lake water. They walked in threes portaging canoes. I started to envision myself swimming with them. I imagined myself crawling through the wheat or whatever, learning to track and to mushroom. I would be the go-to man, the boy out in front, not so much the hero but an outrider. I was particularly interested in the Ossipeean rite of passage available only to the oldest boys in their final year — a solo overnight camping trip on a remote island in the middle of the lake. And here is where my future self was really born to me, in this image: myself, Erik Schroder, man alive, stoking a fire in the night, solo, self-sufficient, freed from the astrictions of society. I would fall asleep as one boy and wake up the next day a totally different one.
All I had to do to apply to the camp was to fill out a form and write a personal statement. What sort of statement were they looking for? I wondered. What sort of boy? I sat at my father's card table, gazing out the window at the corner of Sagamore and Savin Hill Ave., where two classmates of mine were fighting over a broken hockey stick. I slipped a piece of paper into my father's typewriter. I began to write.
From Schroder by Amity Gaige. Copyright 2013 by Amity Gaige. Excerpted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.