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.
Mine was a tale that, by certain lights, was the truest thing I had ever written. It involved the burdens of history, an early loss of the mother, a baseless sense of personal responsibility, and dauntless hope for the future. Of course, by other lightsthe lights that everyone else uses, including courts of lawmy story was pure canard. A fraudulent, distorted, spurious, crooked, desperate fiction, which, when I met you, I lay bound at your feet. But this was 1984. I hadn't met you yet. I wasn't lying to youI was just a child, sitting at my father's typewriter, my legs trussed to the knee in white athletic socks, my hair still rabbit blond, not dark at the roots like it is now. I addressed the envelope. I filched a stamp. When it came time to sign the bottom of that crowded page, it was with some flair that I first signed the name by which you came to know me. The surname wasn't hard to choose. I wanted a hero's name, and there was only one man I'd ever heard called a hero in Dorchester. A local boy, a persecuted Irishman, a demigod. He was also a man who'd spoken to cheering throngs of depressed West Berliners circa 1963, leaving them with a shimmering feeling of self-regard that lasted long beyond his assassination, his hero status still in place when my father and I finally got there much later. In fact, you might say John F. Kennedy is the reason we showed up in this country at all.
I spent months intercepting the mail looking for my acceptance letter from Ossipee. The letter would offer me full acceptance to camp on scholarship, as well as sympathies for my troubles. I dreamt of this letter so often that I had a hard time believing it when it actually arrived. We at Ossipee believe that every boy deserves a summertime We are dedicated to supporting boys from all circumstances Come join us by the shores of our beloved lake Ossipee, where good boys become better men. Yes, yes, I thought. I accept! I've got plenty of circumstances! My excitement was tempered only by the sound of Dad's key in the downstairs foyer, and I realized I wasn't going to be able to show him the letter itself, which was addressed to a different boy. Instead, I showed him the disintegrated brochure. I told him of the man-to-man phone call from the camp director. I even made the scholarship merit based, rounding out the fantasy for both of us. We trotted around the apartment all evening. It was as close as my father ever got to joyful abandon.
No one ever checked my story. When the time came, I took a bus two hours north from Boston to a bus stop called Moultonville, where a camp representative was to greet me and another scholarship boy we picked up in Nashua. When we got off the bus, a stout woman in canvas pants came toward us. This was Ida, the camp cook and its only female. The other boy mumbled an introduction. Ida looked at me. "Then you must be Eric Kennedy."
Why did they believe me? God knows. All I can say is it was 1984. You could apply for a social security number through the mail. There were no databases. You had to be rich to get a credit card. You kept your will in a safety deposit box and your money in a big wad. There were no technologies for omniscience. Nobody wanted them. You were whoever you said you were. And I was Eric Kennedy.
From the book Schroder. Copyright (c) 2013 by Amity Gaige. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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