Kathryn Joyce writes: On the second-to-last day of 2013, when the glow of Christmas had passed and there was nothing to do but settle in for months of unbroken winter, a stranger arrived in Saranac Lake, a 5,400-person mountain town 70 miles shy of the Canadian border. Set amid the patchwork of forest preserves and villages that make up the largest publicly protected area in the Lower 48, Saranac Lake is the self-appointed “Capital of the Adirondacks,” a onetime best small town of New York, and the place where I’m from.
The stranger was a 31-year-old infantry captain in the Royal Australian Regiment who’d been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan two years before. He arrived at 6 p.m. on the one bus that comes through town each day: an Adirondack Trailways coach that chugs slowly uphill from Albany, stopping in what seems like every podunk town along the way.
To get to Albany, he’d taken a bus from New York City, and before that planes from San Francisco, Sydney, Canberra, and, ultimately, Adelaide, Australia, his own hometown, more than 10,500 miles away. He was male-model good-looking—wholesome and tidy, with intelligent eyes—though he’d recently grown shockingly thin and had cut his brown, widow’s-peaked hair so close it was nearly shaved.
He’d been a battle captain in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, just north of Kandahar, working as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition force. But his PTSD diagnosis had placed him on restricted status, and he’d since been re-assigned to a desk job in Canberra, Australia’s sterile government seat. He had a medical review coming up in January and, his family would later tell the police, he feared he might be discharged. The Australian Defence Force was withdrawing from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and the military was downsizing; everyone who remained had to be fit to deploy. [Continue reading…]