Chuck Beikman was in my life as far back as I could remember, but I knew him just for the last few months of that time. And I knew I had to stand up for him somehow, and then he stood for me in a way that required much more sacrifice.
“I coulden let ‘em hurcha, Stephan.”
This is what Chuck said to me as our Guyanese jailers ushered me into a small, windowless room to write down his statement, because he could neither read nor write. His “statement” would be about the murders that he was suspected of having a hand in, an account that would only be incriminating to someone who didn’t know Chuck or what we’d lived and learned, or who didn’t know Sharon Amos, the woman who’d frantically rounded up Chuck and her three children and the only other child in the house and every knife she could grab, and pulled them all into the master bathroom, fully intending to end every life in her hands.
I didn’t know any details of the mayhem that Sharon led. I did know that Chuck couldn’t be blamed, he could not be scapegoated. For a simple man like Chuck to go down for the crimes of the complicated and insane, would have been an injustice second only to the many murders that took place that night. Those who were responsible, those who deserved punishment, were dead. I didn’t know what had happened in that back bathroom – didn’t want to know, on the chance that it might weaken my resolve to help Chuck – but what I came to know is that Chuck did the only thing he could that night to save the only life he could. How I know and what I know will remain between me and Chuck and the one he saved.
Because the fact is, the details of what happened don’t belong here or anywhere. They aren’t mysterious, they aren’t scintillating, they aren’t cathartic. Most of all, they add nothing to this, my feeble attempt to thank Chuck too late.
I took Chuck’s statement, witnessed his mark, and was called to testify that he gave the statement without duress. And when I did just the opposite, his statement got thrown out of evidence, and I got thrown into prison and on trial with Chuck.
Snapshots: Chuck’s apologetic look when they sat me next to him in the defendant’s box for the first time; Chuck looking like a lost boy as they processed us into prison to wait for our next day in court; Chuck managing to smile even as he smuggled money in under his false teeth so we could buy bread; Chuck tossing the money to the wrong guy simply because he stepped out with hands extended upward and gently clapping; Chuck’s meaty shoulders rammed against the middle of my back as we fended off a swarm of angry inmates who never thought I’d attack the guy who’d punched me in the head.
Chuck and I stood by and for each other while we were imprisoned together, while Chuck and I sat together in the raised box in the courtroom, until the moment the magistrate abruptly threw out my case… but not his. I was let go right there on the spot and was quickly ushered away and then told by friends and the not-so-friendly to steer clear of the prison and of Chuck, and to get out of Guyana as soon as I could.
I went back anyway. I talked and bartered with inmates I thought to be influential who might see to Chuck’s protection and assistance, but I never saw Chuck again. I went “home” – to the States, harassed all the way and, somewhere along the way, heard that Chuck’s family was mad at “us”. So I stayed away and then ran way and then was swept away, first by grief and then by life.
I’ve never forgotten him, but I have felt that I’d forsaken him. And I’ve remembered him fondly, only spoke of him kindly, and there was nothing else I wanted to say.
And then not long ago I heard Chuck died, and I felt nothing and then felt everything, all of it carried by a deep sense of appreciation, an appreciation I failed to adequately express during his life.
So belatedly, dear Chuck, here I am, and I thank you for showing me what it is to stand for someone, for being a man of sacrifice and worthy of sacrifice. God speed, my brother. I pray you’ve known and will know the peace you so deserve.