The first time I met Chuck he was coming back from escape at the state hospital where I worked. It was mid-winter. The frost bite on his feet was so bad that he had to be rushed to the medical wing. The front parts of his feet developed gangrene and were removed.
He would stump around the hospital on his bandaged feet, sometimes falling, sometimes leaning against the walls like a wounded tree, chanting songs from his tribe that his grandfather taught him, songs that echoed echoed through buffalo ages, songs that moved the leaves on trees filled with passenger pigeons, songs that traveled with the ghosts of tribes long dissolved into the Red American Earth. When he was tired he would spin through the dingy green institutional hallways, roll to the end by the window that overlooked the gnarled oak tree on the back lawn and his cries would shatter the white noise of the psych ward for the acutely disturbed. Then he would fall asleep in his wheelchair.
Shoulder length brown hair fell on his face. He constantly brushed it back with his right hand as his left hand flew over the keyboard of the hospital computer. The bugs in our computer system would vanish as his fingers danced on the keyboard. Chuck was a master hacker with a Bachelor of Science Degree that he earned before he reached the age of twenty and the electronic brain would respond to him like a dog to a stern master. After working out a glitch that had stumped us all he would turn to us, grinning the the Cheshire Cat, sweat glistening on his dark forehead and say, “The machines eat our souls. All I have done is learn the pathways of the false mind. I cannot walk that way any longer.”
Then his dark brown eyes would become filled with a dense mist. Lines of tension would arc down his cheeks and the space above his nose would pull together. His hand would firmly grasp the edge of the desk and the sinews on his forearm would ripple and define themselves. He would continue to speak and his voice would echo through the office as if it had the acoustics of an amphitheater.
“This is a troubled time. I am one of the Earth’s pain receptors and there is much wrong with the Spirit during this period when the air has become foul and the waters dark with dirt and melt the icecaps under the eye of an angry sun. I must return to the Spirit because the pain is too great for me. I am not a defective but the pulsing nerve of nature exposed and I must extract myself from it all.”
Then he would turn away from us, push away from the desk and, as if hauling the weight of the Earth on his shoulders, stump laboriously down the hall. The doctors determined that Chuck was schizo-affective and delusional and he was placed on suicide watch. But Chuck had determined that the hospital was a symptom of the disease of the human soul. He instituted legal action to overturn his commitment.
One day, as I escorted him to the whirlpool bath, he and I talked. “I trust you,”, he told me. “I am going to win this court fight because I know what the judge needs to hear. You know this is true.”
I knew in my heart that he would succeed in his court battle and asked him what he was going to do when was released.
He smiled and his strong teeth seemed to beam in the fluorescent light of the institution. “The task you and the doctors have undertake is immense. It is your job to convince me not commit suicide. It is my job to ensure I return home. I am convinced that may course of action is correct. You must convince me otherwise before I get out. Time is on my side, no?”
I nodded my head and grinned at him. He shook his head and his nostrils flared as he flipped his long hair with his hand. He grinned back.
“Look Chuck, I know that I am supposed to stay within an arm’s length of you because of the suicide watch but I want to give you privacy in the bath. Are you going to be okay if I leave you alone?”
“You sure you can trust me?” he replied laughing.
“I will be if you say I can.”
“You would risk your job to give me privacy?”
“Yes” I replied.
“Thank you. You have my word.”
I lifted him out of the chair and lowered him into the swirling water. Then I stepped out of the room and shut the door. Suddenly a chant I had never heard before made my ears dance. There was splashing and laughter and song and my eyes became wet as I leaned against the wall. It was the first time Chuck had been left alone in a room for at least two weeks.
One week later Chuck successfully fought the order of committal in court. On his third day of freedom he stripped down to his skin, wrapped himself with a thin layer of sheet metal, stripped a heavy duty extension cord and splayed the conductor metal onto his tin suit, taped it with black electrical tape, placed his half-feet into a large pan of water and then plugged himself into an electrical outlet.
I can still hear the stumping of those half-feet and his chant haunts the corridors of my mind. He was right! Time is on his side.