Another Open Mic has come and gone. If you don’t remember the drill, you can refer to this. If you do, carry on.
Lancaster Millern was 6’2, 275, and three sheets to the wind seven nights a week.
And he intrigued me. I spent hours sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the window at him instead of pretending to understand the mysteries of seventh grade homework. Like why my math problems suddenly had letters in them. I inexplicably loved Lancaster and what his evenings constituted; sitting in his yard, propping up his feet, drinking to the beat of his radio. No algebra in sight.
I thought Lancaster had all the time in the world. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t a gift.
I didn’t know that Lancaster had left for Vietnam with three of his best friends and came home with none. I didn’t know that the job that he left wouldn’t hire him back, and that he never received so much as a thank you, from anybody. Ever. In fact, the closest he got was a medical bill from the VA, asking what sort of installments he would like to make his payments in.
So Lancaster began working minimum wage, only to hand his check back to the government he had been raised to believe was there to protect him. And that quickly chipped away at the few free things that Lancaster had left. Like pride. And faith. And honor. And when those are gone, well, I guess one starts to understand how a shell can so easily crack.
Lancaster tried to mend himself with normal civilian life: wife, mortgage, kids. More witnesses to his demise. That’s all they ended up being.
I didn’t know that Lancaster’s children refused to visit. Children who saw this as a slow motion suicide that they weren’t interested in viewing.
Or that his wife refused to speak to him, because she was sick of feeling like his anger was because of things she’d said. Which was almost as hard for Lancaster to stomach as the fact that nothing hurt worse than the silence.
I didn’t know that Lancaster had started to feel a bit funny, even when he wasn’t drinking. A bit dizzy here, a little weaker there. Sometimes even unable to keep food down. But he didn’t mention it to anyone, because what was the point? He knew it was bad. He knew that this would be what finally killed him. But he didn’t care to see how chemo would ravage his body. And he didn’t care to receive deathbed sympathy, should there be any left to give him. He felt like a little bit of suffering was the least he deserved for all the other lives he had ruined.
And so, every night, he waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. Maybe to finally feel something. For the ability to move on. To just die, most likely.
And meanwhile, I attempted my algebra, hating that letters were in my math problems, and the way that my math teacher smelled like old books pulled out of a flooded basement, and really, just seventh grade in general.