I remember back in high school when I wore oversized hoodies, dyed my hair black, and had Vans slip-ons with the teal cross stitching. I thought I was hardcore because I listened to Avril Lavigne and Relient K.
But I wasn’t really hardcore—just weepy and wimpy.
Until I graduated to the good stuff: Evanescence, Hoobastank, System of a Down, Staind, Breaking Benjamin, Linkin Park. Then all that wimpy, weepiness evolved into a whole new kind of beast, spinning into a whirlwind of beneath-the-surface rage and sarcastic wit.
When I got my first Linkin Park CD (Hybrid Theory), I played it on repeat—played the emotions those twelve songs evoked on repeat. I’ll never forget the way those songs validated the whirlwind inside of me.
Linkin Park’s lyrics didn’t just inspire me.
They saved me.
In May of 2017, my husband surprised me and bought tickets for us to see Linkin Park in Charlotte on August 17, 2017. It was their “One More Light World Tour” and it would be my first time seeing them.
It was a literal dream come true. And I couldn’t wait.
July 20, 2017
Chester Bennington took his life—robbed breath from the lungs with strands of suspended string.
The tour was cancelled.
And the world was devastated.
For some, it was his tattoos—the way they crept likes vines up the arms and across the chest. For others, it was his look—the way the glasses framed his face. The gauged ears. That spikey hair. Skinny bones swallowed up by pants too baggy for a belt. But, for most, it was his lyrics, his voice. It was the syncopation in the songs; the melody in the music. The way he belted and bellowed those words only to make them reverberate and ricochet against all the aching places and spaces that lay deep within a human heart.
There’s a saying that went around.
Sang like an angel, screamed like a demon.
All the pain and longing in his voice, sounding off in decibels louder than any demon’s scream, ripping through the darkest of synths and shredding guitars—it brought us all to a place of calm and quiet. Like swaying a baby to the steady hum of a lullaby, rocking it to rest.
He soothed our sorrow and insanity to sleep.
That’s why the world loved him. That’s why the fans followed.
But those songs weren’t just lyrics written to soothe a crying world to sleep. Those songs were his words, his thoughts, his pain.
And he wasn’t just singing to the world from a stage.
He was seeping his own sorrow from the seams.
And it kills, literally kills, that the light he brought to the world wasn’t bright enough to keep his own here. It wasn’t bright enough for him, and it wasn’t bright enough for my cousin.
The hardest question to ask right now is how. How and why. How and why and when. How and why and when and where? How and why and when and where and who? Because, with suicide, the answers never come and the questions never stop.
Why? Why did he do it? Why didn’t I see it coming? How is this happening? How come he didn’t reach out? How did I miss it? When? When did the idea to do it come? When did the idea to die creep back in? Where? Where was I? Where were the signs? Who? Who hurt you so much to make you want to do this? Who did you need? Was who I was to you good enough? And why? Just why?
I wonder if Chester ever heard the echo of a million voices singing, screaming his songs back at him. In the quiet moments on stage, when the music died and only voices were left to bellow and whisper the endings of songs, did the lyrics ever lull him to sweet peace in the soul?
Why couldn’t his own songs save him?
Why couldn’t our singing save him?
The numb he felt. The place in his heart where he longed to belong. All the insecurity and disgust crawling under every layer of his own skin. That paranoia, the voices in the back of his head.
He wasn’t just singing to the world from a stage.
He was seeping his own sorrow from the seams.
And the signals couldn’t have been any closer than the earbuds in my own ears.
We humans, we save people from ditches on the sides of roads. We jump start electrical pulses in broken hearts and make them start beating again. We sit across the table with friends and speak words that save hundreds, and thousands.
We are always saving.
But, human hands can only stretch so far. And, sometimes, a heart we love so much can slip through the crack.
I think that is what hurts and haunts the most. The fact that, even when we knew, even when we tried, even when we had every song to soothe the sorrow. Sometimes we just can’t calm the cry inside.
No matter how hard we tried to keep the flame flickering on the candle, we lost its light.
Lost one more light.
And the world really does become a little less brilliant because of it.
All I can say about blood spilling from veins and lungs starved from oxygen and pills disintegrating into a million fatal fragments is that, we can’t resurrect the dead.
But we can rescue the dying.
In our living and our loving and our listening we can keep trying to speak over the screams that overshadow the sound of love.
It might not always stop everyone.
But it will save some.
I don’t know.
That hope is all I am left with.
That and, well…the empty space where the chair was once filled.
Chester, you are missed.
And, soldier, you are missed, too.