I tried so hard and got so far. But in the end it doesn’t even matter
I was in my senior year of high school, a time of red plaid pants and college applications. Jessica, whose parents lived across the street from mine and who were forcing her to give me a ride to school every morning, popped a cassette into her car’s tape deck as I hopped into the front seat.
Chugging bass notes and a voice that was on the edge of a scream emerged from her speakers as she pulled away from the curb. I listened quietly, the lyrics shifting from dramatic metal to spitting rap. “Who is this?” I finally asked, never having heard anything quite like it. It was angry and unapologetic and I liked it.
“Linkin Park,” she said with a laugh, though I didn’t understand what was funny. Over the course of our three years going to the same high school, Jessica had adopted the habit of saying everything with an edge of mockery, as though she could preempt anyone else’s attempt to make fun of anything she said or did. This had the added benefit of allowing her to sneer at everyone around her. I, so painfully awkward and earnest as a teen (and still as an adult), couldn’t handle the constant contempt, and after a couple of weeks I was again getting dropped off at the back of the school by my dad.
I don’t know what stressed me first or how the pressure was fed. But I know just what it feels like to have a voice in the back of my head.
But I kept listening to Linkin Park. Of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park’s lead singer, I thought, this guy gets it. It felt as though his songs were written for me. He got how truly shitty teenagers are to each other, how isolating your high school years can be, how hard your first life disappointments are when you realize things might not actually work out. And Chester’s voice, raw and angry, soothed the corresponding rawness and anger inside of me. I found comfort in not being the only one who thought all of this was complete bullshit.
Listening to the lyrics now, none of them mention high school problems specifically–the songs are about pain, and pain is universal. I kept listening to Linkin Park, got their next album, and their next, even as my friends made fun of emo music and developed more “mature” tastes. I remember blasting Numb as I drove to work in college, the songs allowing a release from the constant pressure inside of me. The songs didn’t promise things would get better, but they promised I wasn’t alone.
I hurt much more than any time before. I have no options left again. I don’t want to be the one the battles always choose ’cause inside I realize that I’m the one confused.
I got to see Linkin Park live several times over the course of the following decade, and they were electric on stage. At one concert, the crowd around me surged and pumped their fists, angry enough that a mosh pit formed behind me, but polite enough that when the mosh pit knocked me on my ass, they stopped to check and make sure I was okay, then went back to shoving each other. It was an outlet, an acknowledgment, a release.
When I heard of Chester’s death by suicide, sorrow ran through me, though ultimately I wasn’t shocked. He had struggled with childhood trauma, with addiction, with depression. He had spent his career channeling that pain, that struggle, into his music, so while it was tragic that he had chosen to end his life, it wasn’t surprising.
I don’t like my mind right now. Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary, wish that I could slow things down. I wanna let go but there’s comfort in the panic and I drive myself crazy thinking everything’s about me.
Those who say suicide is selfish don’t understand suicide. He and I never met, but Chester’s willingness to make himself vulnerable in his songs, to connect with his audience in that way, seemed anything but selfish to me. Listening to his music always felt as though he had a hand on one of my shoulders, telling me, “I get it. This sucks. Keep trying.” And I did. And we all did. And he did, until he couldn’t anymore.
And so it is up to the rest of us take up that flag, to bridge the distance between ourselves and others, to acknowledge that pain and encourage everyone to keep fighting. As much as he has been a comfort to me, Chester Bennington is also an inspiration. I can only hope to help others the way that he did.
RIP Chester Bennington. You will be missed.
Author’s Note: If you’re going through a rough time, feeling depressed, or thinking about self-harm, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time at 1-800-273-8255 or visit its website here.