On July 21, I did what I do best. I wrote. The day before the musical world lost another of its shining gifts to suicide. But this one hit me. Hard. Because this one was one that had helped me through a lot of my own pain and anger and for as long as he had been on my musical radar, I had never not been a fan.
I was at work. Between haircuts, I checked my phone for messages and I had one.
Years ago, when someone I thought was my future had torn my world apart, I had a few friends who helped keep track of the pieces so I could find them when I was ready to put things back together again. We had been through thick and thin, high and low, by each other’s sides. I checked my phone that day and one of those friends had sent me a message, asking me only if what she had seen was real.
My instinct was to push it off until later, sending her a message back asking what she had seen. Then I checked into Facebook and the first thing, at the top of the screen, was he who occupies my heart, relaying the shock of the news.
I returned to the message from my friend and all I could say was “Fuck.”
I grabbed my cigarettes, my lighter, and headed outside. Shaking, from head to toe, I sucked down that cigarette faster than I had in years.
Back inside, I pulled it all together because I couldn’t duck out of work for the rest of the day over a celebrity’s death – could I? – and went back to it. Halfway through the next haircut, I hear the DJ on the radio. I hadn’t heard everything she had said but I heard the words, “This one’s for Chester.”
It took everything in me not to break, right there, in the middle of what I was doing.
When I finished – after what felt like a lifetime – I left the salon floor again, still shaking, or shaking again, I’m not sure. My friend had responded to confirm that we had seen the same horrible news and that she, like me, had no idea how to process this information. My co-workers had all seen it by this point and were discussing the band and arguing over how old Chester Charles Bennington, musical legend, lead voice of Linkin Park, was. It wasn’t, but to me, having turned to this man’s screams and lyrics at times when I hated everything about my life, their words felt callous and insensitive.
I took my nicotine and my phone back outside, away from people who could never understand how hard this had hit me. I noticed that sometime in the half hour between learning of Chester’s suicide and that moment, I had gotten a message from another musician with whom I have, over years, cultivated a very strange relationship, almost as if he knew I was going to need to hear his voice.
The rest of the day was long and emotionally draining. It took everything I had not to cry. I fought the tears for more than 12 hours until I couldn’t anymore and I broke. And I cried harder in that moment than I have for a celebrity death, ever. Every major celebrity death up to that point, that was someone who had influenced my life, had left me feeling shocked and numb. And I shed tears for a few of them. But as I thought of more than fifteen years I’d followed this man’s career, as I thought of the times I would turn his music up and just let myself be angry at someone who had hurt me, so deeply, as I thought of hearing those songs performed live from not even ten feet away and feeling them in my soul, I cried until I couldn’t see anything through the tears.
And then I wrote. I dealt with Chester Bennington’s death by writing about what it meant to me, what he had meant to my life, how his suicide had hit me like a fucking train, because writing is how I deal with pain and sadness. But I censored it. I made it fit for a broad audience of other people who were mourning him and I gave it to them.
This is the uncensored version. I’m not rehashing the other piece. I feel like it said what it needed to say when it was said and I am satisfied with having it out in the world. But this is what else I’ve needed to say in the 12 days since one more light went out.
I am sad. I am sad in a lot of aspects of my life. I don’t feel like I am depressed, in a clinical sense, just that I am very, very sad. I am sad in a way that only a few things really bring me any kind of solace. Music is one of those things. And now I am sad that the creator of some of the music that has been so much a part of my life gave up his battle against the real, clinical kind of depression. I am sad that he couldn’t find peace while still being a part of our world.
But just as much as I am sad, I am angry.
I am angry at a world that stigmatizes mental illness to the point that people who are in the kind of pain Chester was in are not encouraged to seek help. If he had had cancer, everyone would have rallied around to make sure he was taken care of. And Chester, specifically, had a strong support system, although it turned out not to be enough, but so many people don’t. So many people with depression or anxiety are told to “just be happy.” Find a hobby, get a pet, just be happy. People with eating disorders are told they are “too skinny; eat a cheeseburger” or on the other side, they hear dieting advice from everyone they’ve ever met. “Moderation.” “Eat a lot of salads, that’s what I do.” Mental illnesses are just one more instance of the human body attacking itself and should be treated as such. No one should be made to feel like they are “being dramatic” when they seek help for depression or anxiety.
I am angry because in the hours and days following Chester’s death, the internet has overflowed with love and kind words about how he, and all of Linkin Park, had been a huge part of the lives of these people but just two months before – two months – how many of those same people were part of the hate for the band’s latest album? One More Light was released on May 19 to a cacophony of people decrying it as a sell-out album or even going so far as to call it garbage, attacking the band, and Chester personally for something that was markedly different to what they, as “fans,” were used to. One More Light is not loud and guttural the way Linkin Park has been in the past. It is introspective and it is heart wrenching and it is intimate and it is personal.
Chester and the rest of Linkin Park were so proud of what they had put together. He had publicly addressed the hoard of Monday Morning Quarterback Critics who were willing to share their nightmarish opinions from the anonymity of their computers and he had done it angrily. And he had been chided for the rage, without anyone really understanding that that kind of anger only comes from pain and that kind of pain only comes from love. No one gets that angrily defensive over something to which they are indifferent. I am angry that his “fans” were capable of hurting someone they supposedly admire so deeply with their rank hatred of this personal, intimate creation.
I am angry because we’ll never know how much of that negativity was a factor in his death. Visibly the hate filled critiques had subsided within days of the album’s release but had they really. Was he still hearing how awful people thought this new record was? Was the hatred still flowing in? Were people still longing for the 25 year old kid with porcupine-spiked hair, angrily screaming his angst into the world? I am angry that people in our culture are so callous and apathetic that they don’t care about the weight their words carry. It is not that they don’t understand; they simply don’t care. So many people are so comfortable in their anonymity that they don’t have to care about how their words can hurt someone else. Or that something they say could be that person’s breaking point. They understand, they just don’t care.
My heart is broken and I am still reeling from this death of this celebrity. Mourning a celebrity is different to mourning someone who you have known in life. We mourn celebrities, not because we knew them, but because they helped us to know ourselves. Through your words, your beautiful voice, your tortured screams, you gave me an outlet when I needed one and I will never not remember that. Thank you, Chester Bennington, for helping me to know myself.