Trigger warnings apply to this post for: discussion of suicide.
The house is in the middle of nowhere. Across the road are fields and trees. A pasture and another line of trees lies between it and one neighbour, a field of soybeans and a gravel side road between it and the other. At this hour, the first few lights are just starting to come on in the houses, which are mostly occupied by farmers and their families.
The house in the middle is old and built of brick, and there are three lights on: one in the kitchen, above the sink, left on all night every night; one in the porch, because someone has already left the house this morning and won’t want to trip when coming back in; and one in the yard, illuminating the driveway, the doghouse, the rusting jungle gym beside the chicken coop, and the barn.
It’s the barn the lone figure is heading towards, hunched low in layers of coat and sweater and barn coveralls, nostrils sticking together for half a second with every breath in. The temperature is about thirty-five below in Celsius, AKA fucking freezing.
As the figure approaches the barn, a thin strip of white about an inch or two long becomes visible on the other side of the mesh screen in the door, then bobs up and down in time with the sound of a horse’s nicker. The horse let himself and his stablemate out of their stalls. Again. The culprit, the white snip on his nose the giveaway, is standing in the aisle by the door, watching the person responsible for feeding them approach; the other horse has made his way around and then down the narrow aisle in front of where the cows are tied, and is peaceably eating their hay while the panicked cows pull as far back as the chains tying them will allow.
The figure switches on the light, lowers their hood, and the teenager goes to plug in the system that will thaw the barn’s pipes before putting the horses back in their stalls. That done, she pulls off her bulky work glove, digs in the pocket of the coat, and comes up with a crappy little MP3 player. She picks an album to listen to, sticks one earbud in, and puts the player back in her pocket before getting started on the morning chores.
That kid was me, and a lot of the time, the album was Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight. A lot of memories come to mind when I think about Linkin Park’s music, but that’s usually the first one: myself at seventeen, trudging out to the barn on bitterly cold winter mornings to do the chores before school, mouthing along to the words because I was too self-conscious to sing along out loud, even when there were only horses and cows to hear.
Another memory is of sitting at the picnic table in the yard, not that far from the barn, with my favourite songs from Hybrid Theory or Meteora playing while I wrote stories I abandoned a long time ago. Both memories, though, have something in common: the way I felt while I listened, whether it was to the haunting, powerful ballads like “Hands Held High” or “The Little Things Give You Away,” or the raw, brutally angry tracks like “Crawling” or “Breaking the Habit.”
The thing is, I don’t think I could have defined what their music meant to me, not then. I just knew that while I was listening, the seemingly permanent knot in my stomach eased a little, the tangle of thoughts in my head became a little smoother, and it got a bit easier to take a deep breath, like I was coming up for air.
If I were to try now to explain what Linkin Park’s music made me feel then, I think I’d go with understood. Any word I use to try to describe my state of mind back then sounds like an understatement—lousy, shitty, terrible—so I’ll just be blunt. I’ve written about my experiences with suicidal ideation and how close I came to making an attempt to end my own life before, and I’ve talked about it a lot more since moving past it than I ever could have discussed it while it was happening.
Since I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone in my life about what was going on in my head, I turned to music, including Linkin Park’s, and it was full of lyrics that said what I couldn’t, with music as raw and hurting or quietly hopeless as I felt. It was like someone tapping me on the shoulder and going, Hey, check it out. Here are some people not that much older than you, and they made it. They’re making it. Maybe you can make it out of here too.
And I like to think I have made it, in a way. No matter what else has been going on in my life, my mental health has never slipped back down to the lows it was at then, and even if it ever does, I know that I’m better able to handle it now than I was then. But when I hear that a musician who helped me get past a time that seems short now but interminable while it was happening, who helped me see the light at the end of a really long, really dark tunnel full of all my worst fears and darkest thoughts, has committed suicide, all I can feel is a sense of sorrow and loss. Sorrow that a family has lost someone they can’t replace and a band has lost a member and a friend. Loss, because the chance to tell them what they did for me, even unknowingly, and how much they helped me when I didn’t know who or even how to ask for help, is gone. A person is gone, along with everything they could have done, and if I let it, it feels like a strike against my odds, but mostly it just feels like the loss of somebody who understood.
Musically, I’ve wandered away from Linkin Park in the last few years, but today I went and listened to their most recent album. It was a gut punch, not just because I felt understood again, but because this time it seemed like I was the one standing on the other side, seeing the plea for help and understanding it, except it was too late. It’s heartbreaking.
You will not hear me say that Chester Bennington, or Chris Cornell, or anyone, “lost a battle” with depression, or addiction, or anything else. The word battle conjures up images of fields of mud and blood, but also calls to mind ideas like honour and glory, and there’s no honour in a battle where the other side fights dirty. I’m not saying that surviving with mental illness, addiction, or anything else that pushes you into thinking of taking your own life isn’t a day to day struggle. I’m just saying that equating suicide to losing the battle feels wrong to me, because in my experience, sometimes it feels like suicide is the only way to win, even if it’s just because at least it’s an ending.
A line from One More Light’s title track is sticking with me. It’s “Can I help you not to hurt anymore?” Whatever’s happened to Chester Bennington now that his light’s gone out, I hope that he’s not hurting anymore, and that he’s at peace, and that he knows that years ago, a teenage girl used to pause on her way back from the barn and look up at that sky of a million stars, and feel understood, and she won’t forget what that felt like.
If they say
Who cares if one more light goes out
In the sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out
If a moment is all we are
Or quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out
Well, I do
— Linkin Park, “One More Light”
Note: If anything you read here or anything you’ve found out about Chester Bennington’s death has put you at increased risk for suicide, please seek help. To anyone else affected by the news, take care of yourself. (And to the people whose text messages I’m currently ignoring because I just… can’t do it right now, I promise I’ll answer eventually.) I swear one of these days I’ll write a blog post about something happier.