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Losing Chester Bennington Is Like Losing A Friend

Listening to Linkin Park in the privacy of our rooms, we found, in Chester Bennington, a friend who made the pain of the difficult process of growing up just a little easier.

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The first time I was handed Meteora was actually late 2005. My aunt came home complaining about the album and how she was sure “Numb” was about a mother-son relationship. On the edge of his teenage years, my cousin just rolled his eyes and told me I should listen to it and judge for myself. He handed me the cassette that he carried around with him everywhere and told me, “This will change your life.”

I sat in my room lying in bed with my Walkman plugged in and holding the album jacket in my hand, looking at the lyrics and mouthing them as I put the album on for the third time.

Falling in love with a band for the first time is like making a new friend. You’re still on the edge, figuring out what the vibe of the band is, still wondering what the words mean and nodding your head to the beat because, on the inside, you just know something has clicked, and that this is stuff you’ll be playing for years.

Cut to July-August 2006.

“Please don’t tell me you’re playing more of that ‘Linking Park’, guys. I am really done with that man’s screaming,” my aunt implored from the back seat of our Scorpio. My aunt shot me a look hoping I’d save her with a Bollywood-heavy playlist. But I shrugged and said, “It’s okay, aunty. I actually like this music. Let’s listen to this album once bas.” My cousin snatched the aux cable from the dashboard and plugged it into his iPod to play Meteora for the nth time in the summer of 2006.

That summer was also my introduction to depression.

I had just turned 13 and would spend more time at night crying than actually sleeping. There was no reason for me to be upset. I had loving parents and some amazing friends who cared about me. But I lived in a constant state of misery. I would hide in school bathrooms to weep for five minutes and get back to the class and smile again. I looked over the edges of balconies wondering if anyone would care if I fell. I would cross roads and want to be run over. I was 13 and I wanted to die. That’s all I knew.

I hesitantly looked up the symptoms of depression after I realised there was something more to this than just a random heartbreak or the pain of my rapidly falling grades.

“If you have five or more of these 10 symptoms, please get help.”

I had nine.

We yelled the lyrics in the void of our rooms, at bullies, at parental pressure, at teachers, at board exams, at the need to get into the right college.

With a heart full of pain, head full of stress, and handful of anger held in my chest, I started writing. I would sit down with my pen and diary, listening to the only music that felt like catharsis – Linkin Park. I would write for hours, write to express pain, write to understand pain, but, most importantly, write to heal.

As I ran out of every word and album that they had to offer me, I passed around the music to my friends on rewritable CDs. Soon, we were all singing the same words loudly to each other between classes, and figured that we were probably all companions in this unspoken pain of growing up.

Even if no one really understood or saw my depressive state then, knowing that I wasn’t alone with the already difficult job of growing the fuck up I felt a lot better. We all had the Hybrid Theory vs. Meteora debate, and held the secret close to our hearts that, in the pain of the lyrics, we found a relatability.

Our angsty selves yelled these lyrics in the void of our rooms, yelling at bullies, at parental pressure, at teachers, at board exams, at the need to get into the right college. We sang our hearts out.

Soon, other bands joined our angry playlists. I was listening to Three Days Grace, Nickelback, Green Day, Breaking Benjamin, Paramore, Hollywood Undead, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Sum 41, and so so so many more bands. For a long time, I pretended I was an emo kid too.

We were all emo kids and all these bands were our voices. We explored the internet and downloaded MP3s of these albums and played them on our PCs when our friends came home, keeping the volume low enough to not let our parents hear the explicit lyrics, but high enough to really absorb every note.

As time passed, Linkin Park always remained a classic, but left our playlists as we made way for other things.

Cut to 2017.

Chester Bennington is dead.

I was sitting at a bar with friends with the Women’s World Cup semi-finals running on the screen and I stared at my phone and froze. What did this mean? Chester was supposed to sing at my funeral, guys. Chester was supposed to make more of this stuff for us. Shit, what about Mike Shinoda now? How are the band members doing?

I tweeted to be able to understand my initial shock, but as I scrolled through my timeline, I realised everyone came back to Linkin Park.

Everyone had the same stories. It was a lot of people’s first cassette. It was a lot of people’s first English band. It was a voice for a lot of people. I was suddenly back in 2006 and surrounded by people who understood my grief. A lot of these listeners hadn’t even heard the newer albums since 2010, but the sentimental value of your first favourites is tangible.

In a world that is constantly telling us to conceal our feelings, Chester’s screaming voice taught me to scream when I needed to and man, did it feel good.

As I walked back home, all I could think of was Minutes To Midnight’s “Leave Out All The Rest”. The song has a much quieter, contemplative Chester singing to us:

“When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done.
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed.
Don’t resent me and when you’re feeling empty,
keep me in your memory.”

I got home and played the song on my speakers and the tears wouldn’t stop. I was a howling 24-year-old mess, kept company by the crying 13-year-old I felt like. I have been in therapy for three years now, depression is a monster on my back that I have now befriended and I swear to god, that 13-year-old would be so proud of me. But, in that moment, playing that song out loud, I was her again.

I was hurt and I needed his voice again.

The truth is that Linkin Park, with a lot of the other music it exposed me to, reminded me (and a lot of us) that pain isn’t exclusive to me. It reminded us that our feelings were valid, that our emotions were meant to be felt and told to the world, bullies be damned. In a world that is constantly telling us to conceal our feelings, Chester’s screaming voice taught me to scream when I needed to and man, did it feel good.

I emailed my cousin thanking him for changing my life and lay back down on my couch, listening to the band I first fell in love with, tears filling my eyes up every few lines. But I smiled.

We cannot know what happened in the last moments of his life or what he went through before he made the call to take his life, but the fact remains that even now, if someone starts singing “In The End” at the end of a night, it will always end up bringing a whole circle of people together, regardless of where they come from or how they are as people.

Chester did that. He brought people together through pain and joy and for that, we are grateful.

“The shadow of the day
Will embrace the world in grey
And the sun will set for you.”

The sun hasn’t set on his music. And that matters.

Contact Sonia Mariam Thomas at Sonia.thomas@buzzfeed.com.

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