Eleven Times Two, My Life, My Mission

Dear Chester

The year was 2000, I was 15 years old, in my final year at school and undergoing the stress of taking my GCSE’s and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was the year I started to understand what anxiety was, it was the year I started to question my existence, and it was the year I developed my eating disorder. I was either throwing away my lunch or eating it and throwing it up. It was the beginning of a cycle that would grow and develop for the next 13 years – one that almost killed me.

It was also the year that my little brother, Danny, told me to listen to this new band – Linkin Park. Your band. I had Hybrid Theory on cassette (remember those, kids?), and I wore it out in my little silver Sony Walkman that was to become an extra limb. I was into The Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys at the time, but this new, shouty guitar heavy album changed all that for me in an instant. I listened to you sing – to that famous Chester ‘show-me-your-neck-vein’ scream, and I knew you got it. You understood. You were the same as me and you were living it too, but you were telling people, you were channelling it into music, letting your anger and hurt out in a way that not only helped you – it helped me too. You taught me to scream, to let it out, to cry to the point where I would lay in the foetal position, hands wrapped around my head and sobbed until I was spent, but most importantly, you helped me to understand that I wasn’t on my own, and that I too could find a way to channel it.

I excelled at art and won award after award and got A* after A*, but I was bullied horribly. I thought I had left all that behind at school but apparently not, as it continued through to College and University. I became weak, reserved and my outlet was my art and drawing. I would sit for hours at home and in the studio, pencil to paper blocking out the world and creating something new, something magical where only I could see the outcome in my head, and I would watch it appear on the paper in front of me just exactly how I imagined. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already a master in visualisation and manifestation. I was doing it every day by creating pieces that I still didn’t think were very good. The whole time, I had 2 soundtracks playing out of that Walkman – Chocolate Starfish & The Hot Dog Flavoured Water (you’d started a trend), and Hybrid Theory. I got told off once in Ceramics class because I got carried away and screamed along with you, out loud, in the middle of the class. That didn’t help with the bullying in all honesty, but as long as you kept screaming down my ear, I couldn’t hear them.

Fast forward to University, where I discovered alcohol and boys properly for the first time and I descended into what can only be described as a hot mess. I had become adept in pretence, in putting on a show of being happy and ok, then in my second year you released ‘Meteora’ – by far my favourite album of yours. Your pain had grown along with mine and once again you were getting it out of your system, and it felt like you were speaking just to me. I had gained the ‘Freshers Stone’ and was the heaviest, and unhealthiest I had ever been in my life. I was disgusted with myself and I was living in a house with girls who didn’t like or understand me (apart from one – Rachel). I became obsessed with classes at the gym, doing 3 at a time and running there and back, then coming home and running the tap into the bath to cover the sounds of me violently making myself sick and crying into the toilet bowl.

I had advanced to an iPod by this point, and there were two major stand out songs on ‘Meteora’ for me – ‘Faint’ (“RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH, hear me out now, you’re gonna listen to me like it or not, right NOOOOOOOOOOW…”) and my all-time favourite Linkin Park song – ‘Somewhere I Belong’. I would rewind that middle eight section over and over and over again – nothing had ever resonated with me so much, and nothing has since.

“I will never know myself until I do this on my own
And I will never feel
Anything else, until my wounds are healed.
I will never be
Anything ’til I break away from me
And I will break away, I’ll find myself today”

You knew it was up to you, and you were telling me that it was up to me too.

I first came to see you on the 29th of June 2008 at Milton Keynes Bowl – it was a double headliner with Jay-Z, Danny has just done his own GCSE’s and we got the train down and stood in the crowd on a gorgeous hot sunny day and watched you do what you do best. I still have a video somewhere that I took on my Motorola Razr! By now I was a rock chick through and through, and gigs were another avenue that I had found where I could be amongst people in a happy environment. To this day, I have never seen anything like it. I was lucky enough to see you 3 times in total and I’ve always maintained that you are one of the best bands I have ever seen live – and I’ve seen a LOT of bands.

This was the ‘Minutes to Midnight’ Tour. It was getting to us both by this point. ‘Bleed It Out’, ‘Given Up’, ‘No More Sorrow’… the darkness had truly taken residence within us both. ‘Given Up’ started up and Danny – at 16 years old and a lanky strip of nothing got swept into the mosh pit and I panicked. I was all alone in a crowd of 65,000 people and you were screaming:

“I’ve given up
I’m sick of feeling.
Is there nothing you can say?
Take this all away,
I’m suffocating.
Tell me what the fuck is wrong with me!
GOD!
Put me out of my misery….”

And in that moment Chester – it was just you and I.

Not long after, I met the first guy I ever loved and he helped me to get better. You know what the clincher was almost 2 years later? The tiniest catalyst that made me realise he wasn’t right for me? You were touring, and I said we should go. He replied, “what’s the point? I have their CD.” A few months later I packed my bags and left. He didn’t get it. He didn’t get me, so I couldn’t stay. That was the beginning of the end for me Chester. 2010 to 2012 were by far the worst years of my entire life. I had walked out on him and I moved into my own place which was the biggest mistake of my life. I stopped eating, instead choosing to spend my money on partying and taking recreational drugs. I could barely function, barely think, barely breathe. After a particularly heavy weekend I was still throwing up blood on the Tuesday night and I knew something had to change – but I was too far gone by that point. My 6-month lease was up on my flat, and my distraught parents talked me into moving back home, and I began my second round of therapy. I had sunk so far that I was put on Prozac and I became a walking zombie. I couldn’t feel a thing, but I knew that it wasn’t the way life was supposed to be.

December 2011. My cousin was admitted to hospital because her own eating disorder meant that she had to have 17ft of her small intestine removed. I convinced myself that it was my fault, we were close and she had watched me and my behaviour for years and has followed suit as far as I was concerned. It was rock bottom for me, and I slipped past darkness, past reality and into a world where I was drowning. One of my soundtracks had changed – P!nk was a major player in my recovery now and to this day I still cannot listen to ‘F*cking Perfect’ without tears streaming down my face, but one of my soundtracks remained the same Chester, and it was still you. ‘A Thousand Suns’ album – with ‘Waiting for the End’. We were still on this journey together.

“Waiting for the end to come,
wishing I had strength to stand.
This is not what I had planned.
It’s out of my control.
Flying at the speed of light,
thoughts were spinning in my head,
so many things were left unsaid,
it’s hard to let you go.
I know what it takes to move on.
I know how it feels to lie.
All I want to do
is trade this life for something new
holding on to what I haven’t got.”

You still got it. You were still fighting and as long as you could do it, as long as you could get up every day and battle through, I knew I could too. By this time, I had been signed off work for 4 months and the only thing that got me out of bed and through my days was art. I was drawing portrait commissions and even had a piece displayed on the billboards in New York. I hadn’t drawn for years but had gone back to the only thing that gave me the space I needed, the release, the escape. It wasn’t enough this time. You weren’t enough this time. I sat on my bed on a roasting hot summer’s day in July 2012, and I held in my hand a pack of sleeping pills. I was only supposed to take half at a time, and no more than 3 a week. It was a pack of 28, and I had taken 2 halves the past two nights. There were 27 left in that pack and I sat on the edge of my bed and I popped the first one into my hand. At that very second my Mac beeped, and it was my friend sending me an audio file and telling me I had to listen to it. It was ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. I put the packet down, walked over to my computer and hit download. There is such a thing as divine intervention – and that was it. I have no doubt about it in my mind at all.

By the 21st March 2013 – about 6 months later, I was signed off as healthy and recovered by my doctor and therapist. I still had a long way to go, but one thing had changed – I knew I wanted to live. I knew I had to live – I knew it was all for a reason.

Thursday 20th July 2017. I was upset about a guy I was sort of seeing, and I had gone round to my parents for dinner to vent and let them talk some sense into me and it worked, I left feeling buoyant and re-energised and with my head fully wobbled. At about 8pm, as I was heading home I checked my phone to find 2 messages on my phone. Both said the same thing.

“Shell, have you heard about Chester? Are you OK?”

I was walking down the road and before I replied I hit the Safari app and I Googled your name. I already knew what it was going to tell me but I needed to see it with my own eyes.

Chester Bennington, dead at 41.

I crumbled. I don’t even know how I made it home. I just remember that as I walked, I went onto Facebook and I posted your name and a broken heart emoji, then I scrolled back through my cover photos to find the one that I had used during my darkest times – a photo of you, and I changed it back. I didn’t have to search for a new one, you had been there all along.

A month or so before, I had listened to you and Mike on Kerrang! Radio with Loz Guest. You were talking about how the fans had to let go of Hybrid Theory and how if people called you sell out’s you would punch them. You were angry, you were not the person we knew, you were done. I remember listening to you and thinking, “he’s not OK”.

On the 6th of July, you played your last ever show. That show was in Birmingham, my hometown – and I wasn’t there. I had been to Download Festival the month before and had been to see Green Day at Hyde Park a few days prior, and I hadn’t been able to afford a ticket. I missed your last ever show because I told myself I couldn’t afford it, that I would catch you next time. Chester, I am so sorry, I will never ever forgive myself for that as long as I live. I keep telling myself that if I had been there for you like you had been for me for over half of my life, then you wouldn’t have done what you went on to do.

I got home, and I had already bought ‘One More Light’, but only skimmed through it. I didn’t even take my coat off, I just sat and listened to what I now know was your suicide note. It was your goodbye to us.

“You tell me it’s alright
Tell me I’m forgiven
Tonight
But nobody can save me now.
I’m holding up a light
Chasing up the darkness inside
Cause nobody can save me.”

Chester, the whole world mourned you for the longest time, we are still mourning. I am sat here, almost a year on, writing this with tears streaming down my face and a heart filled with sadness that I cannot tell you to your face how important you were, how loved, how valued – how much you mattered. Millions of people poured their hearts out, Kerrang magazine ran a special Chester tribute edition and it sold out – they had to reprint and re-release more copies 2 days later! Social media feeds were filled with your face, all with one message – you had helped us through our darkness, you showed us that we were not alone, and you gave us the strength to keep fighting. I knew what you had done before it was announced. I knew you had set yourself free.

It was confirmed shortly afterwards that you had taken your own life. You were all alone in your home, you had made sure of it. In an instant I was transported back to that day where I sat on my bed, ready to do the same thing. I knew exactly how you felt, exactly what was going through your head. I felt the pain that you felt, the emptiness, the hopelessness, and once again Chester, it was just you and I. In that same instant, I knew I had to do something about this thing we call depression, I knew that I couldn’t sit back and watch more people feel this way, like there was only one way out, only one solution. I knew that I had to help. I had to become a voice for people like us.

I cried for 3 days straight. I listened to nothing but Linkin Park and when I made sure I had all of my songs on my iPod – there were 111 in total. My magic numbers and another sign to me that I was in the midst of something huge for us all. Once again, I turned to art, but in a different way this time. I had to do something to remind me of this moment always, to remind me of you, to remind me what you taught me throughout your life, and the message you had left behind. I had a tattoo booked in a few weeks later, and I messaged Sarah, my tattoo artist and asked her to allow me a little extra time. I needed to get a tribute for you added to my sleeve, where I could see it every day. Where I could be reminded of how you helped me. As I sat in the chair, the guys in the studio put ‘Meteora’ on, Track 3, and we sat in silence as she etched the words ‘Somewhere I Belong’ into my skin, accompanied by a little black star – your light gone out, but still there shining for me always.

In the months that followed your passing, the thought within me grew until it was all I could think about. How can I stop this happening? How can I help the world to understand that each and every single one of us is special, and valued, and important? How can I get the message across that we are all here for a reason, we wouldn’t have been created and given life to roam this planet if we didn’t each have a purpose for doing so? To be honest, I don’t yet know how I’m going to do it Chester, I just know that I can and I will. For 17 years, more than half of my life I listened to you speak the words of my head and my heart and you made sure that I, and millions of others found our light. It’s time for me to carry that on – for you, for every single person out there struggling, and for humanity to have another voice that keeps telling them that they can make it through, that they are not alone, and that they can fight for their own tomorrow. On the day that you decided that you no longer wanted to carry on, you showed me why I’m on this planet. You gave me the courage to step out of my own remaining darkness – my fear, and onto the path that I was always supposed to take. I am on this planet to help people Chester, and you helped me to realise that. I would give anything to have realised it in time to help you through too, like you did for me, but everything in life happens for a reason and I promise you that you haven’t gone in vain.

It took me 13 years, a lot of pain, a lot of anger and a lot of tears to pull myself out of my darkness, and I couldn’t have done it alone. I couldn’t have done it without help, without my amazing family and friends, without understanding the power of my mind, without art, without music, or without you.

It has taken me an awfully long time to write this to you, even though I’ve spoken to you in my head and in my dreams countless time since you passed. I wanted to wait until I was ready to share what I’m going to do with the world, until I had stopped being scared, and so, for the first time in 3 years, I set up my studio table in my living room, and I took out my pencils and I started to draw. As I watched you appear in front of me, stroke by stroke, I knew that I had done you my first justice in the only way I know how, in the way I always turn to when I am in pain about something. I brought you to life once again on that paper, and it, along with my tattoo, will remind me of who I am today, and what I had to go through to become to woman I am. It was the first step I had to take to start delivering on my promise.

One day Chester, the world will know happiness and freedom. It might not be today, it might not even be in my lifetime, but it will happen. I promise you. This is my reason, this is my purpose and this is just the beginning.

“Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers.
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker.
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do.”

Thank You, Chester, from the bottom of my broken, stitched back together and stronger than ever heart for all you gave to the world. Thank You for the music, Thank You for the joy of getting to watch you on stage in all your glory over the years, Thank You for sharing yourself and your story, Thank You for always being honest, Thank You for showing me my light, Thank You for that voice in my ears, and Thank You for helping me find my ‘Somewhere I Belong’.