On Loneliness, Anime and Healing.
It was during a medical trip to Cuba that I first grew to love your song, “Breaking the Habit.” Every morning, I’d watch MTV on the hospital television and wait for your voice to flow from the speakers and then, I would wail along with you. I was two years deep into a struggle against a sickness that wished to swallow me but everyday, it was you - and your friends huddled behind you, pulling magic from their instruments - that saved me from a darker place. It was with you that I professed myself a new man, not plagued by any of the demons that waited on my doorstep last night. And this was not the only war that you helped me fight, Chester.
The battle for a worthy enough identity is one that many teenagers are thrown into weaponless. When my time came, I had to craft some place of refuge out of whatever materials were available. For myself, and many other black children in the early 2000’s, anime became a landscape in which we could relate our battles to. With the new frontiers of the internet at our fingertips bringing anything we wished right up to our own eyes for our consumption, and with this new canvas of Japanese animation that we had never seen or heard of before, it felt like we had discovered our very own joy that was made just for us and no one else. We managed to find ourselves, one way or the other, in the plots of our favorite shows: Naruto, a ninja first shunned because the things that made him powerful were deeply misunderstood; One Piece, an escape to a new and more vibrant place where everyone was at least as bizarre as you were and the only requirement for acceptance was proximity; and, of course, Bleach, in which the mantra of its protagonist — “I will save the world and everyone in it with my own strength and willpower” — was most relatable to us and our own mantras — “ I will fight my way out of this loneliness and find a place for myself with these bare hands.”
And is that not what you taught us, Chester? To run into the battle against depression and desolation with our weapons unsheathed and battle cries ready? It was no mistake that during the early years of the new millennium, when your landmark albums Meteora and Hybrid Theory were released, a good chunk of YouTube’s viewership was sourced from music videos made by people that stood at the intersection of anime fans and fans of your music. It was a perfect union: the characters, in which we saw ourselves, fighting for survival to the same music that served as the soundtrack for our own challenges. It is no wonder that I myself made videos that took my frustrations in the war of growing up and channelled them into something real and consumable, something that I hoped at least helped in the healing of someone else.
Of course, I know it has always been mostly about that Chester. Healing. Healing through whatever means necessary; whatever keeps us here a bit longer; whatever leaves us refreshed after our battles so we may someday win the war.
Chester, it is because of you that I saw the light from behind the darkness that gathered in front of my eyes. It was your words which assured me that I, in fact, could comfort myself and did not need anyone else when I could not find a place to belong in my formative years. Even today, it is you that reminds me how to close all of my doors and howl as loud as I need to shake myself free of the grief a lover left behind after she walked out and promised to never return.
On the cover of your last album, One More Light, there is the image of an almost violet sunset and an open beach where children are walking toward the crashing of ocean waves. I look at the image now and I can hear laughter. I can hear how eager the children are to dip themselves into the glowing water.
I believe I dreamed myself a place like this when I first heard your voice as a teenager; a shoreline where I can dip my head into the water and emerge unbroken. I imagine you exist in a place like this now. No battle to be fought. Nothing left to escape. Whatever place you imagined you would roam when you, someday, were finally fully healed.
Right now, I am holding those I love, who are in close proximity, tightly to my chest, and I am also reaching out to those who I love that are far away. While grieving you, Chester, I am checking in to see if anyone is in need of your music tonight.