All that I need is the air that I breathe
And all that I need are things I don’t need
And all that really matters is what matters to me
And who of you are like me?
If I was to smile and I held out my hand
If I opened it now would you not understand
Because you know if I’m to benefit, I’ll do everything that I can
And who of you are like me?
— “All That I Need,” by Blind Melon
Heavy Metal and “Grunge” was the main music I listened to. My friends and I were in it together; we dressed like them, and acted like them, living reckless and on the edge. We acted the way we acted just to wake people up to the sickness of society and the sickness in us. How we looked was merely a screaming appeal for true healing, not fake prescriptions. Nobody cared what happened to us on the streets anyway. Or so we thought.
Reality is, I had a lot of real questions, and so did a lot of my friends. We had real, deep questions going on underneath the surface of our appearance. “Who are we? Why are we alive?” But nobody had any answers.
Going to church with Mom and Dad didn’t give us answers. My parents loved me the best they knew how, but they didn’t have any answers. In fact, my father’s solution was to turn to alcohol. My teachers at school didn’t have any answers either. Everybody just tries to, but they just don’t have them.
Sometimes I wondered if anyone had anything to say that was worth saying. Nothing was making my emptiness go away. I didn’t know who I was, and it was making me mad. I would write these real angry poems in English class, but no alarm bells were going off in anyone. Or at least if there were, no one said anything. There’s a feeling of emptiness and isolation that every teenager faces: you’re searching for answers, and nobody has any for you. There is just a big void inside, a deep emptiness.
Then along came the bands: Black Sabbath, Metallica, MegaDeth, Nirvana, and others. Their music was something my friends and I could relate to. They expressed the things deep within our souls — things we didn’t seem to have the words for. When I listened to the music it felt as if it was doing something inside of me, and I was getting somewhere. And there was intensity to their music: the drums, the chord progressions. We felt empowered by it. We were still empty, but it covered over things. It masked our bad feelings, making us feel important for awhile.
Their music almost articulates the frustration in you. You feel that nobody understands what you are going through — except the man playing the music. It seemed as if he was the only one who knew… he knew exactly what we were going through. I found no sanity in society, or in myself, but the music seemed to say it all.
I remember back when my best friend Shawn and I were in grade school. We would talk about how we would never listen to Heavy Metal music because druggies listen to that and we didn’t want to be druggies.What child wants to say, “Oh yeah, I’m going to grow up and do all kinds of drugs; we’re going to grow up and be miserable and watch all our friends kill them selves?” What child would want that? What child says, “We’re going to drive around late at night when we grow up and push the boundaries of life and death?”
Shawn was the best friend I had for many years, from first grade all the way through school. We could see what was really there, at the end of it, and said we would never do it; and yet, not too much later, we became the very thing we vowed never to be. We just walked right into it.
And it wasn’t like we tried to help each other stop either. We had both made our own choices; he was always the kind of youth who led his own life. Actually at one point he had tried to commit suicide. He had left a suicide note for his parents to find. It was very outrageous; “I’m going to take my life, and become one of the followers of Satan in his legion of demons.” He wanted to enlist himself in “Satan’s army.” He wrote the note, downed a bottle of vodka, cut his wrists. He fell down the stairs, and that is where his little sister found him. His parents brought him to the Hospital. He didn’t die.
Everyone read about it in the newspaper. It didn’t say any names, but everyone knew who it was… Shawn wasn’t in school. When he came back in, he never wore short sleeves again. He denied it, but it was pretty clear.
There was one girl in our school who was into the Heavy Metal scene. She was really popular, real social, and everybody liked her. She was going through sufferings, as we all were. Of course, we never knew anything about her, or her family. In fact, we didn’t know much about anyone. Nobody talked about deep things; we just filled our gaps with music.
One night she was over at her boyfriend’s house. She took his mother’s shotgun, put two shells in it, and pulled the trigger. Her mother was in the apartment, and she heard the bang. She rushed into the room, and saw her there, on the floor.
There was really no warning at all. With some people you could see it coming for months. But she was smiling, cracking jokes, and seemed as if nothing was wrong inside. A lot of people were pretty shocked that this happened, but it didn’t really bother me. And that’s what BOTHERED ME. I was so dull. So many of us had become dull. It was as if it was a normal part of life. It was as if we had been conditioned to be this way.
Sometimes it made me wonder whether I should just do the same thing. Some nights, I’d be sitting in my bedroom with my headphones on. I was all alone, with this music going into my soul. It was as if I was getting energized by this negativity. What would it take for me? Would the cost to my family suffering my loss hurt more than how much I didn’t want to be here in this stale society? I didn’t really want to kill myself. I was scared.
“Who are you?!” I asked myself. I just stared and stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I hated what I saw. I hated what I’d become. I wasn’t me anymore. “WHO AM I ?... Why am I here? Why do I see so much suffering?!! i want OUT!!!!” At that moment, I punched the mirror, right between my own eyes. I was so filled with rage, I just punched my reflection. The glass broke and shattered around my hand, and cut my knuckles up. It was like I was wearing my injuries like a badge, like I could show off to my friends…. how angry I was… if anybody noticed? That was exactly what I wanted; someone, anyone, to notice me.
I remember sometimes sitting on the school bus, listening to the music in my headphones, just watching kids get on the bus, take their seat, and the bus would roll down the road on the same route it always did. Meanwhile, in my ears and in my mind, another world raged. The music was full of energy and passion. In reality, I was just sitting on a school bus, going down the same path as everyone else.
One of my favorite bands was Nirvana. They seemed to articulate the fact that no one understood anything. I wondered whether that was the whole point Kurt Cobain was trying to make. Sometimes it seemed like he was saying, “The things I’m singing about don’t make any sense, and don’t mean a thing…. And you know it, and you’re listening to it… do you think you know what I mean?” It was almost like saying, “Are you hearing something from what I am saying, because I’m not saying anything at all?” And Kurt was being really out there about it. In spite of this, you could hear something in what he was saying, because you kind of felt the same thing — if that makes any sense at all.
By the end of Kurt Cobain’s life you could see that he had totally gone off the deep end. On stage, at his concerts, it seemed as if he had gone out of his mind and was almost trying to show people how far off he had gone. He was trying to warn people, in a way…
“ON A PLAIN” (song by Nirvana)
It is now time to make it unclear, to write off lines that don’t make sense
I love myself better than you… I know it’s wrong, so what should I do?
One more special message to go, and then I’m done then I can go home
I love myself better than you… I know it’s wrong, so what should I do?
But he was so deranged by this point that he couldn’t just say it anymore. He could only show it. The more he did, the more his fans would hoot and holler, and clap violently. They thought he was putting up a show, but he was for real, and putting out his aching soul, begging for someone to take notice. He was trying to say, “You’re all a bunch of fools… what are you following me, for? Why have you put me up on this stage, and made me your hero? Don’t you see where it’s taken me?”
It wasn’t a surprise for me when I read that he shot himself. You could see him going there. I saw the same thing in Shannon Hoon, of the band, Blind Melon. I went to one of the last concerts. They were playing the songs everybody knew, that were on the albums, and everybody was cheering. All of a sudden, in the middle of one of the songs, he went off on this tangent, and the band was still playing the song.
I’m entering a frame bombarded by indecision…
I’m pushed hard upon the border
But if I can leave with a little bit of explanation…
I’ll have it made.
I’m tired of me this way…
I don’t know what I’ve gotten into
It’s not as gentle as it sounds…
when I heard a leaf of my life hit the ground.
Seems like nobody really cares…
They’re just killing my time…
But Shannon was trying to address the crowd, and he was trying to say something. You could tell he was trying to say something really deep to the crowd, and he was trying to make us all listen. But he was so strung out on heroin that he couldn’t put one coherent string of thoughts together. I could almost see the rest of the band getting irritated with him. They were just trying to play a song, and he was going out of his mind. It was the same thing with Kurt Cobain.
So we were there, listening to them, thinking that they were the only ones who understood us. The words in the songs kind of fit into what I was feeling. They were our heroes. And now we were watching our heroes kill themselves. I had to ask myself whether that was how I wanted to end up? If something didn’t change, it would be.
After high school, all my friends moved out of town. We didn’t stick together anymore. We all had different plans or other things to do. At that point I realized that I never really had any true friends. I began painting. I was going to impress my statement on the world with dark, bold images. What was I doing? Where was I going? I felt completely voiceless. I had lots to say, but nothing would come out. I would just stare at people, riding the city bus, hoping they would get the point.
I didn’t feel as if I could go along with the way things were, the way the world was. You finish school, you go get a job, then work 9-5, and you get yourself a nice little house, a nice family, a little raise, go on vacation, work to get retirement, and then you die. And for what? The whole thing just seemed so empty. No purpose to it. Why are things the way they are? I realized I didn’t have any power to make a difference. I didn’t like the way things were, but I had no choice. It seemed as if I just had to go along with it. But I wanted a way out.
Deep inside must defy arrangement
I’ve been a stumblin’ from the startin’ blocks ‘til now
And I’ll always try to justify the way I’ve been behaving
Should I teach one not to know how?
How to live in a world we live in now
‘Cause there’s a beautiful life to behold
And its the biggest part of my life to unfold
Then it happened: my daughter was born. That really caused me to seriously search to know the One who created me. I knew in my heart that this child was going to have the same questions I did, and I still hadn’t found any answers. And to me the biggest injustice would have been raising up this child with the same lack of understanding of life. So, I thought to myself, “Boy, I better find answers… because I don’t want her to feel the same emptiness I felt by not knowing.
I began to cry out from deep in my heart, “God if you can really hear me then show me who I am! Show me what your will for my life is!!”
With an intense thirst in my soul I began to search for truth in many different religions and philosophies. As many churches as I visited and as many books as I read, I still felt empty.
Along the way on my search I met these people who were from a community in Boston. They invited me home to share dinner with them. What I saw among these people I had never seen before, but it stirred my heart. I saw a people who were true friends; brothers and sisters. I saw the thankfulness they had for being alive, and I saw the kindness with which they treated each other. For the first time in my life I saw the very thing that I had been missing all along. True friends who I could be totally real with and not be afraid of rejection. Like a man who finds a priceless treasure, I wanted to do what ever I had to do to obtain that treasure. Not hopeless anymore, I have a new life now. It is a life of love and meeting the needs of others. Finally, the deep wounds in my soul are being healed. Finally I’m thankful to be alive. Finally, I’m home!