They just showed up one day – the computers that is. We came back from our summer holidays, and there they were, stacked up in a pyramid of off-white boxes, clogging up a corner of the library. I see the flicker of excitement in the librarian’s eyes; she looks at them as though they’re a nursery of new born babies and tends to them with equal grace and gentility. There had been whispers of new computers arriving for months and, finally, here they were, boxing off my favourite area to sit. Everyone is excited. Of course, we already had computers, but these were newer, better, faster and a whole bunch of other tech-buzz words my teenage self was utterly indifferent about. Sat at a table by myself, a daily routine I carried out with the utmost decorum, I glare as everyone around me cheers like idiots. What’s so great about squat boxes full of square robots? I have a computer at home, so this isn’t really a big deal. My dyed blue-black hair hangs like a flat-ironed curtain, the way I like it, covering my face. I whisk it to the side and crack a glossy look of contempt as I put my one ear bud back in and continue to listen to my latest obsession: Linkin Park.
Three days later and the robots have been fully assembled and are now up and running. In a flash the library is under siege by pupils. I recoil as a mass of transfixed teenagers stream into the increasingly cramped room and duke it out for a shot on the computers. Two days after that we’re given school e-mail addresses, in which we receive all the latest school news, lunch deals and it also allows us to communicate with the rest of the student body. Originally there was privacy and the conversations weren’t monitored; but after a few mass emails that boasted rather slanderous accusations about some teachers and students the school went full-blown Mother Russia and our freedom of speech was snatched from us.
Having voluntarily removed myself from participating in any PE lessons I’m back in the library, at a computer. Half pretending to type an essay and half hating these bastard machines with an almost political-fervour. I’ve not got anything against technology, I spend hours a night on MSN at home, but the frantic cooing that seems to be going on because of the computers really starts to gnaw away at my already fraying teenage patience. I relocate to my own world and again put Linkin Park on. ‘Numb’ blasts its way into my ear drum and suddenly everyone else vanishes, until a girl in my year wonders over and sets up camp next to me. Six strained eye rolls and twenty minutes later I’m casually chatting to her. She asks what I’m listening to, I tell her Linkin Park and politely hand her an ear bud and she giddily pops into her left ear. I hit play and her face turns stormy. She looked at me then the way people look at someone now who proudly proclaims they voted Tory in the last election. I can tell she doesn’t like this music.
I tell her that I want to bleach my hair and have pointed tips like Chester Bennington, the leader singer, and gush about how alternative their sound is and how his raw vocals are ‘actual so good.’ I was one of, like, seven other ‘goths’ in school and I can tell the girl next to me doesn’t share my love for metal. She’s not overly animated by Linkin Park and she most certainly doesn’t share my enthusiasm for rap-metal. We place our musical differences to the side and start chatting about something we have in common – our crush on a boy called Don. She brags that they nearly kissed at a party the week before. My distaste for this near-hook-up causes me to act in a way that’s not human. I show real hostility toward her as ‘One Step Closer’ starts filtering its way through my earphones. Seeing I’m upset, she asks if I ‘fancy’ Don. At first, I ignore the question, but later she again asks. Finally, the temptation is too great and I tell her yes. Out of sympathy or possibly just some teenage-urge to be a downright bitch, she offers to email Don – on the fancy new school chat system – and tell him I like him and see what he says.
Our screen-names were our initials followed by a string of numbers that had no correlation to anything in our life. ‘Sent!’ she says, feverish with triumph. We log out. The next day I am giddy and humming with possibility. What if Don says he likes me back? I mean, I’m bi-sexual so Don could be too, right? Wrong. Note: I was a-rainbow-doing-karaoke-to-Madonna-best-friends-with-Dorothy level of gay but being ‘bi’ was an easy stepping-stone in high school. Two days later and I’m back with my face plastered against a computer screen, Linkin Park still the accompanying soundtrack to my day. The same girl approaches and, again, sits beside me – clearly we’ve bonded over our mutual love for the demi-god Don. ‘You still listening to that Gothic music?’ she jokes. Her mis-classification of my genre of preference is really irking me, so I try to skip to a song that’s actually Gothic. Instead Shakira comes on. My face beams red and we both sit in silence.
The following day we meet in the library. The Shakira awkwardness from yesterday has now subsided. As we chat a strange screeching noise that sounds like a cat being microwaved leaps at us. It’s a message from Don. My heart backflips into my throat. Matching my enthusiasm and mirroring my nerves she clicked ‘open’ and I waited, with baited breath, as the dreaded multi-coloured buffering circle of doom spun for what seemed like an eternity. ‘That’s disgusting.’ That’s what his reply said. ‘Disgusting.’ I felt my heart collapse from my throat and land with a disappointing thud in the bottom of my stomach. That ‘loading’ circle tauntingly spun for what felt like 14 fucking months and all I got was ‘Disgusting’? Tales of my advances raged like a forest fire around the school and by the time fifth period arrived the following day I had been called a ‘fag’ right before being pushed about in the guys’ toilets by Don’s friends. I try to drown out the insults by turning Linkin Park up louder.
I go home and flop into a horseshoe shape across my bed, whilst attempting to smother my face with the pillow. I am angry and confused and hurt. I don’t understand why none of these boys like me back. I cannot fathom why me liking them is such a massive social-faux pas. My eyes are streaming and my chest tightens; I feel like vomiting. My heart rattles against my chest and I walk over to my desk and take out the kitchen knife I stole from my gran’s house, roll up my sleeve and place the serrated edge over my arm. Self-harm was my go to; my release. The blade nestled neatly just below a series of cuts from the week before. ‘Why can’t I just be straight? Why can’t I like girls and have a normal life?’ A question I ask myself all the time. I look at my clothes, black upon black upon black with a flash of red in my converse. I hate every inch of myself, inside and out. As I go to dig the knife into my skin I look up at my now loaded computer screen and see Chester’s angst-ridden face looking back at me from my desktop. I open my music library, I locate ‘Numb’ and click play.
I listen as the thundering guitars and soaring electronics soothe the hurt. I click repeat. I listen again. And again. The knife is still in the same position, ready to strike. But after the fourth listen my anger fades, I begin to feel better and that urge to hurt myself, that was consuming barely 11 minutes ago, seems almost foreign now. I listen to the lyrics, really listen to them; not the drop-metal tuning of the guitars or the thumping anger from the rest of the instrumentation. I just listen to the lyrics, like a child that’s heard something new for the first time. Something about Chester’s vocals, the melody, the words, resonates in me and suddenly I’m not an angry teen who’s listening to angry music; I’m a hurting boy that’s understanding the music, that’s relating to it. I put the knife down, I wipe my face and sign onto MSN. I see the girl that caused this drama is online, along with the two boys that called me a fag and disgusting earlier. I click on my screen name, I click edit, and replace that sad face EMOJI with lyrics from Numb. There I sit for the next few hours feeling, for the first time, understood by someone – even if that is someone I’ll never meet.
That was the first time I really felt music talk to me. That was the first time I found a way out that didn’t result in me hurting myself. I was a scared, lost and angry teenage boy with nobody to turn to, so I switched my attention to music. And even now, as a grown man with scars on his arms and a future in front of him, I’m still a fan of Linkin Park.