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I know where you stand, silent in the trees. And that’s where I am, silent in the trees.

Had someone asked my twelve-year-old self if I related to those lyrics, I would’ve said no. I would’ve said that they were weird and slightly creepy and that I would never relate to something like that. Had someone asked me the same question a year later, I would’ve said yes.

When I was thirteen, I lost three family members in less than a year’s time. It was eighth grade, my last year of middle school and the first of my teenage years. I was supposed to be having fun, goofing off with friends and getting excited about high school. I was supposed to be the happy kid I had always been. Instead, I plunged head first into a world I was not prepared for – reality.

Up until that point, I had never been exposed to death, not really. My paternal grandparents had passed away when I was little, far too young to remember them or to be affected by the loss. Other than that, I had only seen death on television or caught glimpses of obituaries in the newspaper. Death was something that happened to other people – strangers – not people I knew, the ones I loved.

I had known my aunt and my cousin were sick. Cancer, both of them. While I often heard my mother speaking in hushed tones about their worsening conditions, I naively assumed they would get better, or at least that there would be more time. I wasn’t that close with either of them, but they were always there for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’d often see them at family dinners at my grandparents’ house on Sundays. While I didn’t know them well, it was still a punch to the chest when my mother told me they had passed away. My cousin would never again bring her kids over to play in the creek. My aunt would never again come to check my grandmother’s blood pressure or talk to me about the books I wanted to write. Just knowing the fact that I wouldn’t see them again was overwhelming, something I didn’t want to process.

With my grandfather, it was different. He and my grandmother lived next door to me, and it was rare that I didn’t go visit after school at least a couple times a week. When I was younger and they had to watch me while my parents were at work, they would sometimes take me to Walmart to get a new toy, and my grandfather would always cut the package open with his pocket knife, and I would sit in the living room floor, playing and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until my parents came to get me.

When he got sick, none of us thought anything of it. We thought it was just a cold, and he’d get better in a week or so. On the day he had to go to the hospital, my mom made me go to school. I told my dad on the way home that I felt guilty for not being there, but he assured me it would be fine. About an hour later, we got the call.

I remember going back to my grandmother’s house after the funeral. The whole family was there, and there weren’t enough seats, but still no one sat in my grandfather’s favorite recliner. I found myself staring at that empty chair, expecting him to shuffle in from the kitchen at any moment and light up a cigarette. His was the death that hit me the hardest, the one that really began the changes in myself.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, my retreat into myself. I wanted to protect myself. As high school rolled around and all my friends were worried only about boys and drama, I became distant, scared to get close to anyone new in case tragedy struck again. I had always been shy, but it was different now. I was different. I began thinking more, questioning. Wary of the world around me, I pondered things like religion and whether there was an afterlife – things most people in my small, conservative town would never doubt. I felt like I was the only person who thought the way I did, and I yearned to find someone, anyone, who felt the same. Like many others, I found the solace I’d been searching for in music. More specifically, I found it in Twenty One Pilots.

I discovered the duo just before they shot to fame with their release of Blurryface. I’d heard about them for a while before I finally gave in and listened to some of their songs. My first impression wasn’t a good one. With rapping, ukulele playing, and screaming, it seemed like they were trying to combine several genres that just did not mix. I was about to give up on them and continue searching for other bands, when I clicked on one more song, a song called “Trees” from the album Vessel. And it was one of those moments. I fell silent as the world melted away, leaving nothing but the music. At that moment, something was different. And it was never the same.

To this day, I don’t know what that song is about, and I don’t want to. Sometimes I take a break just to listen to it, and I can still feel what I felt the moment I first heard it. I felt the emotion that burst out of Tyler Joseph as he sang. I felt it in the music, the lyrics, everything. And while I didn’t know the actual meaning, it felt like I did. After that, I listened to the rest of the album. None of the other songs made me stop like “Trees” did, but the lyrics started to jump out at me. I’d never before listened to a band who put as much emotion into every single song as Twenty One Pilots did. Their lyrics held so much meaning; they were about sadness, confusion, loss… all the things in which I needed reassurance. I had finally found what I was searching for – someone I could relate to. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like someone knew me, knew what I was going through. I felt understood.


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