Not much of a Twenty One Pilots fan, but something about this song stuck. (Most of the album, actually, but let’s not talk about that.) It’s the lyric, the repetitive chorus, “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days/When our momma sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out.” The first time I heard it, I swear that vocalist Tyler Joseph sang, “Wish we could turn back time to the good dope days…” and I guess that ages me. And I wonder if that epithet is even used by the band’s target audience. If some twelve-year-old is out there using dope in a sentence. And I wonder what sort of life a twelve-year-old girl leads that a song like “Stressed Out” resonates with her.
And you wonder what business a thirty-five—almost thirty-six—year-old man has conjuring up the thoughts of an adolescent. So I pull out the phone, select the appropriate icon, find the video, and pass it over to you:
Her name is Katelyn Nicole Davis, born February 20, 2004. Last fall, she would have started her first year of high school. May have attended Cedartown High School, home of the Cedartown Bulldogs. Last month, she turned fifteen though she remains, perpetually, twelve.
Replay the video. Once. Twice. So many times, there’s not reason to count. It’s not just this video; there are several from her Musical.ly portfolio that made it onto YouTube. It’s just there’s something about the “Stressed Out” video that keeps ringing home. Maybe it’s the weight of some of the lyrics: “I was told, when I get older, all my fears would shrink/But now I’m insecure, and I care what people think.” Or, maybe, it’s the fact when the chorus plays, I hear Shaun’s voice singing it from the backseat.
On December 30, 2016, Katelyn started streaming on Live.me in her backyard. She takes her audience on a somewhat silent tour of the her surroundings before she settles on a tree. She puts down her phone and steps off screen, leaving the audience with only the sounds of her fiddling with something, the roar of traffic passing by, and the dogs barking in the background. “Damn,” she says returning to her phone. “I need to tie it tighter.” It doesn’t take the audience too long to realize her intention when she climbs the tree and ties the rope around one of its branches. When its secure. When she knows it’ll hold, she turns her attention to the audience. Through tears, her words stream out. And she apologizes. Apologizes for not being good enough. Apologizes for hurting. For not being pretty enough. But what strikes the chord for me, she apologizes for the letting the depression get to her.
I juxtapose it. Her live stream suicide, clocking in at just under forty-three minutes, to her fifteen-second Musical.ly.
Wish we could turn back time to the good old days…
You can’t make sense of it. Death never makes any sense. And it’s less so when the cause is depression. You can rationalize it all you fucking want, and I have and turned up empty each and every time. I poured through the screenshots of her online journals. Read the bits of information that have come to light. The bullying. The catfishing. The all the shit that pave the road for a twelve-year-old girl to commit suicide.
Waylon Jennings wrote a song entitled “Cedartown, Georgia.” And I wonder if Katelyn ever heard it, even if in passing. There’s a lyric at the end of the song that becomes haunting when I think of it now: “Gonna be a lot of kin folks squallin’ and grieving/ Cause that Cedartown girl ain’t breathing.”