Cut My Life Into Pieces
Through sheer force of will, Frank makes it through the next five songs but by the end of ‘House of Wolves’ he’s struggling to keep going. He has no memory of what he’s just played and the world outside his head is blurry and dim as specks of blood soak through the shoulder of his Parade jacket from old cuts. The sound of Her song in his mind won't die and he feels like there’s a vice clamped around his throat squeezing tighter and tighter. He can barely play his guitar anymore his hands are shaking so badly and all he can think about is the crushing, choking pressure building up in his chest, the screams and tears and sickness like a poison inside him and it hurts more every second.
It hurts so much he feels like the only way to release this much stress is to slit his arms from wrist to elbow and lie down bleeding out into eternal darkness but he doesn’t want to die. Dying would only hurt the ones he loves and cut off any possibility of his life ever getting better in the future. It wouldn't solve shit! So the only alternative is to somehow silence the noise inside him and make the choking black hurricane die instead, to block out the pain and fear and pressure just for a moment so he can breathe and there are lots of ways to do that. There are lots of ways to silence a scream.
When the lights go down after ‘House of Wolves’ and the stage plunges into darkness, Frank drags himself up from where he was playing on his knees by his mic stand and stumbles into the wings. In a few moments only a couple of the lights will come back on - a deep blue glow with a single white spotlight on Gerard – and the song ‘Cancer’ will begin. During ‘Cancer’ Frank is supposed to sit down onstage cocooned in blue shadows and play an acoustic guitar but tonight he can’t do that, there’s just no way. If he stays here even one minute longer he knows he’ll end up ramming his buzzing, tortured head into the speakers or something and there’s no way he’s going to ruin the show like that, not in front of everybody.
Guitar technician Matt is waiting in the wings with Frank’s acoustic and Frank runs up to him after Ray, Mikey and Bob have wandered off to the refreshment table for water and redbull. “Sorry Matt, I can’t finish,” he whispers shakily, ripping off his sweat-soaked Parade jacket as he pants for air that just won’t come, “Can you take over for me?”
Matt blinks in surprise, caught off-guard, “Sure but what's wrong?”
“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank lies desperately, dropping his jacket on the floor and pushing past Matt towards the darkness beyond, “Please just do it!”
With no other choice and ‘Cancer’ due to start, Matt grabs an earpiece for himself, runs onstage in his black roadie clothes with the guitar and starts to play. Knowing that the show will go on without him, Frank gives in to the smothering panic coursing through his body and bolts for the nearest exit, ignoring the curious glances he receives on the way. All the techs and crew members backstage have jobs to do and can’t afford to leave their posts to chase after fleeing band members. Frank knows this and he’s counting on it because he desperately needs to be alone right now. Someone has left a packet of cigarettes on a table and he steals them as he runs by, kicking open the fire exit door and lighting one up as he emerges numb and trembling into the night.
He's outside the back of the arena in the wide equipment loading bay, dwarfed by ranks of trucks, ladders and forklifts. The My Chem tour bus waits in the dark nearby, its blue skin glinting coldly in the moonlight. There’s nobody else out here. Frank stands frozen by the door for a moment sucking hot, smoky death into his aching lungs but he still can’t breathe right from panic and the cigarette makes the feeling worse. There’s a huge crushing anvil of emotion in his chest that just won’t let him be and his brain is still buzzing and screaming and racing and crying... SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!
Dropping the smouldering cancer stick, Frank turns and rams his fist into the wall behind him, jarring his arm and splitting his knuckles but he barely feels a thing. Snatching the razor blade from his pocket, he tears it through the skin of his wrist and watches blood rise and fall away, a tiny river in the dark, but it doesn’t help. Why won't it help anymore?! The noise in his mind won’t quit. The hurricane won’t fucking die!
Gazing desperately at the tour bus through his sweat-damp hair, Frank realizes what he has to do and that he needs to do it now. He has to smash up the anvil in his chest before he suffocates, he has to silence the hurt before it drives him mad and right now, in this awful moment, he no longer cares if it means dying.
“Where the fuck is he?” Gerard yells, throwing his hands up in frustration, “Why didn’t anyone follow him when he ran off?”
“What were they supposed to do? Drop whatever they were doing and chase after him?” Brian asks.
“Yes!” Gerard cries, “With the state of mind that Frank’s been in lately that’s exactly what someone should have done! He’s been gone for hours now, Brian. Who knows what could have happened to him or what he might have done to himself...”
“Hey, no, don’t go there, Gerard. Not yet,” Brian tells him firmly, “For all we know Frank is genuinely sick and he's passed out in a bathroom stall somewhere. We’ll find him, okay? We’ll find him. Calm down.”
Gerard nods miserably and paces slowly around the empty dressing room, tugging anxiously at his short black hair.
“Okay, let’s break this down,” Brian continues, taking a deep calming breath, “The last person to talk to Frankie was Matt and the last person to see him was a member of venue security who watched him leave through one of the fire exits. I’ve got our own security searching the arena for him now, Ray and Bob and most of the crew are out looking for him in town, Mikey and Alicia have already searched inside the buses and_”
“And I’m just standing here feeling useless,” Gerard groans, “Brian, where is he?”
The manager shrugs helplessly, “I don’t know.”
When Gerard glanced behind him during the concert to see Matt Cortez playing guitar where Frank should be, he’d instantly felt scared for his friend but the show had to go on and surely nothing could be that wrong, could it. During the intro to 'Mama', Matt had shuffled over to say that Frank was feeling sick but considering Frank had once insisted on playing a show with pneumonia before, this message did nothing to calm Gerard’s nerves.
During intermission, the singer asked everyone he could find if they knew where Frank was but none of the stage crew hovering in the wings or the dressing rooms had any idea. More ominously, when Brian tried calling Frank’s cell phone it was turned off and there was no one inside the band's tour bus. Anxious for Gerard to get back on stage for the concert’s second act, Brian had promised to start looking for Frank right away but by the finale Frank was still nowhere to be found.
And now the show is over and everyone is tired and worried. The radio is warning of an incoming storm and Frank has been missing for over three hours. “Somebody somewhere must have seen him after he left the main building,” Brian mutters for the tenth time, “But Rear Gate security has no record of him leaving the site so either he climbed over a wall to get out of the loading bay or he’s still in it somewhere.”
“He likes to climb things,” Gerard frets, “He likes to be high up.”
“Right. Well… let’s try and retrace his steps again. It’s better than sitting around here doing nothing and we’re running short on time. The tour needs to get on the road again. We’ve got hundreds of miles to cover before dawn.”
“Then let the crew trucks go ahead if they need to keep time,” Gerard tells him, “But I’m not leaving without Frankie.”
“I know. If we don’t find him within the next twenty minutes...I guess I’ll start calling local hospitals.”
Together, Brian and Gerard go out into the windswept loading bay and watch as the large fleet of equipment trucks is prepped to get back on the road. The air is cool but heavy, crackling with storm clouds and infused with the prickly smell of ozone. A few scattered crew members wandering up and down the truck ramps see them standing there and throw questioning glances at Brian, eager to be back on the road. Brian nods reluctantly and walks over to give the Crew Chief permission to get under way. While he’s gone, Gerard looks anxiously around the vast darkened bay, peering through shadows and spotlights for any sign of his missing friend but there’s nothing. No Frankie.
Sighing heavily, Gerard looks down at the ground, kicking at the dirty concrete, and that’s when he sees something small and shiny lying there in the dark. Crouching down for a better look, he realises what the tiny object is just as Brian reappears over his shoulder and spells it out for him: “A razor blade?”
Standing up slowly, Gerard turns in a small circle, scanning the ground under their feet with narrowed eyes until he finds a trail of round blood drops leading away into the night.
Swallowing hard as his pulse quickens and his mouth turns to ashes, Gerard wordlessly follows the erratic blood trail through the bay keeping his eyes locked to the ground as he weaves through ladders, vans and dumpsters. The blood leads up to the doors of the band’s tour bus as if Frank had gone inside for a while, but then doubles back into the bay and Gerard follows it closely, squinting in the dark. When the trail ends he looks up and flinches at the wall right in front of his face. A dull blue metal wall, glinting faintly in the darkness: the back of the tour bus. “Huh?” the singer blurts in confusion, laying his hands on the smooth cold surface of the vehicle. There’s no door at this end of the bus and yet the blood trail ends here. If it is Frank’s blood then where did he go?
Brian walks up behind Gerard and sees what he sees. “I don’t get it…”
Then Gerard spies a tacky crimson stain smeared across the bus’s skin about ten feet off the ground – nearly double Frank’s height. Stepping back for a better look, he nearly trips over a long metal ladder lying discarded on the asphalt. The ladder is running lengthways towards the bus as if it had been recently leaning against the vehicle’s blue side and someone had kicked it over…
“Oh shit,” Gerard whispers, putting two and two together.
Brian shoots him a confused look and then follows Gerard’s gaze and groans softly as realization dawns, “He's on top of the fucking bus?”
Gerard skitters backwards away from the towering blue vehicle and stares wide-eyed up at the bus’s roof. This is a luxury double-decker tour bus with all the trimmings and it's thirteen feet tall.
“Yeah, he is.”
“Frankie?” Gerard calls into the darkness, staring hopelessly upwards, “Frank, are you up there?”
Brian glances around to make sure that the roadies are still over by their trucks on the other side of the loading bay. They are, and it looks like they’re getting ready to leave. Good. Out of sight, out of mind. The last thing Brian wants is an audience for this mess.
“Frankie!” Gerard yells again, cupping his hands around his mouth while his eyes anxiously search the edge of the bus roof which is all he can see of it from the ground, “FRANK!”
A violent wind gusts through the loading bay, rattling the trash in the grimy dumpsters and the equipment trucks start their engines and rumble out of the gates. Headlights flare. The roadies are gone. The lone security guard in the blacked-out booth by the gate reactivates the barrier and goes back to his duties and Brian prays that he can't see the bus roof on his camera feeds. Thunder booms across the night sky and the moon is snuffed out by storm clouds.
“Maybe he isn’t up there,” Brian says nervously, “I mean, we’d be able to see him if he was, wouldn’t we?”
“Only if he was standing up,” Gerard replies in a strained voice, “This is fucking ridiculous. Can you get onto the roof from inside the bus?”
“Well there's a hatch for ventilation or whatever but it has a safety-catch on it so it can't be opened wide enough for a person to climb through.”
“Shit. FRANK, IF YOU’RE UP THERE YOU’D BETTER FUCKING ANSWER ME!”
“Or what?” a tired voice slurs from somewhere up in the darkness, “The fuck are you gonna do to me, Gee?”
“Frank,” Brian murmurs, “He really is up there.”
“And he sounds drunk,” Gerard sighs, replaying what Frank just said in his mind again so that he can weigh up the blurriness in the young guitarist’s voice against how Frank usually sounds when he’s wasted. Something’s different this time. Something bad. Gerard shivers as a trickle of ice-cold fear runs down his spine.
“What are you doing up there, Frankie?” he calls, trying not to sound panicked, “Why don’t you come down?”
More silence, broken only by the wind and roar of the oncoming storm. The rest of the band and crew who live on the bus haven’t returned yet.
Gerard and Brian are on their own.
The silence drags on for second after painful second and Gerard is about to run for the discarded ladder when Frank suddenly staggers to his feet somewhere near the centre of the roof and becomes visible to his friends on the ground. Gerard freezes, his heart racing as he stares fearfully upwards through the dimness and watches Frank stand unsteadily, swaying on his feet as the howling wind batters his skinny body. He’s still wearing the bottom half of his Parade uniform and a faded black t-shirt that looks shiny and wet, shrouded in shadows and orange street-light There’s an empty liquor bottle in one of his hands and something long, thin and metallic in the other. A bloodied kitchen knife.
“Ohmigod,” Brian whispers.
“Frankie, come down,” Gerard stammers, unable to look away from the blood running down Frank’s arms, “Please! Or at least let me come up there and_”
“NO! Don’t you fucking dare!” Frank yells, stumbling towards the edge of the roof, only inches away from the drop. “Don’t you dare come up here, and if you call for help I swear to God I will fucking jump backwards and break my fucking neck! There’s nothing that wants helping or fixing up here, Gerard. Do you get that now? There’s nothing!”
“NOTHING!” Frank screams, throwing the bottle at his friend’s head. Gerard ducks, shielding his face, and the bottle smashes into the concrete, spraying him with shards of wet glass. The sharp smell of whiskey drifts into the stormy air.
Shivering in the icy gale, Frank laughs down at the mess – the kind of manic, humourless laugh that people make when it’s a choice between that or crying – and lurches forwards again to the very edge of the roof. His black hair has fallen thickly over his eyes, leaving him with only half a deathly-pale face and he looks completely blind.
“Frank, STOP!” Brian orders, holding his hands up in the air, “Stop moving and sit down, okay? I don’t want you to fall!”
“I don’t care what you fucking want!” Frank screams, stumbling sideways as another gust of wind thunders through the bay, “Did any of you care what I wanted this week? I just wanted to be LEFT ALONE but you couldn’t do that - none of you could! You couldn’t let me handle my shit ON MY OWN!” The guitarist is shivering violently now, his blood-stained hand shaking around the knife handle, and Gerard watches him fearfully, trying to figure out if this is just because of the cold and alcohol or something else. “I’m sorry, Frankie,” he shouts, feeling sick in his stomach, “We didn’t mean to make things harder for you. We just... we wanted to keep you safe! We love you, we were worried about you and we didn’t want you to hurt yourself again.”
“Well...it’s too late now isn't it,” Frank replies sadly, laughing again, although this time it sounds like sobbing. Blood is still dripping steadily from his left arm and, more frighteningly, seeping through his t-shirt and splattering in red droplets onto his sneakers. “But we can’t leave you alone right now,” Gerard continues, shaking with fear as panic builds up inside him, “Not until you get down from there!”
“That doesn't sound like a very good deal, Gee,” Frank slurs weakly, his voice breathless and wet like he's starting to drown, “You’re not very good at this...”
“Frank, please, you have to listen to me!”
“Why should I? Did you listen to me when you were passing out in parking lots and under other band’s stages a couple years ago? When you were 24/7 wasted on booze and pills? Did you listen to me this week even, when I wanted you off my fucking back? Don't talk to me about listening!”
Gerard swallows hard, feeling the bitter sting of memories as a wet heat burns in his eyes, “That’s not fair,” he says hoarsely.
“Fair?” Frank sobs, crying properly now as tears run down his cheeks, “What’s fair, Gee? Please tell me, what is fair? Fair would be her not walking out on me! Fair would be me not drinking down whatever shit’s left lying around just so I can make this fucking noise inside me stop! Just so I can BREATHE! Because this isn’t living anymore, Gee, it’s not. And maybe…m-maybe being dead would be better than walking around feeling like I’m already six feet under, crushed by all that dirt…my chest... hurts so fucking much! It HURTS and you…She...they all made it worse! Now I'm so fucking lost...W-What else can I do? Tell me what I should do!”
“You should come down here where we can help you,” Gerard pleads, terrified and almost crying himself to see his friend so upset, “Or let one of us come up there. Whatever you want us to do we'll do it, just let us help you, man, please! You don't need to fight this thing all alone.”
Thunder howls like a demon through the night and lightning splits the sky apart as Frank suddenly drops the knife and staggers back a couple of steps, woozily rubbing his face with his blood-stained hands before finally collapsing to his knees as tremors continue to shake his frail body.
“Frank, please let us help you,” Brian begs him, “You’ve gone through so much before and you can make it through this too. We’ll figure something out, I promise!”
“You promise?…Everybody promises,” Frank mumbles, hugging his knees and rocking his trembling body back and forth, his broken voice filled with hiccuping sobs, “But you can’t come in here and t-take this away from me. Cut this thing out of me, just cut it out! Please stop it, MAKE IT STOP!”
Panicking as Frank’s condition worsens, Brian pulls out his cell phone and turns to Gerard, whispering urgently. “Keep Frank’s attention while I text Ray and get him to call 911 for us.”
Gerard nods and takes a step closer to the bus, his heart breaking to see Frank in so much pain. It’s like a nightmare. How did things get so bad? Another step forward and Frank lifts his head and looks down at his friend through a mess of tears and blood. His green eyes are dull and glazed behind a cloak of wet hair and smudged eye liner and he looks like a little kid who’s cried himself to exhaustion. Gerard recognizes that dazed dead-eyed look, he's seen it too many times before, and he knows it's caused by more than just booze. “Frankie, did you take something, like pills or other stuff?” he yells over the noise of the storm, “What did you take?”
Frank shakes his head weakly in denial but he’s breathing in short quick gasps and his pale skin is shining with sweat. He’s clutching at his stomach with hands that are losing their grip and his shakes are so bad now that he can barely stay sitting up. “Nothing,” he sobs, breath rattling in his chest, “I-I didn’t _”
“What. Did. You. Take?” Gerard asks again, struggling to keep his voice steady as fear threatens to overwhelm it. Frank rubs his face again, scrubbing at his eyes, and when he looks back at Gerard, his gaze is even more unfocused. “Pills,” he murmurs, so quietly that Gerard has to lip-read what he’s saying, “Aspirin, Mikey’s meds…and the whiskey…”
“Shit! Alright, enough fucking around,” Gerard cries desperately, “Hold on Frank, I’m coming up there to get you!”
“I can’t do this,” Frank chokes, closing his eyes as his trembling body starts to slide over the roof's edge, “I-I can’t…”
“Fuck, he’s going to fall!” Brian shouts. And the next instant Frank does fall, dropping half-conscious from the roof and plummeting towards the concrete.
Without hesitation Gerard darts forwards to cushion his friend's fall and Frank’s body slams into his back and smacks him down hard on the asphalt. A sharp crack sounds in his ears and white lights speckle his vision as pain spears his head and his left shoulder while his arm is trapped awkwardly under his chest. “Ow-ww, dammit!” he groans, sitting up as Brian drags Frank off of him and props him up against the side of the bus. Frank's eyes have fallen closed and he’s covered in blood, his damp hair plastered to his forehead and cheeks with sweat and tears.
“Frankie, what have you done?” Gerard screams, tears of fear and pain flooding his eyes as the storm finally breaks and a deluge of rain comes gushing down around them, “Why did you do this? Do you want to kill yourself?!”
Frank groans miserably and slumps down on his side, passed out. “Oh no, you don’t,” Brian mutters, slapping him across the face and then holding him up under the freezing rain to wake him. Frank shakes his head and half-opens his eyes and Brian takes this opportunity to open the guitarist's mouth and stick two fingers down his throat. Gagging and retching, Frank vomits up a sticky pool of whiskey and half-dissolved pills onto the wet ground and then goes limp in Brian's arms.
Gerard gets unsteadily to his feet with his arm and head throbbing as rain soaks through his clothes. “Is he gonna be alright, Brian?”
“Who knows?” the manager grunts, gripping Frank under the arms and dragging him through the downpour to the front of the bus, “You broke his fall and Ray’s called an ambulance. We need to get him inside now and stop the bleeding while we try to figure out what pills he took.”
“Okay,” Gerard chokes, shivering and fighting tears as the tension and emotion of the night takes its toll, “I’m sorry, Brian, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, man.”
“Maybe not but I could have paid more attention the last few weeks,” Gerard rambles miserably, pulling open the tour bus door as cold rain runs into his eyes and warm tears run out, “I know Frankie has a lot of problems and pain that needs working out but we didn’t really make it any easier for him did we, crowding him all day and all night. We just made him feel worse! All he wanted was some space and understanding but I couldn't see that. What kind of friend does that make me?”