Michael's Note: The Suicide Note My Father Never Left That Was Almost My Own
Guest Writer: Michael Carini; San Diego, United States
The following article contains multiple references to suicide.
In August 2012, at the age of 28 and on the precipice of homelessness, I was reconnected with the biological family I never knew. At that time, I learned that my father, also named Michael, did not die in a car accident as I had always been told. Rather, I came to find out that he took his own life on my mother's 21st Birthday, just shortly before I turned a year old. He did not leave a note. Almost 30 years later, in my most personal and emotional creation to date, I wrote that note for my father. Written through our collective heart, eyes, and hand, that piece of our soul is "Michael's Note."
Before moving forward, I feel it's necessary to take a step back. The story of how I came to find myself at the point of being homeless is another incredible story, one more surreal than anything I could ever paint, but one for another time. I remember it was my Birthday, April 9th, and I was sitting shirtless on an abandoned couch at Morley Field near Balboa Park. I was celebrating by myself as I've come to do on most Birthdays. It was on that day that I received an email from a local art gallery, Alexander Salazar Fine Art, with an immediate opportunity for an artist residency in Downtown San Diego. This was strictly a workspace and not a living space, but I knew that with no other opportunities on the horizon, I would be working around the clock…and I did. I had all of my mobile studios moved in the next day, and I spent the next 20 days of April putting my blood, sweat, and tears into the only opportunity I had. There simply was nothing else for me, and there was no guarantee there would be after. I convinced Alex, the gallery owner, to extend my residency from 20 days to 50, adding on May as well. He knew I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and he could see I was making the most of the opportunity. I was engaging the public on a daily basis; taking videos, and posting work while creating at a frantic and relentless pace. This isn't the most natural thing for a hardcore introvert, but sometimes you have to put yourself through uncomfortable situations to survive, grow, and thrive. I made the most of my opportunity, not knowing who might see my work or if it would even amount to anything at all.
When I was a child, I was always told that my biological father had died in a car accident and I never pressed the issue for details. After all, this was the only life I ever really knew. I had no reason to believe or suspect otherwise, and my mother had never been someone that seemed to want to share the details, understandably so. She moved us both across the country after his passing, no doubt, in part, to escape the memories. I could feel my mother's pain growing up, and I didn't want to dig into it, so I left it alone for the most part. I never even saw a picture of my father until I was 17. This occurred after getting into a terrible fight with my adopted father that resulted in me, at least temporarily, living with a neighbor as I went to school covered in bruises. Seeing the photo of my father made it vividly apparent why my mother didn't keep these photos around. She didn't need them. All she had to do was look at me, and it was like he was right there in front of her. I was the spitting image of the man she loved to grow up in front of her eyes. I couldn't even imagine how painful that must be. Here I am, her first born son, and I serve as the harshest reminder of everything she lost and had tried to escape. It didn't help that we exhibited many of the same character traits and behavioral patterns despite never really knowing each other in this life. In many ways, would later come to explain the tumultuous nature of our relationship better.
Getting back to May 2012, the residency ended, and I did what I had to do to scrape by, hoping that as a door closed, a window might open. I posted all of my residency videos, not all appropriate for children and all audiences, on YouTube. Raw, uncut, it was a documentary of me trying to piece together my life on a quest for survival. It was then that unexpected pieces started to fall together when I received an email from someone claiming to be my Aunt Karen from Maryland. From the little I knew, and yes I'm from Maryland originally, her message added up; so I knew she was telling the truth. Apparently, she had tried messaging me through social media, but it had gone into my filtered inbox, so I never saw it. She mentioned that she understood if I didn't want to talk but wanted to try again.
Since I was never one to shy away from anything, and with my life in complete disarray anyway, I reached back. It turns out that my cousin Michele, whom I used to play with as a baby and was close to my age, had been thoroughly searching for me over the years and happened to come across my YouTube video. She based her search on the minimal amount of information she had about me. At that time, my mother and I were not on speaking terms, but I reached out to ask if there was anything I should know before speaking to my aunt. I had a gut feeling something was missing or that I was about to hear something shocking because that's just how life seemed to be going. I didn't hear back. I can still recall the shake in my aunt's voice on that first call, and I remember her asking if I knew how my dad had died. I told her the story I had always been told. When she told me the truth, I felt the strangest sense of calm as if I had always known, despite being told a different story. I harbored no ill will towards my mom for withholding the truth. It helped me to understand her pain better and develop a greater sense of empathy. I think she tried to protect me from the truth and myself the best way she knew how.
My aunt and cousin flew out to see me that summer. When my aunt saw me in person for the first time, a grown man not much older than her brother had been when he had taken his life, she looked like she had seen a ghost. It took her a few moments to get any words out. For the first time in my life, I learned about the man my father was. I saw photos and heard stories. For the first time in my life, so much about myself started to make sense. My father and I had many of the same wonderful qualities while battling many of the same demons. It was as if a piece of him was a piece of me; how could it not be?
I knew I would have to explore this in the only way I've ever been able to communicate with the world, and that was through my art. Right then and there I knew I would have to write the note my father never left and the note I had rarely left myself on several occasions. I'm often asked if it was challenging to write but to be honest, it was one of the most natural things I have ever done. I had been holding onto these feelings I couldn't articulate for so long. Now they poured out onto this tangible canvas like a torrential downpour. It gave me a new sense of purpose and changed perspective. It was perhaps the most powerful lesson I could ever learn, and who better for a man to learn that lesson from than his father?
"Michael's Note" was followed by half a decade of critical introspection, reflection, and expression in the form of a visual history paradoxically representing a singular moment; time, and experience as well as momentum, time, and experience in their totality. Completed in the spring at the age of 33 and given life in conjunction with the Summer Solstice, "Reign Upon Sonrise" [the title of Michael's exhibit] is a five-year meditative reflection of a simple complexity, or "simplexity." A 49 canvas polyptych with a myriad of possibilities and experiences; this meditation is a personal and elemental narrative veiled under the umbrella of a fractalized spectrum of sub-narratives called "Reigndrops." Peering into the human soul with no definitive beginning or end, may you enjoy your journey across the "Reignbough" and discover the enlightenment you seek in the "Reign Upon Sonrise."
My family flew back out to see the exhibition, and it was there that I met my grandmother for the very first time at 33 years old. I think that the experience brought a great deal of peace and comfort to not only myself but for them. They had known my father much better than I ever did in many ways. I only ever really knew him by the pieces we shared. But by those pieces, I, in many ways, felt like nobody could ever know him better. I think that by telling the story, I could bring them the peace they hadn't known since his passing, and perhaps to others out there with similar experiences and stories. I know what it's like to struggle to find your place in this world, to reclaim it, and where to place others. The struggle will continue. But knowing the end my father chose has given me the strength to endure and continue fighting that battle. I hope it may do the same for you. I can't say that this is a happily ever after story, but I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to reconnect with my family and change the man I am becoming. If not for this experience, I might not even be here to become anything. My father and I could have had the very same end, and I would never have known. I can't think of a more powerful message for the universe to provide, and sometimes you just need to learn to appreciate the rain upon sunrise.
Dedicated to the father I never had the honor and privilege to know-
Though I have publicly exhibited "Michael's Note," I don't believe I have ever transcribed and posted its content. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to share that with you for the first time because I know it can be difficult to read from the painting images. Please note that this was written as a process of stream of consciousness and in one continuous sitting. To maintain authenticity and the necessary energy, I wrote it at a very low point when I was considering giving up. When I had previously considered giving up, I don't believe I had ever intended to leave a note either. This experience allowed me to write the note my father never left and give his family a bit of peace, as I chose to provide them with the painting. At the same time, it was as if I was writing my own suicide note. This painting, in a sense, represented the death of a piece of myself so I could be reborn.
Here is the piece, “"Michael's Note" written outright for reading purposes:
Who we are and what we become are not always, or even often, what others see in us. Sometimes those that seem the happiest on the outside are the ones struggling the most on the inside. For as long as I can recall, I have felt more pain in a single instant than I would wish upon my greatest enemy in a lifetime. For a great while, pain was the only thing that could mask the hurt. I find that now, even that is not enough and I know all too well that nobody can save me from myself. I know there are those that love me, but how could I possibly accept that love when I could never love myself? There is a perpetual emptiness deep within me that I could never fill. I tried. I really tried. Please know that I tried. I gave everything I had to give until there was nothing left. You will be told that I died in a car accident…a partial truth as I will indeed die inside this car. It will be no accident, however, but rather a tragedy. In time, you will discover the secrets that lie in truth. As much as it kills me, you will one day understand my departure far greater than I would ever wish for you. It is with great anguish and sorrow that I must acknowledge that this, my first letter to my one and only son, will also be my last. Although I cannot give a proper goodbye (if there is such a thing), I hope that you will please forgive me. Please find it in your heart to release me. Less than a year old, I leave you almost as swiftly as you have entered my life, and on your mother’s 21st Birthday no less. From this day forward, every time your mother looks at you she will feel both joy and pain. She will feel joy as she looks upon her first born son and remembers the man she loves and will never forget. At the same time, she will see my face in yours and it will cause a pain you will feel, but not understand until you are older than I am. The two of us are destined to share a name and the same face… the same face that hides the same pain which will be carved into your flesh. We must not, however, share the same fate. Destiny, after all, is only what you are willing to accept. You are bound only by the limits of infinite possibility my son. You will be born into a world that will have no place for you…and so you shall create your own. Never apologize for being yourself Michael. You should only apologize for the times that you are not. You will not be like those by whom you will be surrounded. You will be an outcast, even in your own mind. Your mind and body will be in a constant struggle and it will be a source of constant pain. You will be adopted when you are a young boy, and you will constantly be reminded that I am no longer by your side for reasons you will not yet understand. You will come to understand death before you even have an opportunity to understand life. You will be mocked for the fact that you and your new father do not appear to be of the same color. It will phase you not in the slightest and you will learn in time that being invisible for so long will afford you the opportunity to become any color you feel or choose to be. Thus you shall emerge a master of color, constantly blending the lines drawn by others. You will simply erase what you don’t like and rebuild it as you see fit. You will be a master of your own universe. You are going to raised a Catholic. As such, you will be taught that my decision to take my life on my terms will lead my soul down a path of eternal damnation. This means you will be left with the impossible task of choosing between heaven and seeing me again. Even if I was to tell you which choice to make, I know you will make your own. Your heaven will always be your hell and your hell will always be your heaven. Perhaps true hell is when you die and meet the person you could have been. You are the person I could have been and I will watch over you each and every breath until the breath after last. If I had stayed, you may have become a different man…perhaps even a happy man…but you wouldn’t have been that man that you could have been…the man you are becoming. You have learned to transform your pain into strength. More so, you have chosen to share that strength with those in need…even those that were not willing to share with you along the way. In my eyes, there could be no greater a man. For 30 years you will wander through darkness naked and alone…a lost shepherd. Scraping and crawling along the way, most will look right through you. As you carve your own path against insurmountable odds, you will discover the up-side of down and you will discover yourself. As young young boys and girls, we find ourselves imprisoned within boxes that contain us and diminish our potential. You will break free from every box in which you are placed as only you can…and you will discover that lost is merely a step away from found. After almost befalling a similar end, you will rediscover your missing family almost 30 years from now. That is when you will discover your buried truth. You will also discover this letter, for it will be written by your hand…locked inside your soul for 30 years until a door was unlocked. I did not, in fact, write my own letter. You wrote it for me, Michael. For 30 years you have have slept only to be chased by the vivid nightmares of a creator. Go now and find your peace. Rest peacefully my son, for tomorrow is another day. As you sleep tonight, capture your wildest dreams. Capture your dreams so that when you wake, you may illuminate the path of those surrounded by darkness. Though you may never truly find the closure and serenity you seek, you can write the next chapter of your life, becoming a chapter in the lives of those you may touch along the way. While inspiring those promising new chapters, may you spare others from writing this very letter…for themselves and for those that love them.
About Michael Carini:
Michael Carini received his artistic training in Los Angeles, studying at Loyola Marymount University while simultaneously serving as an apprentice under respected artists Jane Brucker and Roland Reiss. Graduating at the top of his class with honors including the Scholar of Distinction Award in Painting, Carini returned to his hometown in San Diego, where he currently maintains his studio. With over 100 exhibitions nationally and internationally, he has received over a dozen major awards and was named Emerging Artist of the Year by Art Design Consultants. Carini's work can be found all over the globe in the collections of celebrities, major businesses, and private collectors.
You can see more of his work on his site, www.cariniarts.com. You should also check out his Instagram, @acrylicalchemy