Goodbye, My Friend

Ocean Reflection, #3 ©Mike Spinak


I’m going to take things in a different direction, today. This post is not about photography.

When I was 14, I met a kindred spirit. He had a fiery spark of creativity, and so did I. We rapidly became closest friends. Every day, we’d get together, and draw and paint for hours, learning draughtsmanship, and learning about art. I was a fine draughtsman; my friend was better. We also wrote poetry, and made mixed media sculpture out of everything from melted LP records to animal bones we found. He was very much a part of my development as an artist, which is, obviously, a big part of who I am today.

We also played with our chemistry sets together. We learned about the opposite sex, and discussed girls. We discussed anything and everything. We discovered and listened to music together – The Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and many others. We read and discussed literature together – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Siddhartha, The Stranger, and more.

We dropped out together; hitchhiked around the West together; lived homeless together; lived on a commune together. He was my closest friend for a number of years, and my partner in many adventures.

We eventually drifted apart, somewhat. We focused on different arts; I became a writer, and he became a guitarist. We settled down hundreds of miles apart. We got busy with other stuff – lovers, kids, work, and so on.

I still always thought warmly of him, remembered the good times with him, and considered him a dear friend. We stayed loosely in touch. We’d call each other once or twice per year and catch up, and write each other emails on each other’s birthdays.

Last year, on his birthday, I sent him an email, and never got a reply. I tried calling some time later, but couldn’t reach him. Somehow, I’d lost contact with him, I thought.

This last Wednesday, I got a notification from Facebook that his little sister requested to be Facebook friends with me. She told me that he’s dead. He’d died last year, and she didn’t know how to get in touch with me, until now. She asked me to call her, for her to tell me more about his death.

I called her on Friday, and she told me.

She told me that the sheriff and the coroner said it was apparently a murder-suicide, and closed the case. Their official version is that my friend shot his (common law) wife (who survived, with a shot to the shoulder), then shot his step-daughter dead, and then killed himself.

She then told me that she saw the crime scene, read the autopsy report, and she doesn’t believe the official version. She thinks his wife shot their daughter dead, then shot him dead, then shot herself, and then framed my friend.

She told me about a number of discrepancies in the case. For example, he was found dead with the gun in his right hand – when he’s left handed. Also, his supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head was not from point-blank range (i.e. not with the gun pressed against his head). He was found to have fractures on the back of his head, as though he’d perhaps been bludgeoned from behind, before his death.

I have a very hard time imagining my friend murdering his kid, shooting his wife, and then killing himself. I’ve known him for a long time, and for a large part of that time, I knew him better than anybody else. He was a very kind, loving, gentle person. Murder-suicide is just inconceivable, completely in contradiction with the person I knew. He was perhaps somewhat unstable – he cared perhaps too deeply about the plight of others, and took on all the burdens of the world – and they weighed too heavily upon him for him to handle. But he was utterly kind, and he was pacifistic.

I recognize that personalities are somewhat plastic, and they can be changed quickly and without foreshadowing by such things as schizophrenia, clinical depression, drug addiction, brain tumors, traumatic head injuries, and so on. And, from this distance, with such little interaction, it’s possible that there were things going on of which I was not aware.

Nevertheless, I have a very hard time believing he did this. As I’ve come to find out, his wife was arrested for stabbing him, in 2008. It seems plausible to me that she did this.

I did a bit of research, and found out some stuff. But my ability to research this sort of thing only goes so far – and there’s probably nothing to be gained by researching this, anyway.

I’ve been quite stricken by the revelations of the last few days. I’m deeply shocked and saddened.

I’ve been thinking about this. Here are some of my thoughts:

Every time I say goodbye to my loved ones, I make it a point to give them hugs and kisses, thank them for spending time with me, tell them that they make me happy, and tell them I love them.

My friend’s death underscores the importance of doing this, while we still can.

I’ll never know exactly what transpired, nor why, but the whole thing makes me realize that there’s more I need to tell my loved ones, emphatically and often.

I need to tell them that I will do absolutely whatever I can to be there for them and help them in their times of need, and they should never hesitate to ask me to help when they truly need it.

I also need to tell them how much I value them.

I need to do my best to make sure they know these well enough to come prominently to mind, in times of desperation.

I feel like ,”If only I had known that things were so dire…”, and also “If only he’d known I’d have done anything to help him to get into a better situation…”. Thus, I wonder how I could have done better at knowing and conveying.

While I don’t think I was negligent nor responsible, I do wonder whether this all could have been prevented or lessened if I’d intervened. On some level, I have to see this as a profound failure of our friendship “safety net”, so to speak, to recognize and avert impending crisis. It means I need to refine my social habits with my loved ones, to do my best for those I care about.

I’m still trying to figure out how to do better, but it seems clear to me that conveying love and fostering open communication must be necessary starting points.

To everyone reading this: Please, go give your loved ones hugs and kisses, now, tell them how important they are to you, and let them know that you’ll always be there for them.

Thank you for reading this.

Ocean Reflection, Number 3, Santa Cruz, California

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917.

  • Kathleen L Reams Cavender - How tragic. Thank you for sharing this personal part of your life. It is such a good reminder that we should not hesitate to let our loved ones know how important they are to us & always send them off with a hug and a kiss. I am so sorry for your loss, Mike.ReplyCancel