Miguel Angel Martinez. July 22, 1979-May 19, 2004. I have focused so much on the day he died since that toxic spring afternoon that I often forgot about the days I spent with him. Recently, I realized that the most powerful thing I have left of Miguel is the dash in between those two dates. The little line that signifies so much is what I cling to now. It represents his life and the impact he made on this world, especially mine.
Miguel was an incredible person. He lived for music—playing it, listening to it, recording it—it didn't matter, as long as it was musical, Miguel loved and was good at it. He also had severe depression that went undiagnosed and untreated. He had his dream job, working as a recording engineer in the music industry. What I didn't realize at the time was that this insidious thing called depression was stronger than our bond and all the good things in Miguel's life. And eventually, his disease took over him.
Miguel was an exceptional student, a gifted musician, a talented recording engineer, a wonderful friend, a loving son and most importantly, an amazing brother. Being four-and-a-half years my senior was an obstacle that I had to battle with growing up. He always saw me simply as his little sister who did not have anything in common with him. There were some things that he and I shared throughout our childhood that I will never forget. For instance, every warm June night he would lead me into our backyard, hand me a tennis racket, and we began the war against the June bugs. Another memory I have is pouring salt on unsuspecting snails on weekends. Then there was the fact that I had long hair during the beginning of his Guns N' Roses and Metallica days, so I often was his signature headbanger. Everything I did was with the intent to impress my big brother and to savor the few minutes that he dedicated his attention to me.
My brother was very much a jealous sibling. Often times, he would intimidate my boyfriends and make sure his friends knew that even speaking to me was unacceptable. One particular night I had a date come over for dinner. I introduced them, my date reached to shake his hand, and Miguel laughed and went inside. He later felt it was the right time to set up his biggest guitar amplifier in the dining room and serenade us with his extremely loud guitar solos. I look back now and laugh, but in the moment I was furious. There was never a dull moment with him.
Miguel was an exceptional student, a gifted musician, a talented recording engineer, a wonderful friend, a loving son and most importantly, an amazing brother."
Miguel and I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. We were both blessed with the best parents that anyone could have. They are hard workers and unconditionally love us. We had Catholic school educations and never needed anything. My parents were always there to support, guide and nourish us emotionally. As much as we all prayed and stuck by him, there were things that we now realize we could not do for him. I can only imagine the frustration of my parents when they begged him to dedicate himself to a therapist and to get things back on track. He was a happy person when under the right lights, but he was just not able to process negative events as easily as a healthy person. Rather, he would be bedridden for months because of a seemingly mild blow.
In the years prior to his passing, Miguel had dealt with the trials and tribulations of a tumultuous relationship extending from the end of his high school years until the end of his life. She played head games and he was devastated each time she walked out. No wise person could convince him to simply move on to better things. His junior year of high school, he unexpectedly lost a close friend to suicide in a very public manner. In fact, we believe that this was the catalyst for his possibly predisposed depression to emerge. Months before the day he took his life, he had lost a promising job with a very popular musician that involved an international tour. Miguel was devastated. His substance abuse was kept a secret from my parents and me, which made it even harder to understand why he acted the way he did.
The day he died is forever engrained in my memory. My parents were out of the country on business and I discovered he had been cutting himself. I got home from work and was greeted by a couple of his friends who assured me that he was fine. I was so shocked at the self-inflicted carvings on his body that I decided to write him a letter. I was obviously kept in the dark about the severity of his condition. I found an empty bottle of vodka and an even emptier look in his eye. Unfortunately, while I was preparing myself to write to him about how much I loved and needed him, he was preparing to end his pain. His friend climbed into his room through a window only to discover his lifeless body. The pain, disbelief, shock, numbness and fear of that day cannot be expressed with words. I felt as if I was out of my body looking at myself losing my mind. I felt only knives stabbing me and blows to my stomach. The 911 operator's voice was muffled and frustratingly slow. The worst day of my life was looking me right in the eye and laughing.
One of the saddest things I had to deal with after he died was knowing that we had just become equals in his eye and were beginning to know each other better. Miguel began to express his pride and love for me to me, and not just to others. I treasure the text message I received for my birthday five months before his death while I was living in Mexico. It read "I love you with all of my melody, baby sis." It seems as though the wind and the birds singing are now so much clearer and melodic since he has gone into heaven to work his musical magic on the earth.
After having battled my own war with depression, I am now in a better place. I sought treatment and took my focus away from his death, and projected it onto the future and trying to make changes where they can be made. After over three years of debating, I decided to get a tattoo that honored him. Finally, through an epiphany, I figured out where and what I wanted. For his birthday in 2007, I permanently added a guitar with angel wings to my right wrist. I felt so much closer to him after this. While participating in an AFSP community walk in October of 2007, I thought of honoring his struggle, my struggle and the positive future to which I have dedicated myself. I contacted a popular television show called "L.A. Ink" and applied to be tattooed on international television. The AFSP lifesaver logo is forever a part of my left wrist now. I spoke about his life, my loss and how AFSP has helped me
What I have learned is that by going on "L.A. Ink" and by talking to people about my tattoo, I can potentially help other people in Miguel's name. I have received great feedback from everybody. People who saw the show have reached out to AFSP chapters and National about their own stories, holding walks in their communities and becoming involved with the organization.
In the past few months, I signed up as a volunteer with the Los Angeles chapter of AFSP, applied to be on the chapter's board of directors, agreed to serve as the chairperson for a fundraiser, helped out at the National Survivors of Suicide Day conference and attended the national chapter leadership conference. One of the AFSP staff members even recommended me to the Crisis Response Training Program for the City of Los Angeles, and I got accepted!
Miguel's suicide changed my life and there were times I thought I would never be able to move on from it. But with the help, guidance and support of AFSP I've been able to use Miguel's and my story to help other people. I am luckily at a place now where I talk about him openly in order to remove the stigma that is so ignorantly attached to suicide. I will never stop having a big brother. Miguel Angel Martinez is, not was, my brother. Like all big brothers, I think Miguel would be proud of his little sister. I know that I am just as proud of being his baby sister now, as I was during the 20 years I had him next to me.
Lizette is a chef who currently resides in Los Angeles. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.