Bye Bye B

By Joe Martinez

In the world our ancestors have hewn for us we live our lives, and in this world of mobility and suburbs, people are less and less parts of villages and tribes of the sort we have been part of from time immemorial. This is patently wrong, and one of the purposes of groups of people is to form such a thing, a band against the world, united in custom. Far too many people never experience a level of camaraderie and belonging that is due to them as human beings. Family, chosen or born, is the most important thing in the whole world.

If I were a tree I'd say I'd grown good strong roots and branches. In addition to my membership in the fARM, I am part of a tight-knit community of Mexican-Americans in Granite City, Illinois, U.S.A. We've lost one of our favorite sons, my only brother, Brandon Michael Martinez, born April 28, 1978, died August 8, 2001 at the age of 22 years of complications stemming from a congenital heart defect.

My experience surrounding this, beyond the obvious crushing grief, was of community, of family, and it has taught me how important people are to one another. My brother was a special person who suffered a lot for his meteoric life, but never quit. Whatever character really is, he had it. Whatever courage is, he had that too. I'm just happy we got to keep him so long, as were many.

The day of his funeral one of his ex-coworkers and friends, Mike Shagoda, had a heart attack, and my cousin was the EMT on call. He knew Mike was dying before his eyes. He made Mike as comfortable as possible. My cousin told us that he was crying, because he knew that he wouldn't be able to go my brother's funeral. It touched me deeply that my brother meant so much to somebody else, and that he left a trail of devotion, admiration, and good will behind him. He had a knack for people that any salesman would kill for, yet he was a loon who was often full of shit-however well he might package his line of bullshit for that day.

I'm not here to canonize a dead loved one, as Brandon would be the first to insist that he wasn't a saint; rather, I am here to tell you how very much we'll miss him, and what a very good man he grew up to be. I'm working on a more complete study of this beloved character, but the work goes slowly. Five months later, tears sometimes still get in the way.

My family, chosen and born, was my only link to sanity throughout the initial shock, and I thank everyone who helped me through this. To my immediate family, nothing needs be written, for it is written on the slate of our souls, forever changing the story of our lives.

To Geary Yonker, the publisher of this online magazine, I offer special thanks. When I found out, it was really late, and my mother made me promise that I'd go wake someone up to just hang out. I called him and he came over with no more than a word. Had it not been for him I'd have likely broken up my house I was so utterly pissed off and upset at the same time. The entire experience made me appreciate not only life itself, but also the wonderful people with which my life is filled. To all the others, Andy E., Chris K., Jana Moran, Kathy Faulkner, and everyone else that buoyed my family with their love, I offer my eternal thanks, friendship, and loyalty.

When my brother was first diagnosed with his heart ailment, he was supposed to have been lucky to see two. Multiply that by 11 and you get the bonus round that Brandon had. The most important, comforting, and positive thing helping me and those who loved him is that he was at peace with the notion of dying. A surgery he'd had a year before hadn't been effective in helping him, despite his rapid recovery. He was beginning to feel bad, and he wasn't letting on. I know he was tired of having surgeries, and there was talk of something coming soon. It was something he'd suffered more times than he cared to remember.

Brandon Michael Martinez

The night that this photo was taken, he went home early because he was tired, but he encouraged me to go out with my friends. If I could pay any amount of money now to have just gone home to hang out with my bro I would.

He died swimming laps at the pool three weeks later, doing the only exercise his doctors allowed him anymore. It was his way of rolling the dice I think, because the prospect of life as a fragile porcelain mouse repelled him. If he couldn't live with a semblance of normalcy, he would die trying. He'd long since hugged me and told me of his epiphany of acceptance while I wept one night in maudlin inebriation.

All is not lost. Brandon was kind enough to leave us an amazing legacy of photos, and while we may not have him, we can look through his eye, back in time, when a patchwork heart beat inside the chest of the bravest man I've ever known. Look for a photo essay series on this web site to begin in the next issue, the theme: Spain. From the land that gave the Martinez clan its name and some blood, Brandon brought photos of the magnificent and the mundane, from fabulous artwork to normal people on the street.

Please give the American Heart Association any spare change that might be rattling around your pocket. The life this research saves could be your own or someone who is precious to your family.

Bye Bye Brandoleus Maximus.

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Copyrightę2002 by Joe Martinez.

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