An Empty Chair at the Table During the Holidays

By Rebecca Grimes

Hector Martinez

It was November 20, 1982, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  That day is not very clear to me, but one thing that I will never forget, arriving home from a day of shopping and seeing my grandmother, who lived across from us, pull my dad away to say something to him.  You see my 18-year-old brother, Hector Martinez, and one of our friends who lived just a house away from us, had taken off earlier in the day to enjoy a motorcycle ride.  Little did they know that would be their LAST RIDE.

In an article published the following day, it stated a car and a motorcycle collided on U.S. Business 83 and Glascock Road in the center lane leaving one dead and one in critical condition.  The crash occurred around 6pm and apparently the driver of the car didn’t have his headlights on.  My brother was taken to closest hospital and was then transferred to another hospital due to the extensive trauma he endured during the crash.  It was there, at McAllen Methodist Hospital, where he remained in critical condition.  The next five days were the worst days of our lives.

What struck me the most about that article, something that I will never forget, is that ironically the driver of the car, who was also 18, was a friend of both my brother and his friend.  The driver was charged with driving while intoxicated.

So why am I sharing this with you?  Because it happened the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day. The holidays are approaching, and this time of the year is always the hardest for me even though it’s been a long time ago. The holiday season is a time when we are celebrating with family and friends, but that was not the case for our family.  That year, Thanksgiving Day was so much different for us.  Instead of us giving thanks, we were mourning the death of my brother.  After being in a coma for five days, my brother was removed off life support on Thanksgiving Day 1982.  A decision both my parents had to make when the doctors told them there was not much they could do for Hector and they did not know how long he would be in a coma.

Christmas that year was even worse for us as we were used to having our grandma spoil us rotten, but now things were different.  Her 2nd grandson born into the Martinez family was gone and to be honest he was her favorite.  Birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that followed were just as hard for all of us.  Our lives changed forever.

Every day we think about him, and we wonder who he’d be today.  It will be 39 years this year that my brother was taken from us, but we still feel that one empty chair at the table during the holidays.  We wonder about the husband, father, grandfather he would be today. The void left in our hearts is something no one should go through just because someone decided to take the wheel after drinking too much. Drunk drivers affect so many people beyond just those who are in the crash.

After years of struggling with the loss of my brother and not being able to talk about him or mourn his death, I decided to speak up when I attended a Candlelight Vigil for MADD.  I came across one person there who gave me the confidence to speak out and everything changed for me.  I became an advocate for my brother.  My brother is not here anymore, but I speak at Victim Impact Panels for MADD when I have an opportunity.   We also participate in yearly Walk Like MADD events to remember my Hector.

We are in danger when we share the roads with a drunk driver.  As the holidays approach, my only hope is that people think before they get behind the wheel after drinking and celebrating.  Think before you drink.