When the heart breaks 

Just in time for my fortieth birthday, As/Us Journal published an excerpt of my memoir, Relentless. This is how the story begins…

“I’m a sin, sis. The Bible says I’m a sin.”

My brother, Juan Carlos, and I were sitting just outside my aunt’s first floor apartment in the hallway of a five story walk up on the grittier side of upper Manhattan. It was early March of 2013. We were chain smoking and talking about our family, our childhood and his heroin addiction. It was the day I told him about the secrets I was revealing in my memoir; about mom’s rape and how he found out when he was just thirteen that he was result of that rape. We traced his spiral to that day, more than 25 years ago, when he was in eighth grade.

“Sometimes I blame myself.” He stared off across the foyer, avoiding my eyes. His face drooped like a bloodhound’s and his bald head shone with sweat. It dripped down his forehead and dotted his nose. Carlos pulled out a rag and wiped his head and face. That was one of things that stuck out about him in his addiction—he was always sweating and eating candy; his pockets rattled with boxes of Nerds.

“I wasn’t supposed to be a drug addict, sis. This wasn’t supposed to be my life.” He looked at me then turned away quickly, like he couldn’t handle what I reflected back. We were quiet for a while. I stared at the geometric designs of the black and white brown tiles. Carlos emptied a box of Nerds into his mouth.

Finally I said, “I’m writing all of it in my memoir, bro.”

“The rape, too?” he asked without looking at me.


Carlos lit a cigarette and pulled on it so hard I thought he was going to burn it to the filter. Then he said, “Write it, sis. Maybe somebody’ll fucking talk.”

He died three months later.

Read more here: When the heart breaks by Vanessa Mártir


  1. Hey Vanessa, Happy Birthday. Congratulations. The gift of telling our stories to help others and make sense of our lives is a blessing. Funny, how our brother’s lives impact our own…their rejection becomes our story…their deaths a leaping off spot. My brother died and his funeral, like our grandmother’s, was on my birthday. Reflecting on the intersections of our life has strengthened me…he was also gay and also…?? sigh. I miss him. He suffered until he died, even in his forties, unable to inhabit any other territory than the pain. I still believe, he died of a broken heart…no matter what they call it. P
    Perhaps these stories will save more brothers. I hope.
    Love to you. ~JK

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