When I first moved to Bisbee, I had this crazy idea to tell people my name was Cobban. I was ready for a change and Bob, my first name, was nothing but a boring old monosyllabic palindrome. Bisbee was an artist’s community and Cobban, my mother’s maiden name and my middle name, seemed fitting for someone who was struggling with a deeply repressed artistic side.
I remember the first time I introduced myself as Cobban. I had gone to Hot Licks BBQ for a drink and struck up a conversation with someone at the bar.
“How do you spell that?”
“C O B B A N.”
“Hmmm, that’s weird.”
People were having a strange reaction to my new name that somehow incorporated a furrowed brow so I chickened out and returned to boring old Bob.
As I was settling into my new job with the county, I was introduced to a woman named Carrie Mitten. Upon being told my name was Bob, Carrie said, “Oh yikes, another gay guy in Bisbee named Bob? Ugh, what’s your middle name?”
I reluctantly told her it was Cobban.
“Cobban??” she blurted.
“Here it comes.” I thought. I knew she was going to poke fun.
“That’s so cool!” She squealed.
The next morning, the name plate on my office wall had been changed to Cobban. My phone extension and email eventually changed too. Every time I was with Carrie and someone new came along, she’d proudly say, “This is Cobban.”
Carrie and her husband Kevin seemed to know everyone in Bisbee — and everyone in Bisbee knew them right back. Anytime there was a social event, fundraiser, potluck, barnraising – you name it, Carrie & Kevin were there. They were like some sort of unit. A matched set bound by an ampersand. Seals & Crofts, Bonnie & Clyde, Sonny & Cher, Carrie & Kevin. Because of those two, Ray and I became indoctrinated into the Bisbeeland community.
Kevin was one of those guys who could make/fix anything. Welding? No problem. Automotive? Vroom vroom! Woodwork? Where’s the hammer? Hell, let’s break out the chainsaw! He had what I call a Man-Garage. A testament to testosterone, fully equipped with a beer-filled fridge, drum set and every tool imaginable. You just wanted to hang out there forever. There was one very cool thing about Kevin; he didn’t give a shit about gay people. I felt at ease in his presence.
In honor of Stolen Horseshoe, Kevin welded a wind chime out of old rusty horseshoes and gave it to us as a housewarming present. It weighed a ton and didn’t exactly chime. It was more like a wind clunk.
There is an annual period when our wind clunk clunks. It’s right around March/April. (Bisbee folks know exactly what I’m talking about.) I told Carrie, “You know it’s windy season when you can hear that thing clunking.”
About a year later when I got my first motorcycle, Kevin was there to inspect the engine before I agreed to take it. He was kind enough to ride it to my house for me too (I had not ridden in years and the bike had an impressive 1100cc engine – way too big for me on the twenty-mile ride to my house.)
After I registered the bike, I got a new license plate in the mail. Kevin had been making birdhouses using automobile plates for a “tin roof” and jumped at the chance to make a little teeny birdhouse with the motorcycle plate. I hung it on the mesquite tree in the backyard near the wind clunk. It was so small! We were quite surprised when a little bird took residence in it one Spring. After finding an old automobile plate in the garage, I took it to Kevin and had him make another bigger birdhouse for the tree.
Near the front of our house was a baby mesquite tree. During the construction, I used to imagine what it would be like when it matured and how it would look next to the house. (I have a thing for big trees.) Right before we moved in, the construction crew completely leveled it. I was heartbroken.
A short time after we moved in a miracle occurred, the tree started growing back! (OK, now I know that it’s nearly impossible to actually kill a mesquite tree. No real miracle there but back then I was so amazed). I told Carrie about it and she said, “Well, you just need to call that tree Lazarus.”
So I did.
To continue the theme of naming trees, I began to address the one in back adorned with Kevin’s accoutrements as The Mitten Tree.
When I first met Kevin, he worked for County fleet. He didn’t care too much for the job and decided to make a living as a handyman – a much sought after person in the Old Bisbee region. Ray wanted the exterior stairs and balcony refurbished at our hundred-year-old rental place in town. He called Kevin. We all agreed to meet at the house one afternoon. Upon arrival, Kevin produced his crisp new business card. It read:
I show up!
Non-Bisbee folks might not have a clue as to how fucking funny that is. You see, Bisbee, the artist community, has a strange dynamic, for lack of a better term. Our neighboring town, Tombstone, is the town “too tough to die” and, well, Bisbee is known as the town “too stoned to care” and no, that’s not why we moved here. Having a reliable handyman in this town is like gold and I have to say, Kevin was 24K. Aside from showing up and doing great work, Kevin really took pride in his workmanship and it showed.
Originally, Carrie, Ray and I all worked in the same department. Ray and I would go to the weekly Friday night potluck where we would see Kevin (as well as the other usual suspects). At the time, it was lots of fun but in the long run, all good things do come to an end. The Friday night thing dissolved and Carrie and I moved to other departments. After moving to the new house, we became homebodies and hardly saw anyone.
We did see Carrie & Kevin on occasion – Kevin in one of his many cars rounding the Lavender Pit jutting his hand out the window with a smile and a wave. Carrie in Building A whenever I went over to see Ray and naturally both of them at any given community event. We would always strike up a conversation as if no time had elapsed at all.
Last Saturday while perusing my Facebook page, I got word that Kevin and another well-known Bisbee resident, Dave of Dave’s Electric Beer, had been in a terrible car accident the day before.
They were traveling along HWY 92 just outside of town. I believe both men were ejected from the vehicle. Kevin was airlifted to Tucson and Dave was taken to the Copper Queen hospital and then later also airlifted to Tucson. I can’t really say what happened because I wasn’t there and we’re all still kind of going through the “I heard from a friend who heard from a friend” period. I have an idea of what happened but prefer to refrain from posting it online without absolute confirmation. Not to mention, both men were placed in medically induced comas so no one could really say for sure.
Originally, I heard that the car just broke apart and seemed to have crashed for no reason. Then I heard that Kevin swerved and lost control to avoid someone who had crossed the double yellow line. Either way, Kevin and Dave were experiencing serious medical trauma. Our little Bisbee Facebook community was buzzing with what little information we could provide to each other. Someone had mentioned that Carrie was ready to talk to people so I gave her a call. She said Dave was doing better but they just couldn’t seem to stabilize Kevin. He broke both arms, both legs and fractured his spine. The doctors had already started talking about “never walking again” and, at that point, all Carrie wanted from Kevin was to have him wake up and say, “You better not be spending money for a goddamn hotel room!”
Kevin is quite the lovable curmudgeon.
Over the weekend, Dave’s condition improved. I heard that he broke all of his ribs and had his spleen removed but at least he was recognizing people and moving his arms and legs. Sadly, Kevin’s condition continued to deteriorate. Early yesterday morning, he changed lanes and headed for the great off-ramp in the sky.
Or perhaps an on-ramp? I guess it depends on how you look at it. Either way, our little town is devastated by the loss.
Were Kevin and I close friends? No, but he was one heck of a guy who was torn from the fabric of our community. A tear that hurts no matter how well you know a person. You never realize how interconnected we all are until someone gets unexpectedly ripped away in an instant and all you have left is the lingering sound of Velcro and a lump in your throat the size of a hockey puck.
When we heard the news, Ray and I sat there in silence before he got up to give me a hug. I couldn’t let go. Death was reverberating in my head. It’s so final. Your heart stops and you don’t breathe. My brain was trying to process that Kevin was not alive anymore. I had a vision of Carrie, motionless and alone on a playground swing clutching a tattered ampersand. The thought knocked the wind out of me.
“I need to run.” I thought, so I got dressed and headed out the door. The sun was just rising as I started to break a sweat. I had to run, to feel, to breathe. I needed to be alive and running was the only thing I could do to validate that my heart was indeed beating.
As I was making my way down the street, morning sunlight illuminated the puffy Arizona clouds. Everything seemed so vibrant and colorful. I suddenly remembered that my world was going to contunue turning even if Kevin’s had stopped.
Thank you Kevin. I’m sorry you had to leave so soon. Your passing is a reminder that life and living is more valuable than, well, everything…