And in this corner… | Feb. 23, 2018

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“Kevin had a major heart attack.”

That’s not what I expected to hear when I answered the phone. I just happened to be at my dad’s house when the call came from Kevin’s mom, who had spent a few hours trying to track me down.

“He drove himself to the hospital and flat-lined in the lobby, but they got him back. Come to the hospital,” she said.

I raced to the Los Alamitos Emergency Center in time to see Kevin being wheeled down the hall to his space in the ICU. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was my friend of 42 years unconscious, with black eyes, and now a cardiac patient in ICU.

Photos courtesy Blair Cohn

He was semi-responsive the next day, thank goodness. He moved his body and nodded his head when I said his name and told him who had been there to see him the night before. He was intubated and hooked up to all sorts of machines that made his body jump and twitch. He squeezed my hand, and I held his until I got uneasy seeing his face wince in pain as the nurse changed the IV line. I went back to the hospital throughout the week to see him although he was heavily sedated.

I kept asking myself how and why this happened. He was 45 years old and played hockey. I had just seen him a few weeks prior, and he seemed fine. In the nano-second after I got that first phone call, 42 years of friendship played in my head like an old-time movie.

•••

If memory serves, it was a late afternoon in 1975 when a few of us walked down Josie Avenue to see who was moving into 3073. Two blonde kids came out and stood on the porch. The girl, age 9, had glasses, and the boy, age 3 with the bowl haircut, looked back at us. We said hello and became instant friends.

Though five years apart in age, Kevin and I began a lifelong friendship that day. He was the younger brother I never had.

We spent our time in the neighborhood filling the days. There were hours making up games, riding bikes, walking to the store, listening to music, creating, exploring, watching the same videos over and over on MTV. When he was about 8, he’d come with me on two buses across town to get to a record store. He was at our house as often as I was at his. Even at an early age, he was a prankster and would make me wait on the porch as I heard him tell his mom: “Blair wants to know if he can come in.”

Boyhood seemed like an eternity. Over the years, we explored and went on adventures of all types. I dragged him with me everywhere. There were multiple trips to Disneyland, bowling, movies, the malls, arcades. Sleepovers.

He rode his bike with me every afternoon while I ran, trying to stay in shape for high-school soccer. But of course, he would taunt me and zig and zag in front of me to break my stride or to get me to run faster.

Climbing to the top of the hills at Joshua Tree, burning some sage and talking about the world were highlights.

When I was in college and managing local bands, Kevin came with me to all the clubs in L.A. We’d sneak him in as a roadie because he was underage, and he even got to play guitar with the band at every show.

Kevin’s was a life filled with music. We shared so many favorites together and he had a deeply passionate relationship with his favorites: U2, Rush, Iron Maiden, hair-metal bands and lots of ’80s music.

We got into Civil War re-enacting together and got to live our interest in history. We volunteered together to fight for the 2nd Vermont, Company E., to save the union at battles of: Ft. Teton; Franklin, Tennessee; Antietam, Maryland; and especially at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where we participated in the 135th anniversary of that historic battle. Back then, as a re-enactor, he was known as Freeman Colburn from Montpelier, Vermont. I was Wheeler Remick. We slept in rain, mud, snow, cold and heat. We marched and ate hardtack. One night, after marching all day, we sat under a crabapple tree watching the campfires and listening to the sounds of a harmonica playing Union songs off in the distance. After the battles, we toured around to see the historic sites. It was a very special time, two boys from Josie Avenue wandering back in history and loving every minute.

We laced up rollerblades and learned to play roller hockey in the street and playgrounds. It became much more than a casual interest for us all. There were pick-up hockey games four nights a week and league games on the weekends. He got hooked on Kings hockey.

And there were all the USC football games, watching the fights on HBO, mud runs and half marathons. Our favorite training run was called “pier to pier,” going from Seal Beach to Huntington Beach, where we enjoyed the ocean views, smells of bonfires and talked or didn’t talk. Just being there together was enough.

I was most proud to cheer him on while he pursued his education, first at junior college and then at CSULB. He loved to share the stories that he learned from each class. Most of our lunches the last few years would be spent talking about his history classes. Graduation day brought a tear to my eye as it felt like my brother or my own son had reached a great milestone.

I was jealous of his ability to teach himself how to play guitar and make it look easy. Same with drums— or at least the air-drums. He had an incredible talent of just picking the guitar up and playing, though he was too shy to play much in front of others.

•••

We were just together before the holidays. We had emailed each other just recently. I feel like I missed him one more time by thiiiis much. But how would I know?

We loved each other. That is simple and clear.

The following Saturday night after his heart attack, Alissa and I were at a house-warming party in Belmont Shore. Thirty minutes into the party, I took another frantic call. This time it was from Kevin’s girlfriend saying that he had gone “code blue” again and to hurry. Alissa and I sprinted out of the house to our car and raced to the hospital. I watched the whole medical team work on him for another 30 minutes. His mom was wailing in the nurse’s station, his girlfriend cried and paced manically, and I stared hard into the doctor’s face looking for signs and answers. They got Kevin’s heartbeat back again, and we all were traumatized by the intensity of what we had just seen.

I had just sat down at my office desk on Monday morning when I got another frantic message. Kevin’s girlfriend said the medical staff suspected neurological problems. I got to the bedside and saw Kevin’s vacant eyes and dilated pupils staring off to nowhere as a nurse did her tests. We knew it wasn’t good. After a painful and anxious wait all day, the neurologist said Kevin’s brain had swelled after the second cardiac arrest and there was very little brain activity. Kevin’s mom made the ultimate decision to let him go.

The nurses pulled the curtains around us, and I was in the room with the family as the morphine drip started and we watched Kevin disappear in front of our eyes. The machines’ numbers were displaying down to zero. Another sight I will not forget.

His life was cut short without one more lunch, one more outing, one more conversation. I’ve spent every hour since his passing trying to make sense or come to the belief that it was Kevin I saw in the hospital bed slip away from us. My cup was full but I wanted more.

I’d gotten used to him going incommunicado for periods of time, but he would always resurface and we’d pick up where we left off. He brought with him the same eyes and smile I recognized from that first day on his porch and all the days following.

I do not want to get used to him being gone. I simply cannot believe he is. I am happy that my 2-year-old daughter says his name when she sees his picture.

Kevin will be with me in the days to come, but all the music we shared and loved will sound a bit different now.