Longform

Kimmyan Franklin couldn't escape her uneasy past

Take me up into your mind once or twice before I die (you know why: because the eyes of you and me will be full of dirt some day). — e.e. cummings

She was always jotting down notable quotes in that journal of hers, the one her mother gave her the year she turned twenty-one. She took it with her everywhere, ready to record whatever was inspiring or artful in what she was reading or listening to: cummings, William Carlos Williams, Shakespeare or Kafka or Celine, killer lyrics from Big Black or Big Star. It was a battered collection of great writers' great thoughts about love, fate, God, hope, betrayal — and entirely too much about death.

She wrote stories and poetry, too. But the works of Kimmyan Dylana Franklin weren't published in the usual way. You'd find a slip of paper tucked into a drawer like a mash note after she'd crashed at your place for the night, or slipped under your drink like a coaster when she was tending bar, and there it was, a Kimmyan original, dark and broody or bright and exuberant, depending on her mood. Yet always fresh, always alive.

See, her friends say, that was the thing about Kimmyan. She may have been, like so many hard-drinking romantics, half in love with easeful death. But she understood that life is for celebration. The past may be painful and immutable, the future uncertain, but today? Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present.

So in this scattered and fragmentary puzzle she left behind — the journal, the notes, the stories on her computer, the Facebook postings — amid all her grim musings on loss and doom, her flights from bad times to dark places, bursts an occasional shaft of pure joy. Like the miraculous moon, orange and huge, that greeted her two years ago when she moved to the cabin in the mountains to stay with her mother and stepfather.

"Had Thanksgiving a few days late and drank a huge jug of Carlo Rossi with Madre and Padre and a good friend that stays true to his word," she wrote. "Parents got wasted and sang along to 'Sam Stone' by John Prine. Fucking beautiful."

"Sam Stone" is a ballad about a heroin overdose, a Vietnam veteran who "popped his last balloon" when "life had lost its fun and there was nothing to be done." It would not be most families' first choice for a holiday sing-along. Yet at the right time, in the right company, Franklin believed, beauty could be found just about anywhere.

She died last July at the age of 39, after being in the wrong company at the wrong time a few miles from Yuma, Colorado — a place she'd fled years earlier, a place she'd once described as a "death trap" in a notable quote of her own.

See also: In Memory of Kimmyan Franklin

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For more than a decade, Kimmyan Franklin was a linchpin of Denver's underground music scene. She was more than just a comforting presence slinging drinks at the Lion's Lair, the East Colfax dive bar with a hard-earned rep for squalor and raucous live shows. She was a muse to local bands, a punk princess, a jukebox jockey of wide and eclectic enthusiasms — and, like all good bartenders, an utterly non-judgmental therapist and sounding board.

Few of the hipsters she bantered with nightly had any idea that she was also a refugee of the eastern plains, a 1990 graduate of Yuma High School. She didn't talk much about her past, and it took a series of personal crises to drive her back to Yuma County last summer.

Franklin lost her job at the Lair three years ago. She lost her mother to cancer last spring. At loose ends, she accepted an invitation from her cousin, Christa Loudin, to come stay with her and her two daughters for a few weeks in Eckley, a town of 250 people east of Yuma.

On the evening of July 22, Franklin headed to the Silver Spur, the only bar in Eckley. She didn't return to her cousin's house that night. Loudin figured she'd met up with Pete Newton, a local farmer and old acquaintance, and had gone home with him.

"I heard nothing until the next morning, when Pete called," Loudin says. "I went to go get it, but whoever it was had hung up. I called back the number. Pete said, 'Your cousin Kimmyan won't wake up. Will you come get her?' He didn't sound distressed. I had no idea what I was going into."

Loudin arrived at Newton's place shortly after nine in the morning. No one answered her knock at the door. She found Newton sitting in a kitchen nook with a man who worked for him. Newton told her that her cousin was in the bedroom. Loudin found her there, sitting propped against the wall next to the bed and unconscious, pills scattered around her. Her breathing was labored and ragged. Loudin immediately called 911.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast