“If I died tomorrow, wouldn’t feel like it’s wrong
I ain’t expect to be here this long…”
Chances are the name Martin Cobb doesn’t ring a bell. That’s understandable. With the cycle of news rotating as quickly as it does, it’s tough to keep up or find the desire to. Martin – affectionally called “Marty” by those who knew him – was an eight-year-old kid who, by all accounts, seemed to grasp life and what his purpose was before fully mastering his multiplication tables.
You’ll notice past tense is used because on May 1, Marty was killed in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. As they did hundreds of times before, he and his older sister were playing outside in their backyard near railroad tracks. Seemingly from left field, sixteen-year-old and neighborhood kid Mairese Jershon Washington began attempting to sexually assault Marty’s sister, prompting Marty to spring into the role he naturally adopted: protector.
It was the only rule he knew from a household anything but storybook. Court records show his household experienced a long and troubled history of criminal and domestic red flags. Per the Richmond Times Dispatch, Cobb’s home “was the subject of police responses in 2013 ranging from “unnecessary noise” and silent 911 calls to allegations of breaking and entering, a sex offense, trespassing and a self-inflicted, accidental shooting.” Even his mother, Sharain Spruill – who was understandably inconsolable at the funeral – allegedly had her own run-ins with the law, including a documented battle with alcohol dependency and assaulting her daughter (Marty’s sister).
In a sense, all Marty had in this world was his sister. And all Marty’s sister had was Marty.
Given all information available, Marty had an Iversonian-complex. He was small. He was born prematurely and underwent the daunting procedure of open heart surgery at three months. What he lacked in stature, he quadrupled in heart. Nothing scared Marty. Nothing. “He had a heart of a lion,” said neighbor Andrew Patillo. “He stood so tall, to be so small.”
Unfortunately for Marty, all the heart in the world wouldn’t stop a brick to his skull and being bludgeoned to death. He died on the same railroad tracks that had long since been his makeshift playground/sanctuary. As the story goes, Washington actually carried Marty’s sister back into her house telling Marty’s mother – cooking her son’s favorite meal of chicken and macaroni and cheese – a white man had delivered the attack.
That was quickly proven untrue.* Marty’s sister eventually (physically) recovered, though her whereabouts have been largely kept secret for obvious reasons. Yet, for the past two weeks, attempting to decipher her mind state has haunted me. Deeply.
“Walk out the door and leave it in God’s hands
If I go it’s just part of God’s plan…”
She was unable to attend her brother’s funeral. The same brother, who had he chosen to run and alert help instead of springing into action, may have cost her her own life. The same brother who Pastor Dr. Theodore L. Hughey described their bond as inseparable. Understanding in some cases death sacrifices for life is a hard pill to swallow. Having to learn that lesson before you’re a teenager is barbaric.
No one will ever confuse me for the smartest or most philosophical guy in the room. I’m also well aware senseless murders happen everyday, in every city for every reason imaginable. And perhaps it’s because I’ve replayed the final moments of Marty’s life in my head and how unfathomly brave this kid was. He didn’t know it and even as he sits in heaven figuring out a way to still serve as his sister’s permanent bodyguard, he probably hasn’t grasped the totality of what his bravery aborted.
I know for a fact he’d make the same decision again 100 times out of 100. Marty was eight, meaning his life ended long before it truly received the chance to taste what it was really about – the value of lifelong friendships, having your heartbroken for the first time, things of that nature.
Joe Budden will never make another song better than “If I Die Tomorrow.” In recent years, Mouse’s direction with his music and image has gone completely left field from the guy I once swore by in the mid-2000s. The entertainment factor in his music is all but nonexistent. That being said, “Tomorrow” remains one of the few songs to ever move me to tears upon first hearing it in January 2006.
Caught up in my emotions for reasons well-documented, the massively introspective number was a coping mechanism for a passing already seven-years-old at the time (and battling daily demons from my grandma’s battle with breast cancer). To a degree though, Budden’s Mood Muzik 2 seminal moment is just as raw now than it ever was. Only 19 at the time, I had a better understanding than most that the sobering truth about life is we’re all living on borrowed time, some more than others.
“Nah I don’t wanna die tomorrow…said I DON’T WANNA DIE TOMORROW
Well just in case, remember my ways, remember my face
For all that remember my place
I love me
Best thing about dying tomorrow I won’t see anybody I love leave…”
“If I Die Tomorrow” is about coming to peace with the end, despite the consequences, and realizing accomplishments and memories last longer than anything our physical presence could hold a candle to. It’s a self-written eulogy, for lack of a better description. It’s also the record that immediately popped in my head after learning of Marty. Obviously, he wasn’t familiar with the song or who the hell or what the hell a Joe Budden was. And that’s fine.
At some point, a final tomorrow arrives for all us. That’s the one thing we share in common. For young Marty, waking up the morning of May 1 probably smelled, looked and tasted like any other day. Summer vacation was within arms reach and it was finally beginning to take a permanent turn for the warmer after a winter that seemed to stretch on for an eternity. Yet, beyond his control, life dealt Marty an irreversible set of cards and left family and community struggling to transition from one day to the next.
We live in a world where responsibility and accountability go into so much of what a mature adult is supposed to resemble. As it often does, nevertheless, the innocence of a child harbored the clairvoyance of placing life in its proper balance. Bravery knows no age limit. Nor does the ultimate sacrifice of giving up your life so another person can have a chance at theirs.
Charles Barkley has a saying he occasionally tosses out on Inside The NBA, “The only heroes are over there in Afghanistan.” Indeed, the men and women separated from their families to protect the freedom to sit on my couch and type these words at 12:33 A.M. are heroes. Exceptions exist to every rule however.
Marty Cobb is forever an exception.
* – Ironically enough, this wasn’t the first time he violently attacked another neighborhood child. In September 2010, he did so with a hammer. Washington was placed in a mental treatment facility where he remained until only a few months ago. Mental illness is a real disease, America. Painfully real.