Today would have been Gene’s 62nd birthday.
I did not see him often in the two years since we had been introduced by his little brother, my ex-husband, John.
He lived in Salt Lake City, where he had lived about 40 years after leaving Hixson, Tennessee with his young wife and baby boy, his guitar, and a head full of dreams.
The day I met Gene, at Nightfall in Chattanooga, 2013.
He was a creative. My late father-in-law brought a guitar home when Gene was in his tweens and he soon mastered the instrument.
He enjoyed intellectual and philosophical conversations. His work was in linguistics, and the man knew how to communicate.
I guess that’s why we bonded so quickly and in so short a time. No, I did not know Gene as the rest of my Ex- husband’s family had, but I knew his heart and spirit. Let me tell you, they were beautiful.
The last time I saw him was a few days after my father-in-law passed away. It was two years ago this week. Gene was surrounded by his brothers, mom, and two sisters-in-law on his last birthday, but the grief of a father’s death left a void where no celebration of Gene’s 60th year could find air to breathe.
He went back to Salt Lake City to resume chemotherapy treatments for liver cancer, a battle he had been fighting since the summer of 2013.
When he saw his doctor after having been in Tennessee for the several days before and after his dad died, he learned the cancer had returned with a vengeance. There was nothing that could be done.
I didn’t get to see him or talk to him after he left Chattanooga. However, I wrote a note and sent a wooden peace symbol for my ex to pass along.
Gene told John to tell me he loved me, and that I need to keep playing my guitar because, “She’s got a gift.”
A year ago today, we went up on The Dragon and to Deal’s Gap to release Gene’s ashes, as was his wish.
I miss my talks with Gene. There was no small talk, and he loved and accepted me wholly for who I was and as part of the family.
He even gave me a few pointers on how to get better on my guitar. He read my work and he admired me for my courage to tell my stories.
This is what I choose to hold onto as I think of him today.
I still find it hard to believe he’s gone. I just knew I would see him again, on one of his visits back home, and we would have one of our discussions and he would show me some more magic on the six-string.
Now he travels on the winds in The Smoky Mountains and rests beneath the shade of the trees. When we ride The Dragon and go to Deal’s Gap, we will ever so faintly hear his laughter and songs as we lean into the curves along that road high in the mountains.