“Hello, my friend.”
For me those three words meant everything, they were words from a friend whom I adored, honored, and admired. And, of course, he was my ‘country music buddy’ making him super duper cool in my book!
Tonight, I remember him because one year ago this month-Chris Ramirez passed away at the age of 30. Just 30 years on this earth, he was just getting started and wanted nothing more than to fall in love, get married, and have a family but brain cancer robbed him of that. But, it never robbed Chris from trying to live life to the fullest. He battled a long, difficult fight but he did it with his favorite thing on earth by his side; country music. Together Chris and I would go to rodeos, sing at the top of our lungs, listen wholeheartedly to every word of Craig Morgan’s “This Ain’t Nothin,” talk about one day going to see John Michael Montgomery perform, and drive an hour to Julian just to blare country music through the speakers.
Chris was more than just my country music buddy. He was my hero.
Back track to 2008 or so, I was a new volunteer for a non-profit foundation that helps local patients with cancer, Friends of Scott, and the scene was a Kearny Mesa bowling alley blaring really, REALLY bad screaming techno music. As I set out on a mission to hunt down the manager to get the music changed to something else-ANYTHING else-I ran into Chris! Keep in mind, Chris and I had only seen each other in passing at other events, but never really chatted much. That night I bump into him and I was seriously at my wits end with the disastrous, throbbing music. Point blank and out of frustration I blurt out, ‘I hate this music!’ He chimes in to tell me he hates it too and wishes they were playing…. Wait for it….wait for it….. Yup, he wished they were playing COUNTRY.
Well…well…well…enough said. Imagine pink hearts floating above my head like you see in cartoons. Yup, as you can imagine a friendship sparked-and what a friendship it would become. That night, in between putting balls in the gutter and eating pizza Chris and I would talk about our passion for the genre. We talked about new country but mostly music from the 90s and early 2000s. We talked about how Travis Tritt pulled at our heart strings and how Tracy Lawrence had the most memorable sound. We rambled on about Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippin and the Doug Stones of the world. But, nothing quite made this guy light up like — Tim McGraw. This one artist-was Chris’ inspiration. Tim’s music was his friend accompanying him through the lonely, hard, dark nights of cancer. When he was afraid, tired, depressed-nothing would get him through the pain and suffering like lyrics to Tim McGraw’s songs. Chris knew every Tim McGraw song, his goal in life was to enjoy his “Next 30 Years” and his mantra through cancer was “Live Like You Were Dying” which he sang at the top of his lungs at every cancer benefit.
I was moved. I was connected. I was forever changed by this person who had such an innocent, childlike soul but deep down was battling a demon.
Chris. He was my new friend. And, I didn’t have a friend in the world — quite like him.
From that moment on I made a promise to myself that I would try my hardest to help Chris realize his dream-to meet his idol. I’ll spare you all the details, simply saying thank you to James Otto’s public relations for granting me an interview with James at Viejas in 2009. As a result, I met Rick Young-James Otto’s radio tour representative at the time. Rick’s wife had passed away of cancer, so he was sensitive to the story and thankfully, helped me get the ear of someone at Tim McGraw’s camp. A year and a half later, Chris was bumping elbows with Mr. Tim McGraw and his dream came true.
I’ve never met a more deserving person.
Backstage at what was known as Cricket Wireless, Chris told Tim McGraw his story about battling two hits with cancer, one at 15 years old and another as an adult. Tim listened. He comforted Chris. He was compassionate and loving and open. And for that, Tim McGraw-thank you.
That night Chris enjoyed–life. He didn’t worry about cancer, he was ALIVE. He sang his heart out, drank a beer or two and from the cat walk on stage Tim McGraw would come by and give him a high five or fist pump. Chris, who’s head was bandaged up from another brain surgery, was made to feel like he was the center of the universe by his country music idol. I remember sitting back and watching as Tim McGraw handed the microphone to Chris from the stage during the song, “Just To See You Smile.” Right there, in front of thousands and thousands of people-Chris was belting his loving heart out to a song that’s forever stamped in my memory. I’d give anything to see Chris smile again, so would all his friends. But, we remember ‘our friend’ knowing he made us smile, and these pictures we embrace forever.
So this month, one year has come and gone. Time flies. I wish he was still here, I wish I could take him to Nashville like I promised him I would. Wish we could’ve caught that John Michael Montgomery concert together, but I’m comforted knowing we did so much together. We truly shared a bond and love for country music, and he was the first person I’d ever met who ‘felt’ connected to the genre the same way I did. So while, Chris always thanked me for helping make his dream come true, I always thanked him for being -my country music buddy. Simply, he was my friend. He comforted me through breakups, through stress, Chris was just–always there. Always. Either a phone call or a Facebook chat away.
I still have the weekly emails and our weekly Facebook messages. “Hello my friend” would ping on my message board on a regular basis. I’ll never delete.
We all have our ‘things’ in life, our loves, our passions. For one special reason, country music is mine-reminding me of a time in my life when all was good, happy, and carefree. For Chris, country music gave him that same freedom to feel good, to feel happy, to feel carefree despite living with cancer and the uncertainty each day would bring.
What a gift.