Do You Need Anything Else Mr. García?

Toasting my friend Mark De Los Reyes (September 29, 2022)

Faith, hope, love. That’s how my mom looked at the world. “Si Dios quiere” (God willing), “gracias a Dios” (thank God), “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you). Anytime I hear these words, Mom’s gentle voice rings in my ears. My dad had a different worldview. Work hard, play by the rules, be good to people, don’t count on others. No nonsense words from a man who grew up in a shack with a dirt floor and fought in WWII when he was 17.

Growing up, Dad’s words carried the day. Mom’s unconditional faith was hard to grasp when I was a kid. While in class, playing sports, and working part-time, hustling made way more sense than waiting for God to figure it out for me. As a man, making a college comeback, working my way up the corporate ladder, and serving in public office required rolling up my sleeves, keeping my nose clean, and watching out for yours truly.

Dad’s take on the world was working like a charm. Then . . . June 7, 2010, a ventilator, paralytic medicine, and Coors Light changed everything.

When I awoke from a medically induced coma, my muscles were fast asleep. Talk about a wake up call. I had to re-learn how to swallow, move my arms and hands, and sit up. How would I overcome this seemingly hopeless situation? Mom’s way? Dad’s way? As it turned out, both ways with one exception. 

Part of my recovery was revitalizing my leg and hip muscles so I could stand and walk again. This was the most difficult part of the rehab daily regimen. Standing up required three movements: sitting up, hurling myself forward, and using my legs to rise tall. Of course, we all do this countless times throughout the day instinctively without giving a second thought to the mechanics. Learning how to do this seemingly simple act as an adult was quite an adventure.

Starting off in a reclining position, I had to slowly straighten up to a sitting position by using my forearm to push up from the bed. Once my body’s core was balanced and settled, it was time to take a break and a few breaths. From a sitting position, the physical rehab doctor, a stocky woman with a witty sense of humor, instructed me to lean forward until my torso and head were parallel to the floor. When the doctor first mentioned this to me, I sat for a moment and laughed. I managed to say, “You’re kidding, right?” in my weak and raspy voice.

The doctor chuckled back with a big smile and said, “Nope!”

My limited scientific mind was telling me that this was ridiculously dangerous. I responded with a chuckle of my own and a big smile, saying “Nope” right back to her.

After a momentary giggle at my half-serious comedic effort, the doctor urged me to trust her and try the maneuver. “Just throw yourself over my shoulder, and I’ll catch you if you lose balance,” she encouraged. In a leap of faith, I did what she told me and fell right onto her shoulder. This isn’t going very well, I thought as I lay face down on the doctor’s shoulder looking at the floor. “Great job!” she exclaimed.

From that position, the doctor told me to “explode upward” to an upright position. Easy enough, I thought. There were only a couple of problems. First, my legs were so weak that there was no explosive movement to be had. Second, as I slowly pushed myself up, my legs shook uncontrollably, and my knees locked up, preventing my body from standing straight.

The doctor offered more coaching. 

She told me that the therapist had mentioned that I had been an athlete. All I needed to do was bend my knees slightly like a baseball player getting ready in the batter’s box. From there, I could push myself upward. I was finally able to stand for a split second while holding on to the doctor. I quickly reversed the order of movements and fell onto the bed. I was exhausted.

The doctor cheered me on and said, “Let’s do this a few more times.” “You’re kidding, right?” I replied again with a hopeful grin. The doctor snickered with a big smile and said, “Nope!” I knew that was going to be a long day.

Throughout the next several weeks, physical therapists intensified leg exercises with the help of an assistant named Mark. We worked hard on standing mechanics. Mark was a quiet and burly young man with a sunny outlook and an infectious smile. He kept my body balanced as I did repetitions of standing exercises. Several physical therapists worked with me during that time while Mark was a consistent presence.

As each day passed, I felt more hopeful and faithful. I kept thinking about a doctor’s comment that something more powerful than any doctor was in control of my destiny. Of course, my mom’s voice echoed in my mind. Feeling more like myself, I began to joke with doctors, rehab teams, nurses, and visitors from the waiting room. Before leaving my room, Mark always asked if I needed anything else. Everyday, I responded by telling him that an ice cold Coors Light on tap would be great. He laughed every time at my corny joke.

Fast forward to 2022. A couple of months ago, I hosted an event to talk about my book, Summer in the Waiting Room. It was a great turnout. After a short program, people lined up for me to autograph their copies. As I sat signing books and chatting with each person, I thought about Mom. The evening was an affirmation of the power of faith, hope, and love.

As if on divine cue, Mark suddenly appeared in front of me. His infectious smile took me back a dozen years to that room at the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center where we worked so hard to get me back on my feet. Before I could get the words, “hey Mark,” out of my mouth, he firmly planted two tall cans of Coors Light on the table! “Here you go, Mr. García.” With a lump in my throat, I quickly leapt to my feet, went around the table, and gave Mark a bear hug.

Faith, hope, love? Absolutely! Work hard, play by the rules, be good to people? You better believe it! Don’t count on others? That’s a hard no for me. Absolutely not. Not my thing. Thanks to Mark and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, I learned that counting on others for help was a form of divine love. It got me through the darkest time of my life.

Thank you, God. 

***

Read about Mark and the amazing rehab team at Kaiser Santa Clara in Chapter 30 of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love. You can find the book on Amazon (it’s a great idea for a stocking stuffer!)

It’s Gonna Be OK

Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center ICU Waiting Room ~ June 7, 2022

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every matter under heaven. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1

I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news first: I woke up this morning to the following message from Amazon:

Your title may experience a temporary delay in publishing. Our teams are working to review and publish your book as quickly as possible.

Instantly, the failure demons that have hounded me for most of my adult life rejoiced. My meticulously planned rollout for the paperback version of Summer in the Waiting Room fell flat. “We knew it”, the demons gleefully told me. Anxious adrenaline pulsated through my body as my mind frantically searched for a solution. My first instinct was to communicate with Amazon to either sweet-talk or browbeat them into fixing the problem IMMEDIATELY!

The good news: My spiritual journey has taught me that it’s gonna be OK. After taking a deep breath, I prayed and reflected on Ecclesiastes 3:1. It inspired me to write this post and share my thoughts on accepting what is. It took a while, but faith ultimately overwhelmed the failure demons. 

Let me tell a little story . . .

During the early 1990s, I became mesmerized with politics. I wanted to be an elected official to make a positive impact on the community. I wanted to do that really bad. When I was thirty-two years old, I ran for a seat on the elementary school board. I didn’t have much experience, but I worked very hard. I lost to longtime incumbents by a slim margin. I tried two more times over the course of the next four years with the same result.

Failure demons had haunted me for most of my adult life. A self-imposed pressure cooker of stress caused sleepless nights, headaches, and a never ending supply of fight-or-flight adrenaline flowing through my body. I hadn’t yet learned that anxiety and worry were barriers to inner peace. Nor did I realize that such mental suffering also caused stress on my heart (more on that later). 

Ten years after my first attempt at public office, a twist of fate gave me an opportunity to serve as an appointed official for the East Side Union High School District. Was it a twist of fate or was it God’s “appointed time” as described in Ecclesiastes 3:1? I had an extra decade of life under my belt. I had more leadership experience as a corporate vice president and chairperson of a non-profit board. 

I served for four years, including one year as board president in 2010. Schools were reeling from massive budget cuts caused by the Great Recession. In four years, we had to cut over $20 million from the East Side budget. Despite the financial constraints, I led the successful effort to save sports programs and established a policy that gave every student a chance to be eligible for college after graduation.

Both policies have had a lasting impact on students. It all worked out according to God’s plan. Personally, it came with a huge cost. A genetic predisposition to heart disease and years of angst, stress, and needless worry brought my life to a screaming halt. Just like that. 

Looking back, that heart attack twelve years ago is the second best thing that ever happened to me, behind meeting Sandra and the birth of our girls. It taught me that everything happens in God’s appointed time. It taught me that worry, impatience, anxiety, and stress over things outside of my control is a worthless activity. It taught me about the true meaning of faith, hope, and love. It taught me that everything is gonna be OK.

What the heck does this have to do with the paperback version of Sumer in the Waiting Room not being published on June 7, 2022 as promised?  Everything!

Today is the 12th anniversary of the heart attack that kicked off the summer in the waiting room. For nine out of the last eleven years (Covid precautions prevented visits in 2020-2021), I’ve gone on a one-man pilgrimage to the ICU waiting room at Kaiser Santa Clara to pray, reflect, and seek inspiration. I went today after the morning crisis. I said a prayer of thanksgiving, reflected on my journey, and found inspiration.

I’ve inflicted enough damage to my mind and body over things I can’t control. I’m finally good with the fact that shit happens. The sun will still peek over the east foothills tomorrow morning at 5:46 am. It’s all in God’s hands. There is an appointed time for everything. I decided to leave it to God and Amazon to work out.

By the time I got home, God had spoken. He had good news. The appointed time had come. 

God gave me peaceful hope and Amazon resolved the delay in time to meet the June 7, 2022, release date. You can buy your copy of “Summer in the Waiting Room” today after all!

Thank you, God.

June 7, 2010

Summer in the Waiting Room ~ Chapter 13

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 13: June 7, 2010

Sandra drove as fast as she could. The discomfort in my shoulders and upper chest increased as every minute went by. She dropped me off at the entrance to the clinic and quickly drove away to find a parking space. I labored into the building, took the elevator to the second floor, made my way to the doctor’s office, and checked in at 7:26 p.m. The doctor reviewed the vital signs, asked me a few questions about how I felt, and immediately ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG) to determine if there were any irregularities in my heart function.

The nurse attached electrodes to my chest, turned on the EKG machine. We watched the machine whiz and purr as the needle on the printout page rapidly moved in a zigzag motion, drawing tiny peaks and valleys on computer paper. As soon as the machine stopped whirring, the nurse ripped out the computer printout and quickly disappeared into the hallway. The doctor came back seconds later to tell us the EKG reading was abnormal, and I should proceed to the emergency room for more tests.

By the time the doctor finished her diagnosis, the nurse was in the hallway, standing behind the wheelchair that was to take me to the emergency room on the other side of the large complex. Walking briskly, she pushed the wheelchair out of the clinic hallway, into the clinic lobby, and out to the main hallway that led to the hospital, about half a city block away. The nurse moved swiftly as she fumbled with her cell phone. Sandra offered to push the wheelchair so the nurse could use her phone. Suddenly the nurse’s brisk walk turned into a trot and, ultimately, a jog to the emergency room. Tall floor-to-ceiling windows formed a breezeway that connected the clinic to the hospital. I could see out to the cafeteria and the parking lot beyond. Life outside was moving at its usual pace, and I was heading toward a crisis.

My mind swirled with random thoughts that ranged from doom to confusion to relief. Could I be having a heart attack? Why didn’t the doctor say that? Was she just taking precautions by sending me to the emergency room? Why was Sandra pushing the wheelchair at a jog? Why was the nurse excitedly talking on the phone and to whom? I couldn’t hear what she was saying because of the noise that was filling my head with questions.

We got to the elevator in the hospital and went down one floor. When the elevator doors opened, we raced across the lobby straight into the emergency room, where I arrived at 7:41 p.m. Three doctors wearing white smocks waited for us. Within seconds, I got my answer. One of the doctors said, in a calm and matter-of-fact voice, “Mr. García, you’re having a heart attack.”

***

To be continued . . . at Amazon.com!

Order your copy of Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love on Tuesday, June 7, 2022!

Ready for a Fight

García Family ~ May 29, 2010

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 12: Ready for a Fight

With personal, professional, and political madness swirling around me, the last Saturday in May provided much needed relief. Sandra’s parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary with a beautiful mass and an elegant reception on May 29, 2010. Sandra, the girls, and I took a family photo that day. That photo perfectly describes how I felt about my place in the world. Looking at it, one could see a successful man surrounded by his beautiful family at the pinnacle of his life.

I felt fatigued and anxious for most of the week following the anniversary party. Sandra commented that I looked especially tired and lethargic. I kept pushing myself to the limit, bolstered by double lattes and daily workouts. Sandra and I had been exercising together regularly for about eight months with a personal trainer. Both of us felt great losing weight, toning our muscles, and exercising away the stress of our jobs. During the week, the trainer commented to me that he had “never seen someone under so much pressure as you were that week.” I remember feeling extreme stress and anxiety during the morning workout. 

The symptoms that dogged me were similar to those I had six years earlier when my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety disorder after my mom and sister Patty died. After the diagnosis in 2004, I had participated in several one-on-one therapy and group sessions and classes that provided anxiety sufferers with the tools to manage symptoms. What I learned was that anxiety symptoms were the same as those of a heart attack, just less severe.

On Sunday, June 6, the family gathered at Dave & Buster’s restaurant to celebrate my nephew’s birthday. At the arcade, I was at the basketball machine shooting as many free throws as possible in a short time span. When time ran out, I had a hard time catching my breath. The pressure in my throat was more intense, and my shoulders were so heavy that I sat on a stool next to a pinball machine, hunched over, trying to regain composure. I worked on the breathing and relaxation exercises I had learned to manage stress and anxiety. 

While I believed that the symptoms causing my discomfort were from an impending anxiety attack, something entirely different was happening inside my body. At forty-six, my arteries surely were hardening because of genetics and years of a high-fat diet. For decades, researchers have studied the correlation between stress and heart disease. According to these studies, the chemical reaction in the body that produces the fight-or-flight sensation causes the blood to thicken and clot in preparation for a blow to the body.

In other words, in a constant state of high stress and anxiety, the body is getting ready for a fight and protects itself from potential excessive bleeding. Since my return to college and entrance into the world of career building and redemption, my body had been in a perpetual state of alertness. During the first six months of 2010, the high level of stress my body had endured for more than two decades had intensified many times over. By June 6, 2010, blood flowing through my arteries and veins was thickening and clotting with every crisis.

***

Summer in the Waiting Room will be available in paperback and on Kindle June 7, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order a copy today: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Waiting-Room-Faith-Hope-ebook/dp/B09ZFC5HFX

360 Days

President, Board of Trustees, East Side Union High School District ~ 2010

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 11: 360 Days

June 10, 2009, was graduation day for my high school alma mater. That morning kicked of a dizzying 360 days of tireless work and ambition. With my day job coming to an end, I rushed to the elevator to go ten floors down to the lobby of the County Administration Building. I hustled across a breezeway to my car. My next engagement was at James Lick High School, where I was to preside over the graduation ceremonies on behalf of the board of trustees. The formalities had all of the excitement and anticipation fitting a high school graduation. 

At the ceremony, the sound of a recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” started blaring over the stadium speakers. Wearing a black suit with a white shirt and dark green tie, I walked proudly onto the field next to the principal and found my seat on the stage. The faculty followed us to find their seats on the field. Graduates then filed into the stadium with their green and white gowns and tassels flowing in the wind to the cheers of family and friends. Standing up to watch the spectacle, I couldn’t help but think of my rocky road to this stage and how proud I was to preside over the very ceremony that my brothers, sisters, and I participated in so many years before.

Several months after my triumphant return to James Lick High School’s graduation, the school board elected me president for 2010. Once again, drive and ambition dominated my life. The new year started at full throttle. In my role as school board president, I could set the district’s agenda for the year. A student group, Californians for Justice, had been lobbying the board for over five years to institute a policy to make graduation requirements the same as college entrance requirements. Their effort was called the A-G Initiative. As president of the board, I had the ability to lead that effort. If successful, I could further solidify my chances to win the election in November.

The A-G Initiative became the centerpiece of my State of the District Address in January 2010, which I delivered to an overflow crowd at James Lick High School. In spite of the teachers union’s aggressive behind-the-scenes fight against the initiative, I enlisted the support of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation to educate the community on the merits of the initiative and put together a coalition of students, parents, and public officials to campaign for its passage. Adding to my workload, the inaugural class of a non-profit leadership academy I co-founded was scheduled to start soon. In response to my leadership on A-G, the teachers union had recruited a disgruntled former district superintendent to challenge me in the general election scheduled for November. 

The pressure and stress were almost unbearable, but this is exactly what I had sought since returning to college. To top it off, I was having fun. Sandra continued to express concern about how the pace was taking a toll on me. But I didn’t listen. I had failures to overcome. Ambition and energy drove me harder and harder. Sandra was right though, I was exhausted. Adrenaline fueled by my drive to succeed, and a steady infusion of Starbucks double vanilla lattes kept me working at a feverish pace.

***

Summer in the Waiting Room will be available in paperback and on Kindle June 7, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order a copy today: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Waiting-Room-Faith-Hope-ebook/dp/B09ZFC5HFX

Rocky Road to Redemption

Professional Business Card ~ 2006

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 10: Rocky Road to Redemption

I committed to putting all that energy into spending time with my family and building a career as a corporate executive. As it turned out, I spent more time chasing the elusive concept of success than I did enjoying my family. I wanted to be a good husband and father, and I loved being with Sandra and the girls. I made sure that I was home for dinner every night I was in town and available for as many school and family events as possible.

For several years, I coached Erica’s Little League teams. It wasn’t unusual to hear the kids shout, “Coach García is wearing a suit again.” Those were days when I ran out right after practice to be on time for an evening event or business dinner. Despite efforts to be a fully engaged father, my professional ambitions took the lion’s share of my time.

I began working for a major American corporation with countless opportunities for those who wanted to get ahead. During a tour of Comcast facilities in San Jose, the new senior vice president for the California region stepped into my sparse office and asked about my background, family, and plans for the future. I filled him in with the basics about Sandra and the girls and boldly proclaimed that I wanted to be a vice president someday soon. I became familiar to executives at corporate headquarters as a valued representative of the company, especially with Latino political organizations. Before long, I was in Los Angeles; Washington, DC; Dallas; Santa Fe; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, representing Comcast at national meetings of Latino public policy makers.

In March 2003, my sister Patty, just forty-nine years old, suddenly died from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by an infection from a virus. My mind swirled, trying to find answers in the confusion. Patty had been in great shape; she ate well, rarely stressed about anything, yet she died of a bad heart. A few days later, I was given the honor of speaking at her memorial service.

At just thirty-nine years old, I intensified my self-imposed urgency to achieve redemption. Upon returning to the office, I immediately put all my energy into working harder than ever before. A few months later, the senior VP in California informed me that I had been selected, at his recommendation, to participate in the exclusive Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. The Executive Leadership Forum was by invitation only. Word on the Comcast street was that those who completed the program were soon sitting in executive chairs. I was excited about starting the program and moving forward after the stunning death of my sister.

Just as my professional prospects were looking up, my personal life took another downturn. In December, Mom suddenly died of sepsis, a blood infection related to her years-long battle with kidney failure. Once again, I found myself at a podium delivering a eulogy. I was devastated. Patty’s sudden death was startling and compelled me to think about my health. Mom’s passing was crippling and forced me to think about life without my first love and emotional anchor. She had been the glue that kept everything together. Her unconditional love kept me afloat during the darkest of times. I was sad, scared, and not sure how I would get through the tough times that were sure to come.

***

Summer in the Waiting Room will be available in paperback and on Kindle June 7, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order a copy today: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Waiting-Room-Faith-Hope-ebook/dp/B09ZFC5HFX

The Comeback

The author, the book cover, and the artist in her studio ~ 2022

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 9: The Comeback

After completing college, I threw the original plan of earning a teaching credential, which would have taken another three semesters, to the wayside. My dream of becoming a teacher was subservient to my need to begin a career. Not sure what a twenty-nine-year-old college graduate with a history degree could do other than teach high school history, I wondered what direction to pursue and where the opportunities might be.

 I applied for jobs with the city of Santa Clara, the high school district, a state assemblyman’s office, and secured a job interview as a legislative assistant to an acclaimed San Jose councilwoman who was an icon in the neighborhood of my youth. After two more months of anxious job hunting, the councilwoman offered, and I accepted, a three-quarter-time position in her office. She also had recently been named vice mayor of San Jose.

The next three and a half years were an exciting time for me. After several months, I earned a full-time position as a legislative aide, working on community development and controversial public art projects. In this capacity, I had the opportunity to learn about the public policymaking process and the rough and tumble world of local politics. I worked tirelessly, never turning down an assignment or a night out at a political event. When her tenure ended because of term limits, she asked me to manage her campaign for the county board of supervisors. I was flattered, excited, and apprehensive as I had never even worked on a campaign, much less managed one.

I learned invaluable skills and lifelong political lessons during the intense six-month campaign. The race wasn’t decided until the wee hours of the morning after Election Day. I had taken myself to the limits physically, emotionally, and mentally. After the early morning victory, I spent the next thirteen months in her office as a senior policy aide on the county board of supervisors. Within months of assuming my new position, I was itching to do more.

I was thirty-one years old working as an aide to a local politician. While it was a job I couldn’t have imagined as a kid, it wasn’t good enough to erase the years I had lost in my personal wilderness or dispose of the demons that continued to haunt me from that time. Research professor and author Brené Brown refers to the phenomenon as a Culture of Scarcity. She writes that we get stuck in a cycle: “We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough.” A strategy many people use to overcome the pattern of “never enough” is to work harder, achieve more, and broaden ambition. These tactics usually lead to a deeper sense of scarcity that intensifies the desire to succeed, which perpetuates the cycle of never enough. It was just a couple of years post college graduation, and I was rushing headlong toward a hurricane of insatiable aspirations.

One Sunday morning, I stumbled onto a rare job announcement for a government affairs manager at the local cable company. I dazzled the hiring manager at the interview and was invited to meet executives at the division office in Walnut Creek a few days later. I was nervous and excited to meet corporate executives, something I never would have thought was possible just a few years earlier. The meetings went well, and I got the job. My life would never be the same. 

***

Kindle users can pre-order Summer in the Waiting Room today: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Waiting-Room-Faith-Hope-ebook/dp/B09ZFC5HFX

Settling Down

Eddie, Sandra, and Mickey @ Disneyland ~ late 1980s

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 8: Settling Down

With Sandra’s support and the foundation created by this tightly knit family environment, I slowly began to emerge from the abyss of failure. The fall we began dating, I applied for and accepted a position to coach the frosh-soph boys’ basketball team at the high school across the street from Most Holy Trinity Church. I worked well with the student athletes and the school administration, further evidence that college and a career in education were my path to redemption.

The next year, in a sudden twist of fate, the head basketball coach at my alma mater resigned just weeks before the season began. My return to college would have to wait because James Lick High School hired me to run its basketball program, which included a full-time job as an instructional aide. The values I learned at 48 Viewmont Avenue served me well as I worked hard to rebuild a program that had won only two games the year before. By the end of my second season, we had won half our games in the regular season and recorded a 12-2 record at the San Jose City College summer league. We lost the championship game to a county powerhouse. That same summer, James Lick High School rewarded me with the school’s coach-of-the-year award.

On Valentine’s Day in 1989, while still coaching at James Lick High School, I made the first decision I had ever made toward true adult responsibility. I finally found the nerve and wisdom to propose to Sandra. I settled on a one-quarter-karat solitaire marquise diamond. Placing it in the black velvet box provided by the store, I went to basketball practice as usual. After the workout, I called Sandra from the coach’s office and asked her if she wanted to get something to eat. I didn’t tell her where we were going. When we rolled up to the drive-in service at Mark’s Hot Dogs, Sandra mentioned how she was surprised because we hadn’t been there since that first awkward date almost four years before.

We ordered a couple of hot dogs with everything on them, chips, and two Cokes. When the server left the food on the tray that hung from the driver’s side window, I slipped the velvet box next to our order. I passed some napkins to Sandra, and she carefully spread them on her lap. Next came the tray with the hot dog, chips, and soda. As she took a sip of the Coke, I slipped the velvet box onto the tray in one swift motion.

She took a small bite of the dog, paused, turned her head toward me with a puzzled look on her face, and asked, “What’s this?” I opened the box and asked her to marry me. She sat speechless for what seemed like forever. Her big brown eyes lovingly penetrated deep into my soul. A warm, giddy feeling engulfed me and caused my stomach to swirl with exhilaration. When she actually uttered the word yes, we kissed and held each other in an affectionate and tearful embrace. Soon we were on our way to Santiago Avenue so I could formally and properly ask her parents for permission to marry their daughter.

***

Kindle users can pre-order Summer in the Waiting Room now by clicking here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09ZFC5HFX?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420

Familia Peralta

Familia Peralta ~ 2017

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 7: Familia Peralta

During those long phone calls between our first and second dates, I got to know Sandra very well. She’s the second of four daughters born to Fausto and Connie Peralta. He was a construction worker and she a cannery worker. They built a family with their four daughters: Valerie, Sandra, Kimberley, and Shelley. Raising four girls was a challenge for Fausto and Connie as each woman has her own distinct personality. Collectively, the Peralta girls made an impression at Silver Creek High School and proudly call San Jose State University their alma mater. A large photo of the sisters standing together, resplendent in college cap and gown under the shadow of the university’s ivy-covered Tower Hall, sits in the entryway of the Peralta house.

Valerie was born in Fresno, California, in 1961. She grew to be a strong-willed girl who did well in school, participated in the cheerleading squad in high school. The birth of Kimberley, the third Peralta daughter, came three years after Sandra in 1969. Like her older sisters, Kimberley did well in the classroom and participated in after-school activities such as the marching band. Kimberley has a nurturing and faithful character that seeks compromise and accommodation whenever possible. The youngest of the Peralta dynasty from Silver Creek High School is Shelley, born exactly ten years after Valerie on December 28, 1971. She is unassumingly intelligent yet boisterous and independent with a fiery spirit that can be witty in one instance and cynical the next. All four sisters are intensely loyal to their own individual families, each other, their parents, and extended family and friends.

Once Sandra and I started dating on a regular basis, I realized that acceptance into the family required developing a relationship with each sister on a one-on-one basis in addition to building trust with Sandra’s parents. Although this was a tall order for a young man mired in his failures and ambiguous future, my upbringing centered on respect and integrity, and my accommodating personality, not to mention my absolute adoration of Sandra, set the foundation for my relationship with the Peralta family.

Over the years, I also developed deep and strong relationships with the Peralta girls’ husbands. Valerie’s husband, Eddie Velez, and I became close as we were the “big brothers.” We sometimes worked construction jobs with Mr. Peralta to make extra money and often helped each other with household projects. When Kimberley and her husband, Miguel Rocha, were dating in college, she turned to me often for advice. Once I got to know Miguel, we soon learned that we shared the same intense ambition of achieving success at the highest level possible. Shelley’s husband, Pancho Leyva, and I have a passion for sports. During our younger days, we were a mischievous team when the beer started flowing.

I have a true affection for Eddie, Miguel, and Pancho. Together, we are about as close as any four brothers could be. Sandra’s parents, her three sisters, and my three compadres would play a major role in the events that unfolded in the summer of 2010.

Sandra Peralta

Sandra in her Firebird at Welch Park ~ 1985

Summer in the Waiting Room: Faith • Hope • Love

Chapter 6: Sandra Peralta

During the day and on weekends, I was peddling shoes at Kinney’s. During the week, I coached a Catholic school baseball team at Welch Park in east San Jose. One day, while hitting ground balls at practice, I noticed a shiny car slowly rolling down Santiago Avenue, the roadway that ran between Welch Park and the row of houses across the street. The driver of that silver 1984 Firebird turning left into the driveway of the house right across the street from home plate would forever change my life.

Every day I stopped practice, to the merriment of the thirteen- and fourteen-year-old boys, as the beautiful young woman drove up to her house. I watched her gather belongings from the car, sling her backpack over one shoulder, and sip a soda as she walked into the garage that led to the house. Day in and day out, every afternoon, like clockwork, she rolled down the street and turned into the driveway in her silver Firebird. I always stopped practicing to watch her routine. The adolescent boys chuckled and teased at the spectacle.

After a week or so, the mischievous boys dared me to walk across the street and ask her out on a date. As I approached her in the garage, I finally had the chance to see her up close. She took my breath away. She had smooth, fair skin; high cheekbones; long, flowing brown hair combed in the style of the day; big brown doe eyes; and cute lips that curled just slightly at the top. With confident reserve, she said, “My name is Sandra.” I nervously introduced myself. I shuffled my feet without taking my eyes off her eyes and mumbled several things I don’t remember. She left me speechless. I didn’t have the courage to ask her out, even though that’s not what I told my players.

During the next several weeks, the kids on the team kept asking if I had gone out on a date with Sandra. I told them with authority that a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell. Of course, there were no kisses and nothing to tell. Every afternoon, when she slipped out of her car, I waved my hand to say hello in an effort to catch her attention, but I don’t remember if she ever waved back. When the baseball season ended, I had no reason to go back to Welch Park. I kicked myself for not asking Sandra for her telephone number. 

A couple of months after the garage encounter, I was hitting the town with old high school friends barhopping. I suggested that we stop at a wedding at the invitation of a friend. On that summer night in 1985, I walked into the reception hall wearing a dark suit and blue tie acting like I owned the place. I instantly saw Sandra. She was radiant, wearing a navy-blue pencil skirt and starched white blouse. She smiled demurely when our eyes made contact. Up to this point, Sandra and I agree on how the events unfolded. We have vastly different perspectives on what happened during the next few minutes. I remember walking to Sandra and respectfully asking her to dance. She insisted that I waved from across the room and pointed to the dance floor, as if to say, “Meet me there.” We’re the only witnesses to the disputed incident, so I’m sure the whole episode will go with us to our respective graves. Nevertheless, we danced.