Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. It’s the 10th excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
Before long, I was failing tests, or worse, just not showing up to class. I was losing confidence in myself as the cycle of going through the motions at school, not showing up for exams, and partying intensified. Every morning I awoke with doom and disaster lurking around every corner questioning myself for accommodating my dad’s wishes that I go to a four-year university.
Was Mr. Bailey right after all? Were college and a life of middle-class comfort not part of my future? What was I really trying to accomplish? One night while drinking at a friend’s house, a former high schoolmate, who I’m sure, was envious of me, told everyone there that I was wasting my time going to college because I was meant to be a working stiff like everyone else from the neighborhood. Drunk and depressed, I believed every word of what he had said.
When my third semester of college came to an end, my academic career at San Jose State collapsed. The bright future that my parents, teachers, and many others had predicted for me had vanished. San Jose State University sent a certified letter to 48 Viewmont Avenue informing me that I had been academically disqualified from the university. I had flunked out. There was no cocoon to protect me; in fact, I had to find a way to protect myself from the cocoon.
With my self-worth completely eroded, I drove deeper into the abyss of self-destruction. I quit working at Kinney’s for a higher-paying job selling shoes at the mall. Drinking and carousing around town with Rudy and the guys intensified. I looked for a job with potential opportunities for quick advancement and found work at the J.C. Penny department store at the same mall.
I worked hard and soon caught the eye of management as someone who could succeed in the retail industry. All the while, I still hadn’t told my parents about the college failure, I was drinking and partying several nights a week, and my relationships with women were superficial and unstable. As my self-worth further declined, I would soon be dating someone else, usually some co-worker at the department store, to cover up the emotional sting.
I quit working at J.C. Penney despite the apparent success and a promising future there. For a short time, I worked on side jobs with Rudy at his father’s concrete construction company as a laborer during the day, and spent nights sitting at the local bar drinking with the hardened and grizzled construction workers. I was depressed and seeking validation through alcohol and emotionless pursuit of women. Sisi remembered that I was never home when she told me how I was “absent from [Sisi], and mom and dad’s life.”
She recalled many nights when my dad sat at his stereo listening to music through headphones and drinking as my mom watched movies on late night television while they worriedly waited for me to come home. I never knew about this until Sisi shared the story years later, because my parents were always safely tucked into bed by the time I staggered into the house to throw myself onto my bed for the night. My older brothers and sisters knew nothing of this as they had their own lives, their own families, and, with the exception of Steve, lived somewhere other than San Jose.
The Spanish proverb, “the night is always darkest before the dawn,” perfectly portrays that time for me as I had reached the lowest and darkest point of my life. I had failed in college, foolishly entered into and walked out on several relationships, threw away what J.C. Penny managers thought was a promising career, and couldn’t cut it as a construction worker. I begged the manager at Kinney Shoes to take me back so I could earn a little money to sort out my life.
With my parents, I confirmed what they probably already knew about my college failure; it was 100 times more difficult than when I told them about the Mr. Bailey meeting. My dad stood and listened without saying a word, then shook his head in disappointment and walked away. My mom looked at me with sad eyes and told me that I would find my way and they would be there for me when I needed them.
I had broken almost all of the values and standards that I learned at 48 Viewmont Avenue about how to conduct an honorable and successful life. I had lost respect for myself and for others, especially the women I used to console my broken spirit, and displayed no desire to learn and improve myself, or to be compassionate, or to love unconditionally. I was a defeated young man, barely into my 21st year, with no idea how my future would unfold.
Next Wednesday: Fate steps in as I try to rebound from the darkest period of my life.