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. This is the 1st excerpt from Chapter 2: “Sandra Peralta.” 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.”
When I started working at Kinney’s again, a friend named Sammy Ybarra, who I met through a high school friend years before, asked me be his assistant coach for the eighth grade boys basketball team at his elementary school alma mater, a Catholic school in his neighborhood. He and I became good friends, and I later served as a chaperone at his wedding. I excitedly accepted his invitation to help coach the team.
We had a blast, and the next year, the school asked me to be the head coach for the boys’ sixth grade basketball team. I poured all of my energy into coaching that team, and we won all of our games except the championship game at the end of the season. The kids, parents, and school community loved me, and working with the boys gave me a glimmer of hope that I could succeed at something.
Although the carousing, drinking, and chasing women continued, I began to think that there was a way out of the mess I had created for myself, and getting back into college was the key. Later that spring, school officials asked me to coach the eighth grade baseball team, and I took on that job with the same gusto. During the day and on weekends, I was peddling shoes; and in the afternoon during the week I was coaching a Catholic school baseball team at Welch Park in east San Jose.
At night, I was hitting the town causing mischief and feeling a little less inadequate, but not by much. 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 onto the driveway at the house right across the street from home plate would forever change my life.
Right across the street from home plate on the baseball diamond at Welch Park lived a beautiful young woman. Every day, I would stop practice to the merriment of the thirteen and fourteen year old boys as she drove up to her house. I would watch her gather her 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 would turn onto the driveway in her silver Firebird and I would stop practice to watch her routine to the chuckles and giddiness of the team.
After a week or so, the mischievous boys dared me to walk across the street and ask her out on a date, so I took on their challenge the next day as she drove up in a brown Mazda similar to one owned by another young woman I knew. This was my chance, so I casually jogged across the street pretending that she was the other girl and shouted, “hi Clarabelle.” As I approached her in the garage of the house, I finally had the chance to see her close up. She took my breath away.
She had smooth fair skin, high cheekbones, long flowing brown hair combed in the 1980s style of the day, big brown doe eyes, and cute lips that curled just slightly at the top. With confident reserve, she said, “I’m not Clarabelle, my name is Sandra.” I apologized for mistaking her for someone else and nervously introduced myself. I shuffled my feet without taking my eyes off of her eyes, mumbled several things I don’t remember, apologized again, and started jogging back to the park. She left me speechless, and 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 and 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 would wave 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, so I kicked myself for not getting Sandra’s number and letting an opportunity to slip through my fingers.
Next Wednesday: Fate gives me another chance to meet Sandra.