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 2nd 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.”
A couple of months after the garage encounter, I was hitting the town with a couple of old high school friends barhopping when I suggested we stop at the wedding of my friend Will Medina’s sister. Will and I knew each other from the Kinney Shoe store where he worked in the stock room. Like me, he grew up in east San Jose, but in a different neighborhood. He was, and still is, always well-dressed with neatly pressed clothes and perfectly combed hair, and he’s honest and hardworking. If dictionaries had the phrase “a good man” in their pages, there is no doubt in my mind that Will Medina’s photo would sit right next to the definition.
Will and I got to know each other better after I left my job at Kinney Shoes, and became fast friends playing recreational league basketball and softball together, and carousing around town. On that summer night in 1985, his girlfriend and future wife, Juanita Navarro, was with him at his sister’s wedding. Juanita is an intelligent, caring, and faithful woman who has shared her life with Will and their two children. She also happened to be, and still is, Sandra’s best friend.
When I walked into the reception hall wearing a dark suit and tie, looking for Will and acting like I owned the place, I instantly saw Sandra sitting with Juanita and her family. She was radiant wearing a navy blue pencil skirt and starched white blouse, and she smiled demurely when our eyes made contact. Up to this point, Sandra and I agree on how the events unfolded, it’s the next few minutes where we have vastly different perspectives.
I remember walking to Sandra and respectfully asking her to dance; she insists that I waved from across the room and pointed to the dance floor as to say, “Meet me there.” We are 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. As I escorted her back to her chair, I reminded her that I was the guy who ran from Welch Park across the street to her house mistaking her for someone else.
When told her how I wanted to ask her for her telephone number, but I couldn’t say anything because her beauty left me speechless, she looked at me skeptically, with a slight roll of her eyes, but asked me to sit down anyway. We danced a few more times and spent the evening chatting. When my friends began pestering me to leave the wedding for another party, Sandra gave me her telephone number and I vanished into the night.
A week later, we were out on our first date. I was nervous and excited as I was getting ready for the evening. I had planned to take her to the movies and then for a quick bite at Mark’s Hot Dogs, the best place on the east side to go for a food nightcap. When I arrived at her house, I walked into the living room so Sandra could introduce me to her parents. Sandra looked so beautiful in pink and white striped pants and a pink blouse that I couldn’t stop looking at her; consequently I don’t remember any interaction with her parents or anyone else that may have been in the living room.
As we drove to the Century Theaters on the west side of town to see the hit movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Sandra and I talked and laughed, and I quickly became enchanted by this smart, funny, and attractive woman. Other than being uncomfortable with a couple of racy scenes in the movie, our first date was going well as we arrived at Mark’s Hot Dogs. Mark’s is an art deco hot-dog stand built in 1936 in the shape of an orange that remains an east side institution and official city landmark to this day.
When I was a kid, my parents would usually stop at Mark’s for a midnight snack after a night out and bring a few dogs home for us, boiled to crunchy perfection in a steamed bun and garnished with mustard, relish, onions, and tomatoes. My little sister Sisi and I would tear open the plain brown paper bag that held the gastronomic wonders and crunch away with delight. Sandra had never been to Mark’s, so I was feeling pretty good about introducing her to something new.
As we talked and laughed some more, she suddenly became quiet, then confided in me that she had dated a friend of mine in the past. She had seen us talking and joking with each other at the wedding. I admired her honesty, but I was in no mood to start a new relationship fraught with potential challenges. I quickly finished my dog, drove Sandra home, and told her that I would probably not call her again. She looked me in the eye and said a matter-of-factly, “Don’t call me then,” and casually walked into her house. I called her the next day.
Next Wednesday: The chase is on!