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 3nd 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.”
Although I called Sandra a few times each month, we didn’t go out on another date for over a year. After dropping her off at home on that first date, I went right back to the carousing lifestyle I had been living for a couple of years, and later that summer I started dating someone else on a regular basis. The cycle was back in full swing: working at a dead end job, drinking and playing softball with the boys, hanging out with the girl I was dating, and feeling sorry for myself for the seemingly useless life I was leading. I was miserable.
I would call Sandra and we would talk on the phone for hours, I would ask her out, and she would politely, but assuredly, decline, telling me that she would never date someone who was dating someone else. During these calls, I learned so much about Sandra; she was smart, focused, honest, ambitious, and she came from a good family. And, she got to know that beneath the surface, I wasn’t a hard-partying, thoughtless bad boy who had no dreams and aspirations.
I told her about my passions for reading history, biography, and coaching basketball, and my dreams of becoming a teacher. Sandra was studying to be a nurse at San Jose State University, a vocation that seemed to fit her perfectly because she had both strength and compassion as the foundations of her character; then changed her mind and decided on education as a career. The more I got to know her, the more I began to fall in love with her, and the more I wanted to distance myself to keep from hurting her due to my wayward ways. But, I couldn’t stay away.
Finally, after about a year, at a party we both attended, we agreed to meet the next day for a milkshake at the Dairy Belle, another east side institution. Sipping a milkshake at a table outside of the Dairy Belle, I told her that I cared about her, I thought about her all the time, and I would get out of my relationship in an instant if she wanted me to. Her answer was encouraging, but ultimately the same: she too had strong feelings for me, but it wasn’t her place to tell me how to live my life and manage my relationships, and she would never consider dating someone who was in one. So it was back to the cycle for me.
That summer, Rudy, Will, some friends, and I assembled a softball team, aptly named the “Brew Crew,” that played one night a week at a city park. Sometimes Sandra would go to the games with Juanita to watch Will play while the woman I was seeing sat just a few feet away on the bleachers. The unspoken nervous romantic tension between Sandra and me was obvious to anyone who paid attention, but I couldn’t get myself to walk away from a safe relationship for the uncertainty of a new relationship with a smart, talented, beautiful, and centered woman, even though that’s what my heart was telling me to do.
Then later that fall, on my 23rd birthday, Sandra called me and asked if I could pay her a visit because she had bought a birthday card and wanted to give it to me in person. When I got to her house across the street from home plate at Welch Park and walked up the front door for the first time in almost a year and a half, I was excited, anxious, and hesitant all at the same time. She invited me into the living room where her mom walked by, smiled, said hello, and walked off into the kitchen as Sandra followed behind.
Sandra returned alone holding a greeting card sized envelope in one hand and carrying a cake in the other. She had baked a birthday cake for me. It was a small round cake with white bread and chocolate frosting, my favorite. During our many phone conversations, I told Sandra how I used to get so excited when my mom would bring home a chocolate cake from Peter’s Bakery on my birthday.
I was stunned, my heart jumped, and I stood in the living room speechless for what seemed like hours when finally Sandra broke the silence by asking, “what’s wrong, don’t you like the cake?” Her big brown eyes and confident smile brought me back to earth. We sat on the sofa and talked for about an hour without mentioning our feelings for each other, my current relationship, or my standard appeal to have dinner with me. That weekend, I took a leap of faith and told my girlfriend that I didn’t want to see her anymore. Two weeks later, after a year and a half, Sandra and I went out on our second date.
Next Wednesday: The Peralta family