Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 4 – 360 Days (excerpt #29)

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With Sandra, Marisa, and Erica at the Peralta 50th Wedding Anniversary – May 29, 2010 (Sandra & Eddie García family photo)

In addition to managing my own school board agenda and the ongoing tension with my siblings, at work I was the chief policy strategist for the office during the county’s $4 billion budget process. This required horse trading and intense negotiations as the county was in its tenth straight year of budget cuts. The strain on me was reaching the point of being intolerable. I slept just a few hours each night.

The pressure on my neck, stomach, and chest felt like the familiar panic disorder symptoms that led to my first health scare six years before. I was wearing myself down, but I kept pushing ahead trying to manage the responsibilities I had created for myself.  With the personal, professional, and political madness swirling around me, the last Saturday in May provided much needed relief.  Sandra’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a beautiful mass and an elegant reception on May 29, 2010.

The reception was held at Silicon Valley’s exclusive Capital Club atop the Knight-Ridder building, a structure named for the Ridder family who was the longtime publisher of the San Jose Mercury News.  The Peraltas, their four daughters and sons-in-law, and their eleven grandchildren hosted the party. The men and boys wore black tie, and the women and girls donned formal evening gowns.

The guests were served a four-course meal accompanied by live mariachi music, George presented an official county proclamation congratulating my in-laws, and some guests danced the night away while others enjoyed cocktails and cigars on the terrace that overlooked the valley.

Later in the evening, the celebrants convened for a nightcap at the prestigious Fairmont Hotel next door. In an effort to show my health and vigor, I challenged younger relatives to push-up contests on the lounge floor to the enjoyment of those in the lobby and the laughter of Sandra and my brothers-in-law.

Sandra, the girls, and I took a family photo that day with a large picture window serving as the background. The camera lens captured east San Jose sprawling out in the distance. Wearing a black tuxedo with black tie and a red rose pinned to the lapel of the jacket, I confidently sat in a chair with my back straight, chin up, and hands overlapping each other. With poise and warm welcoming smiles, Sandra, Marisa, and Erica stood behind me elegantly dressed. Looking at that photo, one might guess that I was a successful man surrounded by his beautiful family at the pinnacle of his life.

Underneath the façade of the formal attire, dramatic backdrop, and appearance of confidence that bordered on brashness, I had been feeling fatigued and anxious for most of the week. Sandra commented that I looked especially tired and lethargic that night. The day after the party would give me a moment to relax as the extended Peralta family gathered at Kim and Miguel’s house for the family’s traditional “day-after” barbecue.

I gorged on ribs and washed them down with a few beers. My nephew Andres, who turned eleven years old that day, challenged me to a one-on-one basketball game on his backyard court.  Andres was a good athlete, but slender and much shorter than me. I figured I would dispose of him quickly and get back to the ribs and beer.

I took and made a few jump shots on my way to a sure rout when I suddenly had difficulty breathing. Bending over with my hands on my knees trying to catch my breath, I was sure that the long night of partying and my rigorous work schedule caused the breathless sensation. We stopped playing and I decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying time with the family knowing that I had a hectic week ahead.

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