Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is my story about love, faith, and hope.
It’s an inspiring tale of a boy who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, failed at college and lost hope, met and married the love of his life, returned and finished college, raised a family, and found some success in business and public office.
It’s also the story of a man who vowed never to fail again and worked tirelessly trying to redeem himself, only to find true redemption while in a state of complete helplessness in the ICU.
The prologue was originally published on December 4, 2013.
There are those who say life is like a rollercoaster with its ups and downs, and twists and turns. I’ve loved riding on a rollercoaster as far back as I can remember. My favorite is the Giant Dipper, a whitewashed wooden 1920s era coaster with bright red tracks that dominates the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on California’s central coast. Santa Cruz is about a thirty minute drive from where I grew up in San Jose, California, and I remember the feeling of excitement as a kid to see the high point of the coaster jutting above the squat motels, restaurant buildings, tourist gift shops, and mom and pop stores that lined the streets as my dad drove into town.
The Giant Dipper was an exciting experience from the moment you bought a ticket and got into the long line that wound its way into the building that housed the coaster station. While in the safe confines of the fast-moving line with friends and relatives, we would laugh and joke, and revel in each other’s company, with an occasional pause to watch and hear the frantic riders above squeal and scream as the chaotic train roared by. I always began to feel anxious excitement when entering the coaster station as riders took their seats on the train. Soon, I would be securely seated in the two-person car, and without warning, the train swooshed out of the coaster house and quickly vanished into a tunnel.
Adrenalin shot through my body, and fellow riders hooted and hollered, as the train sped through a dark curvy tunnel to a low point before emerging from the darkness and slowly climbed to the first peak with the classic clicking sound of a rollercoaster train laboring upward. Once at the top, the train slowly scaled the peak and screamed down the other side of the tracks in a free fall as it rushed toward the earth. After a scaling a couple smaller hills and valleys, the train rapidly rose into the sky to reach its highest point before it violently curved downward to its left on the way to its deepest drop. A few more ups and downs and a slow straight-way led the train to its final resting place in the safety of the coaster station.
I think my love for rollercoaster rides came from my dad. When we went to the boardwalk, usually because relatives from out of town were visiting, my dad would strut straight to the Giant Dipper. With his mischievous grin, he would egg everyone to join him on the ride, especially those who looked nervous or scared. My mom never got on the coaster, no matter how much my dad tried to persuade her. My brother Stevie was also a regular holdout, which was funny because he was the badass of the family.
He had a big heart, but masked it with a perpetual scowl and a look in his eyes that shouted out, “you wanna fight?” He was tough, uncompromising, and angry, and as his little brother, I was regularly collateral damage when he was mad at the world. As a teenager and young man, he wore his hair long in the style of a 1970s anti-establishment rebel. Wearing jeans, a leather vest, steel-toed biker boots, and a buck knife attached to his belt, I’m sure he scared people as he lumbered along his way. Despite his bad-boy persona, he was scared to death of that tortuous and seemingly unpredictable rollercoaster that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.
When I was about nine years old, I persuaded Stevie to ride with me. In line, he had the steely eyes of a gunslinger preparing for battle, but once the train disappeared into the tunnel, he began to scream, giggle, and screech like a teenage girl at a boy band concert. I laughed harder during the next few minutes than I had ever laughed. With each dip, twist, and turn, this tough guy with the biker boots became ever more vulnerable to the fierce journey of the rollercoaster.
As the train slowly entered the coaster station at the end of the ride, Stevie gathered himself, brushed his long, thick mane away from his face, put that bad look back on, and glowered at passersby as if he was about to kick someone’s ass. I didn’t know what was funnier, his screeching on the ride or the mask he put on as soon as the danger went away. Either way; I sure wasn’t going to ask him. That was one wild ride.
The first forty-six years of my life followed the path of the Giant Dipper. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood of east San Jose was like waiting in line for the coaster enjoying family and friends, and stopping from time to time to hear and see the chaos that sometimes unfolded around me. After high school, I ventured away from the neighborhood to attend San Jose State University with the same excitement and apprehensiveness I felt when entering the coaster station as a kid. I eventually flunked out of college and chose a lifestyle fueled by alcohol, dead-end jobs, and the next party.
The ensuing undisciplined meandering through life was just like the Giant Dipper’s wild ride through the dark tunnel. Resembling the slow and deliberate ascent of the rollercoaster, I put my life back together, got married, went back to school and graduated from college, started a family, climbed the corporate ladder, and served in public office. The sudden plunge of the Giant Dipper’s first dip and the following short waves that led to the rollercoaster’s summit mirrored my crushing election loss in 2008 and rapid rise to school board president just two years later.
Midway through my forty-sixth year, my wife Sandra and I were approaching our 20th wedding anniversary, our two daughters were healthy and happy, and I had achieved some success in business and public service. I was on top of the world. Like the Giant Dipper’s next move after reaching its climactic high point, my life would soon make an abrupt and furious downward turn and plummet toward its lowest depths.
Tuesday: Read the last excerpt originally published on February 11, 2015.