As I approached my 25th birthday, I found myself starting over.
The day after I arrived in California, my dad drove me to Gavilan Junior College in Gilroy (Go Rams!). Although I was a week or so past late registration, a counselor there told me that with the instructor's permission, I might still be able to attend a few Administration of Justice classes. When I checked with the instructor, he said that he was okay with it. With that, I was enrolled in three courses -- just under full-time student status.
I remember feeling weird the next afternoon as I left the house for my first day at school, with good luck wishes from my dad and stepmom as I went. I had been such a bad student in high school that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that by paying attention in class and doing my homework, good grades weren't hard to come by. I got straight As that semester. Turned out that I liked school and was hungry to learn.
I also loved being back in California and out of the City, which I had really soured on in the previous few years. Morgan Hill, which is about a half hour drive south of San Jose (a.k.a. Silicon Valley), is largely rural. I enjoyed running in the foothills behind my dad's house, breathing the fresh air, and seeing the occasional bobcat (as opposed to the rats and raccoons of Queens). But it wasn't paradise.
In my first week back, somebody took a couple of shots at me. I was running on the winding road up behind my dad's house -- which lead into Henry Coe State Park -- when I heard the crack of a rifle. I wasn't at all concerned, until just a few seconds later when I heard a very loud buzzing sound speed past my head. I'd never heard that sound before and it took another shot for me to realize that I was hearing bullets whizzing past. That's when the adrenals opened up and I went into a sprint back down the hill.
I also started looking for a job. The first one that caught my eye was an ad in the San Jose Mercury for a receptionist at the Central YMCA. I called a few times and left messages, but nobody returned my calls. So, I decided to drive into San Jose and just present myself. When I did, a dynamic and all-around great woman named Jill interviewed and hired me on the spot. With that, the basic components of my life for the next two years were in place.
Except for one: a girl.