First Day of School

I know a lot of people went to preschool; well, I didn’t. I turned 5-years-old on March 14, 1989, and in August I went to kindergarten. It’s funny how some memories are so vivid and others are so vague. My memories of going to my first day of kindergarten are very vivid. I remember my mom bringing me to the school to register a few weeks before classes started. I remember the assessment they made us do: we had to skip down the hall, say our ABCs (if we could), and count to ten (again, if we could). Skipping was easy; I excelled in that activity. The ABCs and counting were foreign to me, but—lucky for me–they still let me in kindergarten!

I remember walking in the door of my new class a few weeks after the assessment. Now that I look back on it, it is horrible how this works.

I spent five years of my life, well, MY WHOLE LIFE, by my mother’s side.

Then, Martha—that’s my mother’s name—loaded me up in the car, drove me across the Westbank Expressway, and walked me into a classroom full of strangers, and left me!

Who does that to their child? 

Well—I hate to break it to you—I didn’t cry. I actually enjoyed it. The teacher sat me down at a table with three other kids. THIS MEMORY is in 4K resolution in my head! Sitting at the table were Shelle, Katherine, and Travis. Three people that I would be in classes with through sixth grade.

Katherine stood up and introduced herself. This girl was a mess! She had a book with her and she stood up and proclaimed that she was the teacher and she was going to read to us. Ummm, ok. So, she read a book to us. Reflecting on this story, that diva couldn’t read, she made the whole thing up. I mean, we couldn’t read either, so we couldn’t prove her wrong! Shelle was quiet. All through elementary school, Shelle was quiet.  And, Travis. Travis was African-American and we were friends all through elementary school. He was very funny and loved everyone. He never really fit in with a group. But, I don’t think he was gay—just different. 

It didn’t take me long to make friends in kindergarten. I was so social that I even went to other classes. I would ask the teacher if I could go to another class, and she would let me. Looking back, she let me because that meant she didn’t have to put up with me! I was a talker; I never would shut up. All through school I would get behavior reports for talking when I was not supposed to. I couldn’t help it—I had a lot to say!

School was hard for me. It always was hard and never got easier. I always struggled, was always behind on my work, and I hated homework! I would say that 90% of the time I did not do my homework. I still don’t understand why we spent 8 hours in school and then we’re expected to go home and do more work. That was dumb, in my humble opinion. When it came time to turn in homework I would either turn in nothing or scribble on some paper to make it look like I tried. I would purposely distort my writing in the hopes the teacher would give me credit because they thought it was right but just couldn’t read my writing… That never worked.

Parent-teacher conferences happened always…

Westley isn’t doing his homework.

Westley doesn’t read well.

Westley doesn’t speak well. 

Westley is a horrible human being and is behind all students his age on this planet. That is what I heard. Even though that is what I heard, I pushed through. I survived kindergarten, and 1st grade was waiting for me…

© 2020, Westley Hodges (whodges@westleyhodges.com)

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What are you looking at, faggot?

Have you ever felt like you were in a room and everyone in that room hated you? Well, welcome to 2nd grade, Westley. I remember it like it was yesterday. 2nd grade is such a big step in our educational journey, and I felt like I didn’t fit in with any of my peers. Reading is more challenging, you start diving into our country’s history, and your handwriting begins its journey in cursive writing. I was in a special program called Rabbit Readers; this was a program that helped students that struggled with reading. Once a week, we were pulled out of class and brought into a room to help develop our reading skills. I enjoyed this group, mainly because everyone in this group struggled with reading. It was a safe place—but once that hour session was over, we returned to our regular class.

Every day in class, our teacher would have each student read a paragraph aloud in front of the class. I remember the feeling of anxiety as the game of Reading Roulette started. I wouldn’t even listen to my peers read; I would count the paragraphs and start trying to read the words in my head where I could get through it when it was my turn. Ok, I am next. I began reading, and about every three words, I would stop, and the teacher would help me sound out the word. 

The laughter began. 

I continued. 

The laughter grew. 

The laughter that I still hear to this day when I read aloud. The laughter that I hear right now while I am writing this very sentence. Friends, the laughter never stops. I promise. But, we have a choice to allow the laughter to affect us negatively. And, if I could travel back in time, I would have stood up, put my reading glasses on, and went down the row and read every one of those ugly children for filth! 

His name was Larry. One of the alpha males in my 2nd-grade class. He was never mean to me, and I don’t think he meant to hurt me—but he did. We were in the restroom, at the urinal (I hate urinals, they are so disgusting, and I think they should be banned), and he started screaming at me. “What are you looking at, faggot?” This was the first time in my life that I was called a faggot, definitely not the last. I didn’t know what the word meant, but I knew it was terrible, and it was meant to hurt me—and it did. I remember running out of the restroom and running into my teacher’s arms. She embraced me, and I told her what happened. She did nothing to Larry—just told everyone that the restroom is not a playground. 

It amazes me how vivid these memories are—why do bad memories overpower the good memories? I don’t know the answer; now, I focus on the positive and try not to give the negative any of my attention. That is difficult, it takes practice, but you have to start by celebrating the joy in your life. If you only look at the negative, you will miss all of the joy in your life.

© 2020, Westley Hodges (whodges@westleyhodges.com)

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Preface

I always knew I was different. I knew I wasn’t like all the other boys—or girls at that matter. But, I never thought of myself as special, talented, or unique until later in my life. If you had asked me if I thought I was special when I was in the 8th-grade, I would have probably responded with a firm no. I was broken, confused, and always stayed on the negative side of the road. The pain that I caused myself by allowing others’ voices to control my narrative was unbearable—and I am thankful that there was an ounce of strength buried within me that saved me from taking my life. Every day of my life, I would come home from school and feel sorry for myself—the bullying I went through was cruel and harmful. I am so thankful for the people in my life, like Darci (you will hear about her later), that loved me for my authentic self and let me know that I was important and unique. Words cannot express my gratitude to these amazing people in my life.

A lot has changed since my years as a confused young boy—lots! I was always one that immediately went to the negative side of every situation—I was my own victim. A victim of my own emotions, and I didn’t realize until later in life that I had more control of my reactions than I thought. Recently I was diagnosed with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), and my life was changed. Knowing what is causing you to react the way you do is the biggest blessing one can receive. I always struggled with self-doubt and compromising my views on situations, and my reactions would get the best of me.

I have had a great career as a musician in the Episcopal Church and performed in some pretty swanky places. But even though I found success in my life, I always felt something missing. What was missing was happiness, joy, and self-approval—and I hope that as you read this blog, you will see how I figured out how to get on the other side of the road—the side of the road that is full of sunshine, love, and positivity. Now, don’t get me wrong; life isn’t always sunshine and daisies! Yes, I still have hard days and struggles, but I focus on the positive, focusing on my reactions to my reactions. I realize I have a lot more control than I thought.

Thank you for listening to my journey. I hope it is helpful to you in yours. A lot of stories to come!

Peace,

Westley

© 2020, Westley Hodges (whodges@westleyhodges.com)