Let’s take it back to first grade.
My small hometown divided up its elementary schools into Shoals and Westfield, and I had the pleasure of attending both; which was neat considering they were both brand new schools when I was leaving Kindergarten. My first grade year I roamed the freshly painted red hallways of Westfield Elementary for the first time - this meant I was part of the student body which voted on the school’s mascot.
Naturally my choices of “unicorn” and “koala bear” were ruled out long before the ballot surfaced. What? I was on a Lisa Frank kick. Who wasn’t? Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with the nearly unanimous winner of “Westfield Warriors.”
On a side note - I would like to note that the following year when I tumbled into Shoals Elementary, where my mom was working at the time, I was also part of the students who were voting on the school’s mascot. Sadly, no matter how hard I petitioned, my personal preference of “Dolphin” didn’t quite make the cut.
So now I’ve unsuccessfully been one “Westfield Warrior,” and one “Shoals’ Mountaineer.” This is more than likely the reason I’m so adamant about names. People who know me are saying to themselves: “ah ha, now that makes sense.”
Back to first grade. I could write an entire book on my only year as a “Westfield Warrior.” It was the year I left behind Kindergarten and my naptime mat was swiped right out from under me. At first this was a tragedy, but my oldest-child syndrome quickly had me relishing in the “Big Girl” mentality. The first grade was very special to me for a number of reasons, one in particular:
My first crush, I can’t believe I’m divulging this information. If anybody tells him or if he reads this I will be mortified. Wait, who am I kidding? Brandon Sisk, the same boy who five years later would make me cry on the school bus because all three names “Jordan,” “Chance” and “Bullington” were guy names, or so he said. Ah, first loves.
Anyway, back to first grade. This boy was IT for me. I’m sure I wrote his name in pencil, only to quickly erase it from my flat top gray desk, a hundred times a day. Unfortunately, Brandon belonged to someone else – Sarah Sutphin. Sarah, if you’re reading this I was utterly jealous of you at age 6. Now you know why.
Our teacher, Mrs. McHone (wonderful, wonderful, wonderful woman) picked a Student of the Week every week. If you were the Student of the Week you got to write the date on the board every day and you got to be in charge when Mrs. McHone left the room – aka – you got to write the names of the talkers/troublemakers on the board. Social alienation begins early in small towns.
But the coolest thing about being the Student of the Week was that on the last day of that week the rest of the class wrote you a letter stating what they liked about you. Most of these letters were generic. I can’t tell you how many “Thanks for being a good friend!” letters I got. When the week finally arrived that Brandon Sisk was the Student of the Week, I sat at my mom’s desk at home for hours every night writing rough drafts of his letter.
I wanted mine to be special. I believe I was thinking if I write the perfect letter it would shine amongst the standard “You are the best speller!” letters. I thought surely this letter would convince Brandon to dump Sarah Sutphin and become my boyfriend right away. I could see it clearly, if I could just get the words right Brandon would read them and feel suddenly compelled to make me his girlfriend. Oh, naivety.
I would write a letter, read it over, and immediately ball it up and condemn it to the wastebasket. No matter what words I used, and they were fancy thanks to my mom’s serious dictionary and thesaurus, I just couldn’t seem to get it right. But on the day of, I had finally decided what the letter would say. I had also hand-written it a dozen times so that the handwriting was perfection.
I wish I had this letter in my possession today, for no other reason than sheer entertainment. I do distinctly remember one line of it though:
“… and I also noticed that you eat those Orange Creamsicle ice cream bars at lunch, they are my favorite.”
Obviously my smooth-talking ways started young …
I slipped that letter I worked so diligently on into the pile of letters from our classmates forming on Brandon’s desk. Later that morning, while we were coloring our whale drawings to hang around Mrs. McHone’s desk, Brandon got to sit in the Student of the Week chair and read all of our letters.
Even at the age of 23, I can’t put into words the feelings I had when out of the corner my eye I witnessed Brandon reach for, and begin reading, my letter. It was a mix of exhilaration, anxiety, valor, and humiliation all fused together - and it was seeping through my pores. I literally felt so overwhelmed with emotion I could burst.
But Brandon Sisk read though my week’s work in a matter of 15 seconds or less and discarded it among the rest.
All those nights of work, for nothing; silently, I sat at my desk cursing myself for using such big words. What was I thinking? I was trying so hard to impress this crush of mine with all those ritzy words from my mom’s dictionary, poor Brandon probably didn’t even know what I was talking about at all.
And worse, at lunchtime my heart might as well have plummeted right into my tray of creamed corn when I looked down our classroom lunch table and discovered Brandon Sisk – sitting alongside one Sarah Sutphin … and eating a Nestle Drumstick.
My first heartbreak. When I left Westfield and entered Shoals I thought I was leaving all those painful memories behind, but I wasn’t so lucky. You see, both elementary schools just so happen to flood into one middle school, and there he was again five years later. But by then I’d already made my place with the “cool kids” from Shoals. As it happens, being the first kid to get braces is elevating. Who knew?
A final note, Brandon Sisk is now happily married. Several years ago, when I was home for a brief visit, I had the pleasure of running into him and his (now) wife. At the time they were just dating, but she was adorable and super sweet, and from what I understand she’s amazing. I wish them the very best!