Dedication: My Lord. For carrying me and my family through it.
This is a true story. Most of the names have been altered for personal reasons, but the story remains the same. It is a sad story, but not without hope; a redemptive story. My story.
Once, there was a girl named Ivy, who lived in a house in a neighborhood. This neighborhood was not very special nor was the house very big, nor the girl extraordinary. In fact, everything about the girl, the house, and the neighborhood was completely ordinary. Ivy was of average height and weight, she ran no faster or slower than the other kids her age, she was of average intelligence, and her family was of no importance. The house was of average size, color, location, and the furnishings inside were average as well. The neighborhood was not too big, not too small, had just the right amount of grumpy neighbors in comparison to kind neighbors. Despite all the normalities and average things I have mentioned so far, there was something extraordinary in it, seen only if looked at closely and for a long time which is what I have done.
The little girl in the house was born and raised there until she was 16 in age. This is the story of her and her family while they lived in the normal house, in the average neighborhood. I will be telling this story from Ivy’s perspective as she grows and matures and as her point of view shifts as she gets older. It was debated for a bit whether this story would be better written from the house’s perspective. This would have been interesting because Ivy lived there so long and the family she belonged to changed so much, but after thinking of the logistics, it was realized it would be much more practical to save the idea for another story of a different kind. As this is a story of a little girl, it would be impractical to only use the information the listening house would have obtained in the time she was in the house, which, as you will soon find out is less time than most little girls her age spend in their homes. All that to say, this is the story of a little girl, told from her perspective.
With that, I will begin.
Ivy’s earliest memories were when she was roughly two years old. Her parents had just suffered a divorce. Her father had left her mother for a young waitress he had fallen in love with. Her poor mother was left to her own devices to raise and care for her two little girls: Ivy and her older sister, Charlie, short for Charlotte. Being little, as she was, the young Ivy thought little of the divorce. She and her sister thought it was normal. The actual divorce happened when she was eight months old and her sister was almost three. They both were naturally unaware of the hurt it caused her mother. Ivy discovered just how much pain her mother had felt years later when she came upon a diary her mother had written during the divorce.
Although she was too young to remember the fights and her father moving out, Ivy vividly remembered the aftermath. She would often go to bed in her own bed and wake in a much larger bed next to her mother. When she asked why her mother would answer that she had been lonely and needed someone to cuddle. Ivy’s mother would work tirelessly to provide for her little family. The girls hardly saw their mother. This did not bother them as it would other children. They thought it was normal. It was all they knew. They liked the babysitter well enough; a neighbor from a few doors down. She was not very strict and the girls knew how to get what they wanted from her. At the time, it seemed like a normal thing to do with a babysitter who did not run things the way their mother did, but looking back, both sisters recognized their unkindness to the poor teenager and repented.
So where was the runaway father, you ask? He and his new wife, Claire moved into a nice house in a neighborhood, both average as well. He would visit his daughters on Fridays, taking them out to the mall for an hour or two. Although Ivy was only about two years old, she remembered these outings well. Around the time the father and his new wife had their first child together, Ivy’s mother had met a man. This man had been divorced as well and already had two children of his own. The man began to date their mother and the sisters began to see less and less of her. Again, they thought this was normal, they did not question it.
Both Ivy and Charlie disliked the man. He seemed to dislike them equally. He disciplined them in ways their mother hadn’t. He would have them stand with their nose in a corner, he would excuse them from the dinner table before they had finished their food, he would not allow them to talk to him or around him, especially if he was talking to their mother. The girls began to see more and more of this man and his unruly kids and less and less of their mother. This they disliked. They could understand if their mother had to work, but they could not understand why she would want to spend time with this unkind man instead of her own children. Ivy had a particularly vivid memory of the three of them meeting their mother’s boyfriend out by a building in the middle of nowhere. They had to drive a long way to get there. Once they reached the building, their mother got out, took her daughters out of the car, sat them down beside the building, telling them not to move. She walked away, hand in hand with the man until the girls couldn’t see them anymore. Her mother claims it never happened and must have been a dream, but Ivy was never sure until she was much older.
The relationship was, however, short-lived. Ivy was unsure as to why it ended, but she knew not to ask; it wasn’t her business.
It was around this time that the girls were allowed to go to their father’s house to spend the night. They would spend the weekend with their father and his new family every other week. Ivy was excited that she got to spend a whole weekend with their father at a time! She and her sister got a room together and a playmate each. Their stepmother already had a son with another man before she met their father.
The first son, Sam, was a growing boy, much larger than little Ivy. He was three and a half years older than Charlie and he was big and scary to Ivy. The second, her half brother, was named Jack. He was two years younger than Ivy and together, they got along splendidly. The little boy followed her around like a lost puppy and Ivy loved it, she loved him!
They would play games like “closet time” in which little Ivy would find a book and a flashlight, bring Jack into a closet, and pretend to read to him. She was still too young to really know how to read.
The two would go outside and pretend to fight off bad guys and villains. They would crush acorns, berries, and leaves together in a stone bowl to make a poisonous concoction to feed to the nearby villains. They would go down to the stream by the house and scavenge for interesting rocks or bugs. The two of them would go into the basement and spend hours building long, complicated train tracks, and then forget to play with them once they were finished. They would make large lego spaceships and fly them around the room, pretending to have epic space battles like in the Star Wars movies.
Little Ivy loved her new brother, or half brother, as he was. She didn’t mind her stepmother, who seemed to dote on her. Aside from her scary stepbrother, there was nothing to dislike about the place.
When Ivy was Three, her mother remarried. She didn’t remember much of their courtship. But she did like the new man, as did Charlie. The girls’ mother, newly married to their stepfather, had a third daughter whom they named Jane. Ivy was excited to have a new baby sister. She loved babies and she adored Jane. From birth, Jane was always a happy, healthy child. Friends of her parents would ask Ivy if she was jealous that she was no longer the youngest child in the house. This thought had never occurred to Ivy. she was completely content with her new sister. But the question put the idea in her head. Should she be jealous? Thinking that was the expected answer, she began to say she was jealous a bit, and soon, she began to believe herself.
And what was this new stepfather like? He was a kind, Christian man. He was married once before, but the two girls knew next to nothing about it; he never spoke of his first wife or how the marriage ended. They never asked.
This new man was stricter than their mother, but not unkind, as the previous man had been. This man was serious about his faith and was bent on making his new family so.
The two sisters went on for years going back and forth from the two families. It became exhausting. One family- her mother’s- was strict and Christian, while the other- her father’s- was lose and strongly atheist. Naturally, as a young child, Ivy preferred the freeness of the latter. She preferred the loose style of her father’s house to the rules of her mother’s and disliked the unchristian aspect of her father’s household.
Ivy liked her father’s house because of the large backyard and the creek in which she and Jack could play. Her mother’s house lacked a large yard, creek, and half brother. Ivy loved her mother and stepfather and little sister. She loved her room at her mother’s house, and the toys she had. She loved things about both families, but she and Charlie grew tired of dealing with the vast differences between the two households.
Ivy, because of her stepfather, had become a Christian and held fast to her faith, but her stepmother tried to tear her away from it using logic; a tool unfair to use on a child. Her stepmother would take Ivy to the grocery store and have long conversations about faith. Why someone would believe in a God they could not see was beyond her. Ivy always came out of those conversations feeling slightly confused as to why it was so hard to understand but also felt triumphant or victorious. Not one of the conversations had pulled her away from what she believed to be true about the Lord, even if Claire was using logic! She knew her stepmother was doing what she thought best for her. The conversations were out of love. But, regardless of the intent, it was wrong to impose her views on the girl, especially since it was not her own child.
Jane was growing quickly and taking nearly all of the attention away from Ivy and Charlie. Ivy, deep down, felt occasional pangs of jealousy. She never would have admitted it to herself, and she never wished any sort of harm to her precious sister. But, she did long for her mother to bring her to her bed again in the middle of the night, or take her out on errands as she used to. She longed for her mother to worry over her and Charlie as she had, but now, all the worry was directed towards Jane. This did not take any of the love Ivy had for her sister away, but she longed to redirect the time and attention from Jane to herself once more.
She took steps. She and her older sister never complained about having to go over to their father’s house, as they generally liked it. But, there was plenty that could have been complained about if a need for complaining should arise. It had.
Ivy never thought, intentionally, to complain just to get attention, subconsciously maybe, but not intentionally. She actually began to believe that what was going on around her became too much for her. She would come home crying, complaining about how Claire would rattle her about her faith, about how scary Sam was, and how he and Jack would argue from time to time, about how her father’s family would use crass language and watch scary movies, and so on. Her tears and complaining became so bad that her mother thought it best to put Ivy in counseling. She would go once a week to an old lady who would listen to Ivy’s problems and suggest things that she had never thought to do, like setting time aside from her days at her father’s house to pray or read her Bible or call home just to chat, or even to avoid going to the grocery store with her stepmom. Ivy listened but never did any of what was suggested.
Things continued for a while in the same fashion; she would go to her father’s, come home distressed, go to counseling. And repeat it all over again.
While she was at her father’s, she loved being there, but once she got home, she would look back and search for all the things that went wrong, or if there weren’t any, she would make some up. She did not do this to see her mother fret or worry, or to go to counseling, or even to get attention anymore. She did it because it had become the practice; it was normal now. She never thought twice of it, until she was older, of course, and by then, it was too late.
The time has come to talk about the girls’ school. Ivy and Charlie went to a small, private, Christian school. Ivy’s third-grade class consisted of 10 children. They all got along as nicely as third graders do, or the girls did anyway. At the time, it was unimaginable to conceive of being friends with a boy, especially a boy of her age. Two of the boys in her class were very fun to play with, or tease. Ivy’s close friend, Kate, and herself enjoyed poking fun at the two boys. Their names were Jimmy and Knox. Knox was a large boy with strawberry-blond hair that stuck up in the back no matter how hard he tried to tame it. The other, Jimmy, was a skinny boy with lots of freckles and brown hair. He had brilliant blue eyes, similar, Ivy thought, to Jack’s. Together, the two girls and their other girl friends would poke fun and tease the boys to the heart’s content. They didn’t seem to mind much. Ivy was certain that Jimmy liked her and Kate was sure that Knox liked her. This was grounds for teasing which the girls did relentlessly. They would pretend to be furious about the boys liking them, and the boys would pretend to be frustrated by the girls’ teasing.
Oh! how often Ivy would find herself watching Jimmy’s every move. He reminded her so much of Jack and watching him made her miss her brother. She longed that Jack could go to school with her, but it was out of the question. Jack and his family were not Christians, and this was a Christian school. Her father would never allow it. So she would just have to satisfy herself with the comparison to Jimmy. Not only did he remind her of her beloved brother, but he also was a cute boy.
The girl’s father- his name was Ben- owned a financial business. He made lots of money doing what he did, and by the time Ivy was in 4th grade, he decided to buy a house in Memphis, Tennessee. He took his family there for vacation a few times, and the girls got to come along. They liked the town and the house he was planning on buying, but Ivy did not want him to move away. She loved her father and his house. She loved the way things were, even though she made such a fuss. He assured them, however, that he would fly them to Memphis to visit him at least once a month. That news was exciting to the girls! They had flown on planes before, but never on their own. Their mother didn’t seem to think it would happen.
When Ivy returned to school after a visit to Memphis, she told her friends that her father was moving there and planned to fly them over to his new house once a month. That made her very popular, even among the older kids. It made her feel special and wanted. Although she knew her family loved her and cared for her, it was nice to know someone would go to the extent of buying a plane ticket just to have her and her sister visit.
It was then that things went drastically downhill.
(see pt. 2/4)
Photo credit: Image courtesy of the storyteller.