Dedication: My Lord. For carrying my family through it
A TURN FOR THE WORST
Ivy and Charlie did not go to her father’s house one weekend. Her mother said that their father was busy, and didn’t have time to come pick them up. In the back of her mind, Ivy wondered why her mother didn’t just drive them over. Maybe it was because Ivy seemed so unhappy when she came home. That made her feel bad because it would mean she was also robbing her sister of seeing their dad and brothers.
That evening, after dinner, the girl’s Mom and stepdad took them aside and set them down to have a serious talk.
Ivy felt very guilty. She wondered if her parents had caught on to her complaining for attention. She thought they would be very mad at her because of her selfishness. She sat next to her sister and waited.
“We have bad news,” said their mom. “Your father has gotten into trouble.”
“We’re telling you this because we love you,” said their stepdad. “We’re telling you because we don’t want you to find out the hard way when it happens.”
Ivy relaxed a bit. It wasn’t about her, and it wasn’t her fault. But what was it?
“Your father has been stealing money from his clients, and the police caught him. He will have to go to prison.” Their mom came and sat next to them on the couch and pulled both of them into a hug.
Ivy was shocked. She could not imagine her father doing anything like that! He had always seemed like a kind person. He didn’t strike her as greedy.
She knew he could be selfish. After all, he did leave their mom for another woman. But that didn’t seem too bad in the mind of Ivy. Again, it seemed completely normal to her. But stealing money from people that trusted him? That seemed out of character.
“When?” whispered Charlie. “Is that why we couldn’t go to his house this weekend?”
“Yes,” answered their stepdad. “He doesn’t go on trial for a few months. It will be around August next year when he would go to prison. We just didn’t want you to find out when it happened. We wanted to give you time to brace yourselves.”
Ivy felt like she had been punched in the stomach. She didn’t know what to say, or how to feel, or what to do. Her first instinct was to go to her room, and just sit still and think. She just wanted to be alone, but at the same time, she wanted to be hugged and loved. She hadn’t realized that her mother was still hugging her. She didn’t understand that her parents told her this because they loved her. She just felt like she was betrayed by everyone but her sister next to her.
Ivy reached down and grabbed Charlie’s hand and held it tight. She looked into Charlie’s brown eyes and saw that she was crying, something her older sister only did on extreme occasions. Ivy felt completely helpless.
Next, her parents told them not to spread the word. At least not until it actually happened. Charlie asked if she could tell her best friend to ask her to pray about it. Her mom seemed to think that was okay, and her stepdad agreed. Ivy asked if she could tell her best friend. They said no: that 4th graders probably wouldn’t know how to handle information like that.
And how did they think Ivy was supposed to handle it, she thought to herself. What was she supposed to do, just pretend nothing happened? Just go on as if nothing changed? She was a strong girl if she wanted to be, but didn’t think she could do this by herself. She felt alone.
Her mother informed her that she would tell all of her teachers and all of her family so that Ivy didn’t have to. Her mother knew it would be hard, and wanted her teachers and family to know so they could help. Ivy wondered what was wrong with her friends helping. She wanted them to know so she could get attention. She never admitted this to herself until years later.
That Monday, Ivy’s 4th-grade teacher pulled her aside and told her that she knew about it all. This did not seem to help Ivy. She didn’t know how to handle the sympathy. She smiled, awkwardly, and said thank you. Her teacher assured her that she was there to help if Ivy ever needed it. Again, Ivy didn’t know what to do, so she walked off.
Ivy and Charlie continued to go to their father’s house just as before. They acted as if nothing had changed. Their father didn’t bring it up, nor did he act any different. So they decided to leave it be. Maybe their mother got it wrong. Maybe their father said he was sorry and the police forgot about it. Seeing their father unchanged gave the girls false hope, but it made the waiting easier.
A few months later, their stepmother divorced their father. Ben said it was so she wouldn’t get in trouble for his crime, and so her kids would be safe. Ivy asked her father if her stepmother would let them see the boys after he was gone. He said, of course, she would, and that she loved both Ivy and Charlie as her own kids. After that, no more was said about his impending conviction.
After they divorced, Ivy and Charlie no longer went to their father’s house. He would come and see them, on occasion. Sometimes he would take them to the pool for a swim or to the mall like old times. Once, he even took them to a trampoline park.
The date for Ben’s trial got pushed back to next January.
The new school year started and Ivy was in fifth grade. Despite what her parents said, Ivy told some of her friends. At this point, she knew it was just for attention, but she buried the thought. She had come to grips with the idea and just wanted it to be over.
Around this time, the girl’s mother had a little boy. They named him Calvin. Ivy, Charlie, and Jane loved their new sibling. He was very different from a baby girl. Much more active and loud. He reminded her of when her stepmother’s youngest son, Daniel, was born.
Since the divorce, she hadn’t seen Jack, Sam, or Daniel. Time went by slowly. Ivy lived her life at school as if not much had changed. She spoke freely of her father and the fact that she didn’t see her brothers anymore. She pretended that it didn’t bother her, when in fact it did. She missed Jack the most and was sad that she didn’t get to see Daniel grow up.
The girls’ grandmother, their mother’s mother, lived in New York State. She married a retired dairy farmer and they live together on a small farm. Every summer, and every other Christmas, the girls, and their family drove all the way to visit for a week or two. Their whole family was always excited to see their grandparents, but the true highlight for Ivy and Charlie was getting to see Anders and his sister, Frankie.
The girls met Anders and Frankie at their grandparents’ wedding when Ivy was three years old. They lived close to their grandparents’ farm and spent much of their time over there with the sisters when they visited. The four of them wrote letters back and forth while they were away and held a fast friendship all throughout their childhood and further.
What Ivy loved most about them was that she could really be herself around them. She didn’t feel the need to act for attention. The girls weren’t sure if Anders and Frankie knew about their father’s situation, but if they did they never brought it up. This may have been Ivy’s favorite part; there was a mutual respect for each other’s lives and what went on in them. Not to say they didn’t know about their friend’s lives outside of their games at the farm, or that they didn’t care about them. They knew each other’s stories fairly well but kept it out of conversations. When they were together, they were free to be children again. Anders and Frankie helped Ivy forget about her problems at home and with her father and the lack of her father’s sons. She could truly relax around them and be who she wanted to be. There were few people in Ivy’s life that she felt comfortable doing that around.
Ivy had another best friend at school named Erin. She was sunny and bright and didn’t seem too bothered by anything. Erin had a little brother and a mom and a dad. She had a normal family. They did normal family things like going to the park, going out to eat, watching movies together. It was a happy family, and Ivy enjoyed visiting because it made her feel part of it.
About halfway through fifth grade, Erin’s father died of a heart attack. Her little brother was only 6 years old when it happened. Ivy could sympathize with her because she too, in a way, had lost a father. But, as usual, Erin didn’t seem to upset. This shocked Ivy! She didn’t use her loss as a way to gain attention. She didn’t talk about it at school, she didn’t act glum. She just went on with life. Ivy wondered if she went home every night and broke down about it. She knew Erin well enough to feel free to ask her. Erin said some days it was hard, but most of the time she was fine. She loved her dad, but he was gone a lot of the day and was only home a few hours before her bedtime. It was on the weekends that Erin noticed it most. Ivy admired Erin’s stability and wished she had it.
Ivy stopped going to counseling, probably because she stopped complaining about going to her father’s house. She didn’t make too big a fuss at home about her father’s situation. Like Erin, some days it was hard, but most of the time she was okay.
Finally, it came time for Ben’s trial. Ivy and Charlie didn’t know much about it, nor were they involved. All they knew was that someone was trying to put their father in prison for what he had done. At first, he was only put under house arrest for a while. The girls’ mother explained to them what this meant. But after some time, it was decided that their father should have seven years in federal prison. The bad dream had become a reality.
Ben was carted off to prison that September, about a year and a month later than they thought. Their father promised to write to them every week and to call them whenever he could. Their mother heard this and told the girls not to be too hopeful that this would actually happen. ‘He’s never written to you before,’ she would say. ‘Why should it change now?’ They got visiting papers approved and went to see him once, but they were told that on account of bad behavior, he was moved to a prison out of town. The girls didn’t get to see their father for many years to come.
In sixth grade, things became harder for Ivy. She wasn’t sure why, but she was all of a sudden very sad. Maybe it was because she would have spent that Christmas with her father had he not been in prison. Maybe it was because it had been over a year since she had seen or talked to her brothers. Maybe it was because their stepdad adopted them. All she knew was that there was little in life that made her smile anymore. She had headaches all the time, she wasn’t sleeping very well, and she was less engaged with her friends. Her mother thought she might be depressed and put Ivy on special vitamins and back into counseling. That seemed to help, but Ivy could not stop thinking about Jack. She knew he wasn’t a Christian, and if she never saw him again, she would not even see him in heaven. She felt an urgency to see him and tell him about God, and about what He could do.
The adoption was a particularly difficult time for Ivy. It didn’t seem to bother Charlie in the slightest. Like Erin, she didn’t seem to be bothered by much of anything. She mourned the blows of life when they came, but was quick to move on. For Ivy, the adoption into her stepfather’s family felt like a betrayal on her dad’s part. She knew he had to give permission for the adoption. Once, in a letter, Ben told his daughters that it was in their best interest, and because of that, he was glad it was happening. Ivy felt completely betrayed by her father in prison. He gave up the right to his own children. She understood that it was for their own good; if anything were to happen to their mother while he was in prison, the girls would have to go and live with foster parents and would not be able to stay with their stepdad. But, nevertheless, he gave them up. Ivy and Charlie no longer shared the same last name with their father. They were no longer lawfully related to their brothers. Ben had given up all his rights as the girls’ father. It was then that Ivy started calling him by his first name. What Ivy didn’t know was that the day of their adoption was the single most terrible day of their father’s life. That was the day he truly lost everything.
Ivy’s mother and new father agreed that it was best to leave the relationships between the girls and their brothers behind them. They knew about the conversations between Ivy and her stepmom concerning her faith. They knew life at their father’s house was different and unchristian. They knew that the lack of interaction was an answer to their prayers. Unbeknown to Ivy, Claire had been positively nasty to her parents around the time of their adoption. She was uncooperative when it came to planning playdates for the children, and Ivy’s parents didn’t push it.
Ivy felt entirely responsible. She knew that she had been complaining for attention. And she knew that her parents believed her. And she knew that, in reality, she enjoyed the conversations with her stepmom. She knew that she loved her brothers and that they loved her and Charlie. She knew that Charlie missed Sam. She knew that Daniel would probably forget about them in time. She knew that their stepmom was having trouble being a single parent. And Ivy felt like it was her fault that they could not be there to help.
She tried to fill the gap in her heart with other things. She craved attention from Jimmy because of his similar appearance to Jack.
Things with her stepdad we’re not going well. He and Charlie argued all the time, he was unsatisfied with Ivy’s grades, and he seemed to care much more about the two younger children in the house.
Photo credit: Image courtesy of the storyteller.