Dedication: My Lord. For carrying my family through it.
LIVING IN REALITY
Before she knew it, Ivy was in 8th grade, and reality, as it was, became normal yet again. She began to think less and less about her father’s imprisonment, but she continued to miss her brothers.
Charlie held up well through it all. Soon, she no longer got excited about receiving letters from Ben, and she began to speak less and less of missing her brothers. But Ivy saved all the letters she received from her father, and even some that Charlie received. She read them over when she was sad, or missed him, but that was less and less often.
That year a new boy came to their school. His name was James. He was a short kid with thick glasses and big teeth. Ivy didn’t mind him, nor did she think about him too much. He was pretty quiet at first, but soon he opened up and became a good addition to her class.
One day, at a swim meet, James told Ivy that he wanted to ask her something. She asked what it was, and he said he probably couldn’t ask her until a month from then, or else he would be too embarrassed. This made Ivy overthink it. Was he going to ask her out? Was he going to tell her a very dirty secret? Was he going to do something bad? Tons of scenarios filled her head over the next month as she waited for him to ask her. She pestered him and begged him to ask her sooner. He would get all quiet and say he couldn’t do it yet and asked her to please stop bringing it up. She did, but when the month was up she asked him again, reminding him of what he said. He told her that he would email her what was going that evening. The email said that he found out his father and Ben went to the same high school together.
Ivy could not figure out what the big deal was. He had to wait a month to tell her that? She asked if that was all. It was not.
He went on to say that his father and her father had a lot in common; that their lives were very similar. She asked him what he meant and he simply said that they ended up in the same place. Her mind jumped to prison where Ben was but was too shy to ask him if that was what he meant. Instead, she asked him to be more clear. He confirmed her thoughts by saying he was in prison too, but that she shouldn’t ask why.
Naturally, Ivy was curious about the reason, but she felt so terrible for pestering him earlier so she let it be.
The feelings she felt back when Ben first went to prison resurfaced. Although she went through the same thing, she couldn’t imagine how James must have felt. His mother was now a single mother of two. James now had to fill the role as the man of the house. Ivy had another father waiting to step up to take Ben’s place. Ben’s absence did not really affect her life outside of the emotional realm. James, on the other hand, had to adjust to a whole new way of living. His father’s decisions, whatever they were, completely rocked his world.
He was telling Ivy all this to ask her advice. He knew about Jack, and how Ivy missed him so much. He asked her what she would have done to help Jack if she could. He wanted to help his younger sister get through this. He wanted to fill his father’s shoes in that regard. James knew right away that he would probably be his little sister’s father figure. He wanted to know how Ivy would have comforted Jack had she been given the opportunity.
Ivy was happy to help. She made it clear that she was always happy to talk with James if he needed it. But his questions made guilt rise up in her chest once more. She still felt responsible for not being in contact with her brothers. She was sure it was her fault, and her parents would not listen to her when she tried to explain. Even more importantly, she knew her beloved Jack was not being raised in a Christian home. She wished every night for a reunion with her family, but it never came. She would yell at God, asking how could He possibly have a plan for Jack. She challenged Him, saying she would see her brother again, even if He didn’t want her to. She couldn’t tell which hurt the most, His silence, or the obviousness that a reunion would not happen anytime soon.
James and Ivy grew closer as the year went on. He had told no one else about his father and asked Ivy not to. She kept his secret, and they only talked about it when they were alone together, which was during lunch, or sometimes after school over the phone.
Of course, people’s heads started turning and their friends wondered if they were secretly dating one another. Ivy, for the first time in her life since Jane was born, did not seek to get attention out of this. She ignored the silly accusations and continued to try to help James.
Ivy’s family and James’s family lived near each other. They sometimes would carpool to school with one another, and on half days, Ivy would go home with James for a few hours until her mother could come and pick her up. She enjoyed growing closer to James but never had an interest in him has more than a friend. He felt the same way. In fact, both of them we’re seeing someone by then. He was dating Ivy’s friend Kate, and Ivy was talking with a boy named Noah.
Neither Ivy nor Noah’s parents wanted them to date. But they largely ignored their parents’ rules and continued to act as though they were dating. They never went out together, but would hang out in groups with James and Kate, and sometimes Jimmy and Ivy’s friend, Joy. When they would hang out with their friends, Noah and Ivy discarded their parents’ rules and acted how they pleased. Ivy knew things could get out of hand easily but didn’t care. She was willing to go with the flow, and do whatever Noah pleased. Noah, however, wanted to take things very slowly. This was a blessing. He would hold her hand, but they never kissed or did anything extreme. Nevertheless, Ivy’s parents were upset with her behavior and we’re disappointed in her dishonesty with them. But Ivy didn’t care very much at the time.
In April of her freshman year, Ivy went on a mission trip to Haiti. She helped at an orphanage where she gave attention to children without parents, loving on them as she wished she could love on her brother one more time. She met many children but was closest to a five-year-old, named Sincina. She was the same age as Calvin. Ivy doted on her as much as she could in the short week. They did not speak the same language, so it was amazing for Ivy to see their friendship flourish. Ivy knew little about her story other than that she was in an orphanage in a third world country; much worse than her own story. Yet, the child seemed to glow with joy and peace and innocence. Ivy clung to her. She needed Sincina more than the little girl needed her. But when the week came to a close, Ivy took the girl over to the translator and asked the man to tell Sincina that Ivy had to go back to America. Ivy had made her a little pink friendship bracelet. When Ivy gave it to her, Sincina’s eyes welled up with tears and she hugged Ivy around the neck as hard as she could, speaking quickly in her ear. The translator said she was asking Ivy to take her home with her.
Going on the trip made Ivy think things through. She thought about how she had always pined for attention even at great costs. She thought about her relationship with Noah, the dishonesty towards her parents. She thought about the resentment she had grown to feel towards her stepmom and her parents for not trying to reconnect. She thought about Ben’s decisions and about James’s father’s decisions and how they affected other people. She thought about all she was blessed with in life with not two, but four loving parents in her childhood, a roof over her head, a good school, and money to spare. She realized she was living life selfishly and sinfully. She wanted to change.
After she came back from Haiti, she told Noah that she no longer wanted to be in a relationship. He took it well and said it was largely mutual. They continued to be friends for the rest of their freshman year.
Ivy dropped the resentment she felt and stopped searching for attention in everything she did. She went through her room and all of her possessions and weeded out the things she didn’t need, hating herself for how difficult it was.
That month she got a letter from Ben. The letter was addressed to Charlie, asking if Charlie would let Ivy read it once she was done. Apparently, Charlie had written previously, saying she was fed up with all of his lies and wanted to know his whole story. She was sick of not knowing it all, and he owed it to them to tell them. The letter contained his entire testimony, starting when he was 6 years old.
Ben’s father died when he was six years old in a plane crash. His father was well known in his community for being a good, God-fearing Christian. He had written many devotional books and commentaries on the Bible. After his death, Ben tried to act just like his father to make his mother happy. He read all his father’s works, helped out with the youth worship team, and led Bible studies. He took on his father’s religious skin but never made the faith his own.
Around the time of high school, Ben was less interested in youth groups and Bible studies than playing tennis. He started to resent his work at the church when his mom would not let him skip it one week for a game. He began hanging with the wrong crowd, smoking, and drinking, all behind his mother’s back. His grades began to slip. But all the while, he kept the “good Christian” appearance.
College came around and he couldn’t get into the school of his choice due to his poor grades. He ended up going to the same college Ivy’s mother went to. There, he got into drugs. It became a problem only he and one other person knew about. Meanwhile, he was dating the girls’ mom.
They got married and he kept up his Christian facade as a theology teacher. But the drugs, drinking, and smoking behind the scenes did not stop. Their mother had almost no idea until she picked up on his compulsive lying disorder and when he spent some nights away from home.
He started cheating on her with Claire, the girls’ stepmom. Their mother told him to pick one or the other because she was tired of fighting. He walked out on her.
During his second marriage, he and his new wife did various drugs, drank as they pleased, and smoked a good deal, sometimes in front of their kids. This, Ivy, remembered, but thought nothing of.
After Ben got caught stealing from his clients, he was told by the court he had to pay back all the money he took. To do this, he sold drugs. The police never found out.
He had to do a cold turkey withdrawal in prison. He had terrible behavior because of this and was moved from prison to prison.
Finally, the Lord got his attention and he surrendered his life to Christ for the first time.
His confession shocked Ivy. It did explain a lot, though. It explained why when she smelled secondhand smoke or even secondhand marijuana, it brought her back to memories of her time at his house. She knew he was a liar. But she never would have guessed that he was a drug dealer and a drug addict.
Ben’s testimony hit Ivy like a punch to the gut. She felt like she could never trust her father again; like she had to take everything he said with a grain of salt. It hurt her.
She shared her pain and frustration with James. He gave her good advice and a kind shoulder to lean on.
Ivy became angry. She was angry at God for letting it all happen. She was angry at her mother for not seeing it sooner. She was angry at her father for keeping it a secret for so long. She was angry at herself for not recognizing it.
Charlie appreciated the letter. It made her feel like she could trust him more. She said it was the most grown-up thing he had ever done for them. Ivy understood where she was coming from, but felt it difficult to feel the same way. She wanted to be angry with him but was surprised at how difficult it had become to hold a grudge.
Soon, it came time for Charlie to move away. She was going to live with her godparents to practice living outside of the house. She got a job at a restaurant and worked there to save money for college.
Ivy was sorry her sister was leaving. She had grown so close to Charlie throughout her life and was unsure as to how it would go without her. Ivy would have to go to school without her, sleep in her room without her, be at home without her. The longest the two had ever been apart was a fortnight when Charlie volunteered at a summer camp. She was happy for her sister to move out at such a young age- only 17- but Ivy knew she would miss her terribly.
(see pt. 4/4)