That summer, Ivy’s mother decided it was okay for them to go and visit their father in prison. At the time, he was located in a minimum-security prison, about three hours away. Ben was very excited to see his girls again. It had been about four years since he’d seen them last.
The girls had heard a lot about Ben’s new-found faith in his letters and phone calls. He was excited about starting over once he became free. They were curious to see how he had changed, and if his transformation was real. Ivy did not quite trust Ben still.
Charlie did not see why they had to visit him. He was supposed to get out in about four months from then, and she felt like it would be wiser to wait. But, Ivy was anxious to see how he was doing, and her mother was finally willing and able to take them. They flew Charlie home and drove together to the prison.
Ben’s new faith seemed legitimate. He hugged and kissed his daughters as soon as he saw them, tears streaming down his face. The first thing he did was asked if he could pray with them.
All throughout the visit, several inmates came by and asked who Ben was visiting with. He said, proudly, that the girls were his daughters. His friends would ask if they were the ones he had pictures of, the ones he would pray about every day. He said yes, and his friends would turn to the girls and tell them what a great man their father was. They could see it. Their father was a completely different man.
Before leaving, Ben told Ivy and Charlie to love on their mom for bringing them. He understood that their relationship was completely at the mercy of their mom. She could very easily have cut off all communication. He explained how sorry he was for what he had done to her and asked them to apologize for him, but he did not expect her to forgive him. He even found it hard to forgive himself.
On the ride back, Charlie relayed Ben’s message. Both the girls testified to his new behavior, and we’re certain his faith was real. They told their mom he was sorry and thanked her for bringing them. As they spoke, their mom broke down in tears and had to pull the car over.
Ivy and Charlie thought she was crying because she was happy about the change in Ben. They thought she was glad he had come to know Christ. Charlie continued to speak saying, “it’s true! It’s true!” but instead of thanking God, their mom pounded her fists and said she wished she had never met the man.
When they reached home, all three of the girls were crying. Their mother got out of the car and the two sisters stayed, telling their mom they wanted to be alone for a while.
Once their mother was gone, Charlie pulled the car out of the driveway and started driving away. They drove for about 30 minutes, going nowhere in particular. They just drove and cried together.
They discussed what had just happened, praising God for Ben’s change, and asking why their mom was so sad. Her words had stung them. To them, it sounded as if she wished they were never born.
After a while, they got a call from their dad asking them to come back home within the hour. They also received a text from their mother. She didn’t apologize for what she had said, she only reiterated that she was mad at Ben and not them. She said she was proud of her daughters and glad she had them, but wished, just the same, that she had not met Ben and allowed him to hurt her.
Instead of soothing the pain, the text from their mother stung more. Ivy was upset her mother did not tell them in person. She thought it was cowardly of her mother to say so over text.
Christmas of Ivy’s sophomore year rolled around, and with it brought Ben’s freedom. She was proud of her father for becoming a Christian. She was excited he was getting out but apprehensive of the relationship he would want to start. She did not love him like a father anymore. He was not her father anymore; he lost that privilege years ago.
Ben moved back in with Claire. Ivy hated this decision. She made that clear to him. She thought there were many risks involved, risks that could have been avoided had he chose to live somewhere else. But it was the quickest, cheapest option for him. He said he felt like God was on board. He wanted to help Claire as best he could, to try and make up for the hell he brought on her family. He wanted to grow close to the boys again and maybe even lead them to Christ. Ivy could see there was no stopping him, so all she could do was pray.
Sophomore year was crazy for Ivy. Her school was doing a one-act competition in theater, and she was asked to be the student director. She was happy to help but was unaware that she would be directing most of the play. Her classmates, likewise, were unaware that they would be taking directions from her. Neither of them were prepared.
Ivy got resentment from a lot of her peers, including Noah, Jimmy, and James. Noah began being outwardly unkind to Ivy, gossiping and spreading rumors. James did not engage in the rumors, but Ivy didn’t see him trying to prevent them either. Soon, Ivy had to leave the group, and find somewhere else to sit at lunch. She was simply unwanted there.
The rest of the year, James hardly spoke to her. When he did, it was to tell her how unkind she had been, how bossy she was, and how judgmental she was being. Ivy was hurt and confused. She loved James like a brother, or at least she thought she did. But a brother would not treat her this way. She searched her brain, trying to find a situation where she had been unkind, or bossy, or judgmental. She could understand the bossy part; she had directed a play. But she did not think she was unjust, or harsh. She did her best. Ivy could not find a situation where she had been unkind or judgmental. She could either continue to brood on it all or let it go and forget about it. She chose the latter.
That year, Ivy’s family decided to move to New York, to live near her mother’s parents. Ivy was excited for a change. Charlie had moved out of the house about a year ago, and Ivy was tired of dealing with the kids at school without her older sister to lean on. The three younger children, Jane, Calvin, and their newest brother, three-year-old Asher, all agreed it would be a good move.
About a month before they started packing, Ivy got a call from Ben. He said he was in the area with the boys, and wanted to know if she could meet for ice cream.
Ivy immediately called her mother and asked if she was okay with it. To her surprise, her mother said yes.
Ivy hadn’t seen Jack, Sam, or Daniel in six years. She recognized them at once. Sam was now 20 years old, had a goatee, and a muscular body. But he still had the same brown hair and brown eyes, and his smile hadn’t changed a bit. He was still rather big and scary to Ivy, but just as it was in her childhood, Sam was more gentle than a panda. Upon seeing her, he rushed over and gave her a big hug, saying he had missed her.
Jack was 14. His hair was still blond and his eyes were still blue. He had grown taller than Ivy and seemed to have missed her even more than Ivy missed him. When he looked at her, it was with the same awe and admiration from when he was about nine.
Daniel, on the other hand, had changed very much. The last time Ivy saw him, he was two years old. Now he was eight and acted exactly like Jack did when he was his age. Daniel had brown hair and brown eyes like Sam, but with mannerisms and a smile just like Jack. He was a perfect mix of the two.
The meeting was sadly anti-climactic for Ivy. She had imagined their reunion for six years. She imagined breaking down in tears and telling them how much she loved them. She imagined running into them at the grocery store or driving to their house without an invitation. All of the imagined scenarios were dramatic and teary. This union, however, was short-lived and nobody cried. Ivy composed herself, probably for Daniel’s sake. He seemed shy and didn’t know what to do around Ivy. He had heard many stories about her and Charlie growing up but had no memory of them. Ivy did not want his only memory of her to be a confusing one in which she cried.
Ivy was so glad to see her brothers again but didn’t want to bombard them with spiritual talk.
While Ben lived with them, he was able to take them to church occasionally. Claire had given up her strong atheism and encouraged the spirituality that Ben brought to their household. She was not interested in it herself but thought it would be good for the boys. Ben told Ivy and Charlie of the deep conversations he had with Jack, of the many questions he got from Daniel, and the relationship he was building with Sam. Ivy was happy and hopeful.
They sold their ordinary house in the ordinary neighborhood to an ordinary couple when Ivy was 16. As Ivy said goodbye to her home, her mind sifted through all of the years she had spent in it, all the things the walls had seen, all the memories the rooms held, all of the children that were brought up in it. That summer, as her family was moving, Ivy wrote it all down so she could remember the growth she endured in those 16 years. She wanted to remember the pain, the loss, the attention she sought, the arguments, the tears, and the survival through it all. She was off to a new start. A start where nobody would know her story, nobody would know her father- aside from Anders and Frankie, that is. But she did not want to forget it.
The move went smoothly. Ivy attended a private catholic school. She was apprehensive at first, due to the religious differences. Anders had gone to the school and graduated the previous year. He had told her many stories and praised the school in many ways. Ivy found the students there welcoming and engaging, something she had missed deeply in the last year at her old school.
At Christmas time of their first year there, Charlie moved back home to live with her family. She had taken a year off college to pay off student loans before they piled up too high. Now that was done, she longed to be home and work on the relationships between Ivy, herself, and their parents. Charlie being home forced the family to speak openly and share thoughts and concerns. Because of this, Ivy felt comfortable going to her parents and telling them about the guilt she felt while she was away from her brothers and stepmom. Her mother took her hand and said, ‘you do not have that kind of power.’ At first, Ivy was offended, but the more she thought about those words, the more comforting they became. She didn’t have to power to make Jack a believer. Nor did she have the power to reunite herself and her brothers. All that power belonged to God and God alone. This meant that she had been carrying the guilt and weight all those years for nothing and that she no longer needed to carry them. That night, she gave her concerns and worries to God, asking Him to tend to them as only He could, thanking Him for doing so in the past.
Ivy kept a loose relationship with her father going. He would call her occasionally, and she would facetime him. When he was with them, Ben would hand the Phone over to Jack or Daniel (Sam was always busy working or out with friends). Although she was sad to not see her brothers in person, she was content with the letters they would write back and forth or the occasional phone calls.
Her life had been a rollercoaster. She had a traumatic childhood, one of divorce, confusion, betrayal, and losses. But she never considered it traumatic. God put her through those trials to teach her valuable lessons, to mature her beyond her age, and to bring her closer to Him. She would not have had it any other way.
LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME! (THE END)
Photo credit: Image courtesy of the storyteller.