I have just typed about thirty opening sentences for what I’m about to tell you. At this point, I think it’s only fair for me to just admit I don’t know where to begin so that I can get on with things and share this story in whichever way it chooses to unfold itself. Stick with me.
Ivy and I were doing some teenaged catching up via long distance (on Mom’s unsuspecting dime). It was incredibly important stuff: “Well, I’ve started getting out of my Duran Duran phase and am really into The Cure now,” she alerted.
“Oh, I saw them in July. Their bass player is SO cute.” Sigh.
“He’s my favorite! Do you like Sigue Sigue Sputnik? And Strawberry Switchblade?”
I guess the only thing that separated our conversation from any of my other highly productive, marathon giggle fests from 1987 was that it would be the last time we’d ever speak before Ivy Sunshine Lee took off and disappeared to wherever she went.
Seemingly unrelated, in January of this year, Anahata wrote an incredible story on Alexandria about her childhood friend, Susie, and how they’d recently reconnected online. I thought about all of the times I’d searched for Ivy Lee on every one of those places and got zip…until, miraculously, a woman named Amy stumbled upon Anahata’s post. Full of dread, I opened the email with Ivy’s name in the subject line:
“Hey – I was looking for some info on a girl I used to know named Ivy Sunshine Lee and your comment to someone else’s blog post came up. I’m originally from Commerce, TX, which is where I knew her from. I was wondering if she’s the same Ivy you are looking for. Her mom’s name was Donna. Don’t know about her dad. Were you ever in Commerce? Do you think this is the same girl you are looking for? Please let me know, I may have some info for you.”
I responded immediately. While I waited for Amy’s reply, I remembered things about Ivy I hadn’t visited in a long time.
We met when we were six. Nervous and in a new school, I was a goody-goody, book nerd while Ivy was a spritely, freckled fairy straight out of Mark Twain’s imagination. She asked right off if it would be alright if she called me “KK,” which is what my family had nicknamed me. Later, I came to understand that Ivy seemed to know things beyond mere coincidence and intuition. Whatever the case, I was instantly impressed. And intrigued.
She had super creamy white skin dabbled with those faint freckles and very long, dark, daaaaark hair. I always wanted to be as beautiful as Ivy. Sundresses EVERY single day in bright colors and high heels! Her mother let her wear those little Candies heels to school even. Sigh. Oh, Ivy: the luckiest girl alive.
The next year, I wrote my very first essay ever; Ivy proofread it. She would have been the worst fact checker in the world.
“KK, this is boring. You should put something scary in here, like, ‘Sharks eat thousands of people who swim in the ocean every year.’ “
“But, Ivy, I don’t think that’s true.”
“Well, you know sharks eat people. Ugh, I don’t know, how about saying just 40 or 50 people?”
And so it was. The infamous line was born. I penciled in: “Sharks only eat about 40 or 50 people every year.” There was no point in minimizing Ivy’s suggestions. She knew storytelling was much more fun than reporting before I even knew I was a writer. The accompanying illustration was a heavy fare, depicting a shark’s fin amongst body parts and blood. To be clear, I was a little sketchy about turning it in, but was really pleased when Ivy later gloated, “See? I TOLD you you’d get an A.” Thanks, Ivy. [Thanks, Jaws.]
We argued about lip gloss and whether or not it was okay to share the same tube. We argued about church. We argued about who got to play the role of Pat Benetar when we lip-synced “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” I never won any of those arguments, and, thus, always ended up relegated to playing air guitar on her tennis racket while she silently belted out Pat’s song over and over and OVER again.
During the community center’s summer screening of “Grease,” I broke the bad news.
“Ivy, we’re moving.”
She cried through the rest of the movie, and so did I. We were the best of pals during that great time in life when it was still okay to hold your best friend’s hand everywhere you went together.
Years passed, and we kept in touch. Ivy always sent crazy cards and drawings in the mail in random spurts. Through the terrible inconvenience of distance and parents who disliked one another, Ivy and I eventually lost touch and traveled life in separate paths.
“…and so then he kissed me. Kristan Ka, it was so intense.”
“Oh, I hope I can meet him soon. Hey, we never got to go to Six Flags like we’d planned. Maybe we can get together before summer’s over, and you can bring him!”
(In that year, I think all of my sentences ended in exclamation points.)
“Toooootally. I have to go. I’ll call you soon. Love you.”
“Love you, Ivy.”
With incredible sorrow, I read Amy’s thoughtful response this afternoon:
“Well, I’m afraid it’s terrible news. Ivy drowned in Lake Travis in Austin in 2001. I believe she would have been 28 years old. I was searching online actually for her obituary to send to my brother for something his HS class is working on, when I saw your post. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this but when I saw that you’d been looking for her, I figured you’d want to know. She definitely was a character… I didn’t know her that well but from what I did know, she was just a light and lots of fun.
Anyway, I know this isn’t the news you wanted to hear and again, I’m sorry… ((((hugs))))”
As it turned out, Amy’s brother was the boy Ivy had the crush on decades ago. Say it: It’s a small world.
When I closed Amy’s email, I became very upset knowing I’d never get to introduce Ivy to my little girl. I thought it’d be a pretty cool thing to take Bella and her best friend with us to Six Flags. Finally.
So it goes on without her. Ivy Sunshine Lee was one part firecracker, two parts raw sugar, a dash of trouble, a sprinkle of chance, three tablespoons Olivia Newton John-slash- Pat Benetar, and a priceless, last, long distance phone call made without permission.
And, Anahata, the next time you see Susie, if for no other reason, hug her just because you can.