Ivy Was Here.

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.


13 thoughts on “Ivy Was Here.

  1. Kristan, this is really beautiful. Maybe her mom or someone will see this and get in touch with you.

  2. Hi Kristan,
    I also knew Ivy as a young girl in Commerce. I was a year younger than she was but she and I were pretty good pals after my Dad started dating her Mom. Your description of her as a girl was so fun to read because it’s just as I remembered her. She was an interesting and fun kid. I moved to Austin with my Dad when I was 9 and didn’t maintain much contact with her after that. Much later I was recently married and a new Mom when I found out the bad news that she had drowned. It was a tough piece of news to take in. Hard to believe. Anyway it was a pleasure to come across your post. I never knew much about her life after I moved so if you know anything else you’d be willing to share I’d love to hear it. It sounds like you two were pretty close. I’m sorry you were never able to introduce her to your little girl.

  3. I need pictures of Ivy, please. If anyone has ANY, I just need something.

    Amy (from May 30): Sorry I never responded. I didn’t realize that until today. All the same, I am/was incredibly touched by your sharing your memories about Ivy. I’m hoping others will also come forward as well.

    I would especially like to talk with Donna, of course.


  4. Hi I was a mutual friend of Ivy’s when I lived in Austin, that was the year i met her and spent quiet a few times with her out on the lake or going out to 6th street. She was a gentle soul with such a big heart and lit up the room everytime she walked in. I unfortunatley was there that day.
    maybe it will help you to know that she was having agreat time,that day dancing, singing, laughing and drinking. we were dancing on the edge of the boat together having a beer, she had to go to the bathroom and went into the lake, i turned my back for a sec and when i turned around i couldnt find her and so everyone started think that she jumped to another boat cause they were all tied together, but she hadn’t. I am so sorry I wish i would’ve found this post sooner. evreytime coming closer to the anniversary it touches my heart and i cry because i just don’t understand it still.
    I remind myself alot of the moment and it kills me , I had to see her mom following that , she was a beautiful person and Donna was just so kind.
    we did a memorial/fundraiser for her, it was beautiful and so many people that knew her showed up and even those that didn’t still came out because she touched there lives or someones that she knew. I will never forget that day . I often think of her and that day. I truly am sorry for your loss she was an ANGEL….. God Bless you.

  5. Stephanie, thank you so much for writing. Yes, it does make me feel better to know she was enjoying her life and was with friends, etc. I know Donna loved Ivy very much all the time I knew her, and I hope she reads this one day, too. If she does, I want her and all others to know I receive a lot of hits on this blog for people running searches for “Ivy Sunshine Lee.” That means Ivy touched MANY lives and that a lot of people cared enough about her to also try to look her up in one way or another.

    Last Saturday I was at House of Blues in Dallas when one of the sound guys there was talking about how he was from Commerce. He was a grade behind Ivy and me, but remembered her completely and was shocked to learn she’d died so young…and tragically. Like I said, her life affected people all over the map. I wish I’d found her beforehand.

    Again, your post is so touching and brought tears. Thank you a million times for sharing.

  6. Kristan,
    It truly makes me smile to know that there is someone else out there knowing and thinking of her as i am. It breaks my heart knowing i was the last to talk with her. I feel guilty for it in a way, I just wish more answers where there for us. I was told two different stories from why she drowned and they both still dont make sense to me. By the way
    The song they played at her service was I hope you dance by Leann Womack.
    I still tear up when I hear it, and when it comes on I turn it up and imagine her dancing in heaven happy and free. Just as she loved to do.
    Please if you do get pics let me know. I will try my hardest to get in touch with some old friends from there who knew her as well. Im sure someone has some pics..

  7. I promise. I’ll get pictures to you if I get any for sure.

    Travis is a deep lake, yes? I haven’t been there in twenty years probably. I do know that every time someone drowns, it usually is difficult to understand. At least, I read that in accounts from time to time. Sometimes, things happen that are totally beyond our control.

    There’s no reason for you to carry guilt about anything. You had no way of knowing what was going to happen. :)

  8. Hello,
    Message me if you’d like to talk! Ivy was a good friend of mine starting in May 1993. Today is the 10th anniversary of her death. She’s still with me though, bringing her light to me when it’s needed. She came through today in a big way! smacalli@yahoo.com

  9. I was just going through some things and found Ivy’s funeral program…I thought I’d google her name and this page popped up. I knew her pretty well in San Marcos TX and actually was her roommate for a while. My GF was her best friend and I remember Shelley who posted above.. I have some pix of her in my photo albums, I’m sure… reply to this if you want me to send them…

  10. Hi- I, too knew Ivy Sunshine Lee… Her mother, Donna and I were good friends when we lived in Everman, Texas around 1978. And Ivy and my daughter were best of friends. We stayed in contact after they moved to Commerce, but then eventually lost touch. I’ve been searching for Donna for years. I believe I have a picture of Ivy when she was 5.
    Needless to say I was devestated when I read of Ivy’s drowning. My heart goes out to Donna “Lily” Lee- wherever she is. If anyone reads this and knows how I can get in touch with Donna- please let me know. My e-mail is lerachels@aol.com
    Thank you for a special tribute to a wonderful freckled-face little girl…

  11. This is Kristan, the author of this article (logged into my other blog at the moment and too lazy to switch over).

    It’s been four years almost since publishing this piece here, and I still receive quite a few hits from people looking up Ivy’s name. It’s astonishing and wonderful knowing all the lives she impacted in such a short span. Inspiring, really. I’m so, so grateful you all have shared your memories of her for the world to see and hope that will continue.

    In the process, I’ve gotten to follow Ivy’s friend, Shelley in her daily adventures on Facebook (and have appreciated her kindness).

    Lois, I’d love to have a photo of Ivy from when around the time I knew her if you have a copy. Shelley keeps in touch with Donna, I believe. Feel free to email me here: krimewave[at]gmail.com

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