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.

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Drox

I’m not sure I can accurately describe what it felt like as I watched the veterinarian’s assistant weigh my fourteen year-old dog to determine the cost and amount of necessary whatever-it-is-they-use for euthanasia. My friend and ex-husband kneeled next to the scale and told our old border collie it was “okay,” but I couldn’t decide if we were traitors or Jack Kevorkians or saints or terrible dog parents or what for having let him suffer as long as he did.

64lbs = sixty-something bucks, or $102 if you wanna hang around.

We hung around. Seemed like the right thing to do after all the years he put up with us.

Hydrox, by Michelle McLaughlin

Hydrox, by Michelle McLaughlin

Hydrox was born on January 8, 1995 — the last-born, runt pup from a litter of five. It took his mom 45 minutes longer to have him. He was so tiny and with sharp claws, like a little black and white rat. I used to carry him around on my shoulder because he yelped for attention constantly. God, he really was the most adorable puppy ever.

My ex was in the Marine Corps, so throughout those years we spent away from home, Hydrox was often my only friend. In the mornings when we lived on the west coast, Drox and I walked to the top of the mountain behind our home and watched the fog settle, sometimes revealing the distant ocean on a clear day. Hydrox loved watching the sunrise and the sunset. During twilight walks, he sometimes ran off to play with a coyote pal he’d made, which always flipped me out. He never needed a leash unless we were going to be taking the cat with us (but that was just because Hydrox’s pet cat, Edie, would only walk on one if she was leading the caravan). He didn’t mind sucking it up for the cat — or any cat — and seemed to think it was his duty to make sure all felines throughout the course of his life were cleaned daily and kept in good spirits.

While I was pregnant with The Bell, Hydrox gained sympathy weight and lots of it. We went to Subway every day back then. I always ordered Drox a meatball sub as he watched patiently through the window. One afternoon, the owner invited him inside, gave my dog his own Subway Club card, and insisted we eat in the restaurant at a booth. When a customer complained once, she told the guy: “That dog is one of my best customers, and he’s welcome to sit in that booth as long as he wants.” It’s the sort of thing that would probably make Subway’s corporate office cringe, I guess, but, hey, Hydrox was a lot more hygienic than some of the other regulars.

Hydrox used to stare at my tummy when The Bell would go crazy in there. He’d listen to her, step back in shock, lay his head on my gargantuan belly, and jump back again. I’ll never forget the day we brought Bella home and watched carefully, neurotically as Hydrox and his Edie cat peered into the carrier. He licked Bella’s forehead, but I could tell he was incredibly sad about being knocked down a notch on the totem pole. My mother’s favorite photo of him was taken by her the next morning as he and Edie waited anxiously outside our bedroom door.

Shortly thereafter, the USMC active duty was at an end, and I packed up The Bell and pets and moved back to Texas while my spouse finished school in Florida. Once again, Hydrox was my closest friend. He was up with the baby. He was down with the baby. He and Edie cat kept the “vampires and the elephants and the werewolves and all those sorts away from The Bell.” I thought he was the best baby accessory ever — always there to clean up the floor after mealtime, always there to alert me when there was a tasty, er, dirty diaper.

A year or so later, Edie was stung by a wasp in the throat. My former husband was mowing the lawn. I heard the engine cut off. Rustling. Then the door opened to the house: “Kristan, Edie is dead.” Hydrox followed us to the edge of the half-mown yard later that day, nudged her small, black body, waited as we heart-brokenly buried her. Then he sobbed on her grave for two hours until my ex dragged him back into the house. People who say animals have no feelings are full of crap. Hydrox mourned the death of Edie for such a long time. I still feel like crying when I think of his whimpering on that fresh mound of soil a decade ago.

Loved: polka, wooly bears, Hot Chocolate’s song “You Sexy Thing,” snacking on pepperoni pizza bones while watching the movie “Babe”, strawberry Nutrigrain bars, Dr. Doolittle, kitties, “T-rex” bones, sneaking into bed, truck rides IN the cab, cat food, Shark Week, Abe, trips to Subway, Little Jenny, California, butt rubs, posing for photographs.

Hated: The TV show “Flipper” (after we left the TV on an Animal Planet “Flipper” marathon and went to work one day; He was never the same with Flipper after that), blueberry Nutrigrain bars, dog sweaters, leashes, Hawaiian shirts, my close friend Chuck, bubblegum, car rides, Elvis, our old roommate Drew, The Anti-Chewing Cone, being called “fat.”

Memorable moments:

Hydrox attacked an Elvis cardboard cutout thinking it was an intruder once.

The day we put a hood over the litter pan, Hydrox was found in the living room dragging the cat box around because he’d gotten it stuck on his head.

We told Bella that he was “Jeff,” our first-born child, who turned into Hydrox on his sixth birthday. She didn’t fall for it. My ex pointed out this morning that the Jeff story never translated well for others, but he still cracked up thinking about it anyway.

Hydrox suffered for a long time. Just his luck, he was allergic to grass and fleas and, gosh, who knows what else. We called him the Six Million Dollar Dog because his vet bills felt like that much. We even discussed pet health insurance a few times. I know that sounds insane. Hydrox’s “dad” used to tell our friends that he thought Hydrox had really died a long time ago, but my love was keeping him alive in some weird zombified, Pet Cemetery way.

When I divorced, Hydrox was devastated. I left Drox because I had to. It kills me to think he probably thought I abandoned him these last two years, that I only came to say hello for a couple minutes once or twice a week. I thought about him all the time, about how he seemed slower each time I was there, about how grey his black fur had gotten. He couldn’t see well. He couldn’t hear because of all the ear infections. When the ex told me Hydrox had begun falling down the stairs, I knew it was time.

This morning I met my old friend/ex-husband, at that place I used to live. We drank coffee; I petted his cats. The portrait I’d had taken of a six month-old Bella with Hydrox and his favorite bone hung above the desk. We dug up the leash from the last time we took Hydrox to the vet and gossiped about a bunch of idle chit-chat that had nothing to do with what was about to happen. Then we helped Hydrox into the backseat of my truck.

At the vet, I tried to behave like it was just going to be another annoying allergy treatment or something so “Jeff,” our first-born, wouldn’t get too nervous.

“He’s 64lbs.”

My ex-husband didn’t have to say anything. I knew we both remembered when Drox was twice that, the lug. As I turned from the scales to the reception desk, I got overwhelmed by it all. The lady handed me a Kleenex and told me she was so sorry, and I believed her. I’d hate to have to see that sort of thing everyday.

While we waited in the little room before the vet arrived, we told Hydrox how much we loved him, how he’d always been such a good friend. We were “sorry.” There was “gonna be a place,” we told him, “where he wouldn’t have to take baths all the time.” Drox nuzzled his snout in the crook of my elbow. I hate to say, but he was really scared, and I feel awful about that.

Then it was really time. I stared into his brown eyes until he wasn’t behind them anymore. My ex bent to the ground, and the vet told us, “Hydrox seemed like a nice dog.” That’s what everybody said.

On the way back, I noticed two spots on my sleeve — from his snout, still damp from when he’d buried his doggy nose there.

I can’t believe he’s gone. I can’t believe it was fourteen years. Already.

In a few minutes, we’ll pick The Bell up from school. It will be the first day she’s been alive without Hydrox, and I hope she isn’t mad at us for not keeping her home. There were zero easy decisions with zero right answers today, but I know one thing for sure: I loved him.

And for what it’s worth where ever you are now:

Dear Hydrox,

Thanks. I know you were a mind reader, so it’s not like I have to really say anything else, but I was pretty upset earlier and forgot to say some stuff.

I always told you the truth. You always listened. I’m still sorry I made you wear the green sweater that one winter. And the cone, I’m sorry I paraded you around with that thing on in public.

You were the runt, but you survived your mom, your three brothers, and your sister. So, you won. Nyah. Stick it to ’em.

I’ll be alright. I promise.

Go get Edie now.

I love you again, Hydroxygen.

XO, Mom

And if that hambone could speak from beyond the grave, he’d have one last thing to add, I know:

So long and thanks for all the …meatball subs.

Hydroxygen, January 8, 1995 – January 26, 2009: First-born, loyal friend, faithful compadre, wonderdog.