Ray doesn't want anyone to know exactly how much Ivy meant.
| No one ever calls me. They text, they email, they leave notes. Calling is a very unreliable way to get in touch with me; I normally will not answer. It’s nerve-wracking, carrying on a conversation with someone whose face you cannot see. Things can be misunderstood, and feelings can be hurt if you aren’t careful.
This is why I ignored the insistent buzz of my cell phone as I sat in that dim little café. The place wasn’t the easiest to find, and the coffee could get a little expensive, but it was good enough that the price was justified. It was a nice place to relax, and that’s why I refused to pick up the phone. Usually I turn it off completely; I don’t know why I didn’t that day.
But the buzzing continued, and after the third round I started thinking that it might just be easier to simply pick up. With a heavy, exaggerated sigh, I yanked my coat off the seat and rummaged through the pockets. A quick glance at the screen told me it was my best friend, Julie, and I almost changed my mind and decided to reject it—she of all people would know better. But if she was that determined to get in touch with me, it must have been important. So I flipped open the phone and held it to me ear. “Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
She didn’t answer me immediately. In fact, I didn’t hear anything for a little while until she took in a shaking breath and sniffed. “Hi Ray.”
“You all right?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Her voice, thin and pinched, said otherwise. “But I just got a call from Tori. Do you remember Ivy Roth? From high school?”
I nodded before I remembered that Julie couldn’t see me. “Yeah. I used to have art classes with her.”
“She’s gone.” Julie’s voice finally broke and she began to cry in earnest. “She died last weekend.”
If life were a dramatic film, this would be the point where I’d break down instead of Julie, where all the secrets I’d kept for the last decade would tumble from my mouth before I could stop them. As it were, I set my coffee mug on the table and shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “Oh. I’m so sorry.” I had no idea what to say to her.
“I’ll be fine. But the reason I called…I know you weren’t really good friends with her like I was, but they’re having a memorial service at the school this Saturday, and I thought you might want to be there.”
I considered it for a moment. “I don’t think so. I don’t think I can make it home on such short notice.
“All right,” she said. “Want me to keep you updated?”
I said yes. I didn’t really want to be, but there was a possibility that she could be angry at me for not going to the memorial. There was no way for me to tell whether she was or wasn’t, but it couldn’t hurt to appease her a little bit.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about Ivy. Quite the contrary, really. The problem was that I didn’t want anyone else to know exactly how much I cared.
Ivy was the offspring of two flower children who named all four of their daughters after plant life. They were Posy, Lily, Rose, and Ivy, who was the youngest. After she was born, her parents realized that they couldn’t raise children on love alone, and quietly abandoned their libertine way of life to join the nineties and the dot com boom, settling into the corporate world with surprising ease.
I don’t know if this was what caused Ivy to feel as though she had to set herself apart. When I met her for the first time freshman year, her hair was blood red, her eyes were smeared with kohl, and she had a habit of wearing pants that were heavy with belts and chains. She would even stylize her name as I.V., as in intravenous, in large Gothic letters on the top of her papers. I didn’t understand the significance then.
But while she looked the part of an angry teenager, mad at everything and nothing at all, she was almost giddy in her anger. She’d rail about the ills of the world with a smile on her face as opposed to that forced apathy that so many of her similarly-dressed peers adopted. The dichotomy of it was what drew me to her in the first place. I wanted to be her friend, but I was stopped by that annoying social anxiety that tends to plague those of us who exist on the fringe of high school society.
So it wasn’t until junior year that I had a chance to actually speak with her. The school offered an Advanced Placement Studio course, and even though I had no intention of putting together a portfolio and taking the exam, it was still preferable to the other art classes. Other than me, only four other students signed up, including Ivy.
I loved that class. For the first time I was with people who genuinely wanted to learn art and didn’t spent the entire hour-long period bitching about having to be there. They were funny, too, in the same twisted sense that I was. Occasionally the teacher would have to scold us for talking too much and painting too little, but for the most part we did our work happily.
There were a couple group projects, and at long last I was given the opportunity to spend time with Ivy. My stomach had done a backflip when she asked me to be her partner, and I accepted happily. As time passed and we grew more comfortable with one another, I discovered that she dreamed of writing for a popular satirical news show. She probably could have achieved that goal; she was hideously smart, and witty in a way that left those a bit less intelligent uncertain of whether or not they had been insulted. I wasn’t completely free from that dizzying feeling, and she considered me an equal. Still, I looked forward to talking with her, and it never mattered how deep or shallow the conversation was. It wasn’t long before we had inside jokes and shared memories to call upon and laugh about.
But that was inside art class. Outside of it we remained perfect strangers. We weren’t mean to one another and none of it was out of malice. I’m not really even sure why it was like this. It wasn’t even a lack of mutual friends—Julie knocked between our groups with the ease of a pendulum—but for some reason, we could only connect within the safe world inside the art room.
In fact, it was Julie who told me how sick Ivy was. Ivy herself didn’t bring it up until March of that year, and when she finally did it was in a surprisingly casual way.
“They don’t know what it is,” she explained. We were sitting behind the school doing quick studies of the trees that bordered the campus. “It’s something neurological. Maybe. At least that’s what they were thinking when they biopsied my brain.”
I stopped sketching for a moment. “Your brain?”
“Yeah.” She smiled crookedly, as if pleased by her ability to shock. “That’s before I started bleeding, though. That just confused them again.” She bent down to blow away the bits of rubber eraser left on her paper. “I actually had a nosebleed a couple weeks ago while I was sleeping. It soaked through the pillow and got to the sheet before I woke up.”
It should have horrified me. Or made me feel sorry for her. But it never did. I don’t know if it was the noncommittal tone she took on whenever she talked about it, or if I was just unable to comprehend the severity of it. I’d like to think it was out of admiration for the fact that she stubbornly continued to live in spite of this unseen monster that was trying so hard to take her down. I like to think this, because it’s the best explanation I have for the way I came to feel about her.
It’s a common progression, I’ve since learned. Admiration leads to fondness leads to attraction leads to love.
I didn’t know I was in love with Ivy until the day she left for good. Finals had finished the week before, and although no one was required to go to their electives anymore all five of use still gravitated towards the art room. The teacher didn’t mind, provided we put away any art supplies we took out of storage. Mostly, however, we sketched on copy paper with ordinary pencils and ballpoint pens. It wasn’t even so much that we wanted to draw. I suppose we were just trying desperately to preserve what we had found with one another.
Two days before the year officially ended, Ivy walked into the art room only to say goodbye. One of her sisters was with her, and held the majority of Ivy’s things, mostly gifts from friends and teachers. Ivy carried only her school bag.
“I won’t be back next year,” she said candidly. “Rose is going to home school me. But I’ll try and come visit.”
It had never occurred to me until that moment that heartbreak was actually a physical sensation and not a sappy metaphor.
She went to the others one by one, thanking them and cracking jokes to lighten the mood before hugging them. I was last. But there were no more sarcastic comments or witty repartee. All she said was something about wishing we could have had more time to be better friends; I don’t think I’ll ever remember what she said word-for-word. She was slightly taller than me, so when she took me in her arms they went around my shoulders, leaving me to hold her about her waist.
I’ve never felt more terrified than I did at that moment when the feeling of her body against my own sparked something within me I’d never wanted to admit to having before. And even as I was caught up in discovering that I was, in fact, in the throes of my very first love, it did not escape my notice that the curves of Ivy’s body mirrored mine far too closely for me to be allowed to feel the way I did.
“Ray, are you still there? Rachel?” Julie kept calling for me.
I blinked, and wondered exactly how long I hadn’t been listening. “Yes. Yeah, I’m here. Sorry, I spaced out for a second.”
We chatted for a bit, and Julie managed to get me to promise that I’d go home to visit next month. Ivy didn’t come up again. That may have been my fault.
After I hung up, I finished my cold coffee, returned the redware mug to barista behind the counter, and left to go meet the boyfriend who was waiting for me at the bar down the street. I will not let myself wonder how Ivy died, if she suffered, if she had accepted it. I will not entertain thoughts of what would have happened if I ever confessed, or wonder if she ever once thought of me the way I did of her.