people i have known

People I have known: Lisa

My grandparents started out owning two lots in their neighborhood. They built a house on one, but eventually sold the other and a house was built on it by someone else. By the time I had any awareness of it, it was a rental. People came and went, but for a while there was a family who lived there. An older son - I think his name was Steve - a middle daughter, Lisa, and a younger son, Kenny.

Lisa was two years older than I. I used to go to my grandfather's garden in the backyard and wish really hard for Lisa to come outside. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The fence between the two properties was just wire and it was easy enough to slip through, finally off on an adventure. Some of the other kids in the neighborhood didn't like Lisa. I'm not sure why - they told me not to hang out with her, that she was trouble.

Maybe they knew something about her I didn't, but what I remember was helping her with her paper route. Wrapping up the papers, putting a rubber band around them, and then riding my bike behind her as she delivered them. I remember sneaking into the pool at the apartment complex down the street on hot summer days. If asked, I was to say she was my sister and she would tell them which apartment we lived in.

I thought Lisa was beautiful. Straight dark hair with bangs. Cute little freckles on her nose. In 1978, I wanted straight hair and freckles on my nose. My stupid wavy hair never stayed behind my ears.

Renee and Lisa

That's Renee on the left and Lisa on the right. On the back of the photo it says March 1979.

I don't remember anything about her parents, except that someone (her dad?) traveled out of the country and brought back a box of chocolate-covered ants and grasshoppers. We all sat around the kitchen and grossed out over them.

One day, my brother and I went into Lisa's house. Her older brother had just made his closet into a shrine to KISS. There was a record player playing loudly and the closet walls were covered in tin foil and posters. I'd seen KISS on TV and thought they were scary, so I was nervous right away. When Steve stabbed a knife through the wall from the outside of the closet barely missing my brother, I grabbed him and ran. I remember purposely not going in the house again if I knew Steve was home.

Eventually the family moved. I missed them terribly. Lisa was often around when I was the most lonely; she hung out with me when the other kids in the neighborhood couldn't or wouldn't. Just like Ivy, I've looked for her around the internet, on Facebook. Haven't found her, and I wonder where and how she is.

When I think of Lisa, I see stars. Stars from the 70s - bicentennial stars painted on her cheeks. I don't know why. I see stars on her cheeks and the wind blowing in her long hair as she's riding her bike, trying to get home before the sun sets. When I think of Lisa, I think of everything that was cool about being a kid in the 70s.


People I have known: looking for Ivy

I'm an ace Google researcher. If I have your name and one or two other details about you, I can usually find you on the Internet if there's anything out there to be found. The problem with Ivy is that she has she has an incredibly common last name. Maybe she's not on the Internet. Maybe she's married. Maybe she's moved to another state. I've checked Google, Facebook, MySpace. Can't find her.

Ivy was my best friend in middle school. She had more guts and more imagination than anyone I'd ever met. We went to a very small school at our church - there were just three of us in our grade. Poor Michelle - always the third wheel. I can't say we were very nice to her.

Here's a picture from one of my birthday parties. Michelle is on the left and Ivy is on the right in the blue sweater, with two of her three sisters beside her. Her youngest sister, Sherika, was too young to be at the party. I'm the one in the lovely yellow and orange sundress with the yellow t-shirt on underneath. I'm looking in a hand mirror and combing my hair - one of my birthday presents.

my birthday party

Ivy and I were always together, except that on Saturdays I went to the church and she went to the black church. Mount Olive, it's called. I went there a few times, or she'd come to mine, but for the most part our Saturdays were separate. I knew that Mount Olive had better singing and a more engaging pastor. I wanted to go there and sit and not listen with Ivy.

As shy as I was in middle school (and high school, and college), Ivy was my exact opposite. Outgoing, sharp, witty, superfuncrazy. She came up with the games we all played at recess. One I remember was called "orphanage." We were all a family - our parents had died and we were on the run, trying to escape social services so we could stay together. Sounds terrible now, but what I remember is Ivy and I holding hands, running like the wind: sisters.

Ivy was impatient. No call waiting in those days, so if I was on the phone with another friend when she wanted to talk to me, Ivy would call the operator and have her break through on the line, telling me there was an emergency. I have no idea what we talked about - school or TV, I guess. There were no boys our age at our school. I think we were both bored out of our minds, restricted by circumstance and our overbearing religion. These were good times and bad for both of us.

I stayed over at Ivy's house one night. We played outside with her youngest sister, who was probably 2 or 3 at the time. Sherika was dancing and we were laughing, I remember. She was a lot like Ivy - charming, outgoing, fun.

At dinner, I was so very afraid I was going to spill something. They had plastic on their sofa, plastic on the seats of their Ford Escort. We weren't allowed to act crazy inside. I really wanted her parents to like me. I ate and drank carefully and kept quiet.

That night, I was 11 with a brand new training bra and an extreme case of shyness. When it was time for bed, Ivy changed into her nightgown in the closet so that I wouldn't be embarrassed to do the same. I went next. As I was walking out, her older sister Shauna walked into the room, "Oh, she doesn't want black people to see her get undressed!" I was mortified. I was so embarrassed about my body, but I couldn't explain that to her. Instead, I turned 17 shades of red and didn't say a word. Ivy protested that it wasn't like that but Shauna just walked out, laughing at my stupidity. There was no way we could've explained to her that we were sisters. That we understood each other. She wouldn't have believed us.

After two years of being best friends, her family moved to Atlanta. I was devastated. We promised to keep in touch, but never did. As I was going through high school and college, I thought of her. When I hated my life, I wished I could talk to her. When things were good, we couldn't celebrate. Then one day 13 years ago, she called me. I was about to graduate from college. I was living with my mom, asleep in my bed, and the phone rang. My mom got it, brought it to me, and said, "It's Ivy."

I couldn't believe it. I was joyously happy to hear from her.

She told me that she was thinking of going back to school. She had moved back to our hometown, but might be moving back again to Atlanta, depending on which school she wanted to go to. She had three kids, had never married. She sounded stressed.

She was the same; she was different. She was grown up; I was not.

I asked about her sisters, her family. I forget what she said about Shauna; we never were close. Her younger sister, Tasha, who I also loved, was doing well, living in DC. I asked about Sherika. She was surprised I hadn't heard. She'd passed away while still just a child. I forget what she had - cancer? It tore the family apart. Her parents divorced. She did anything she could not to be home. Then she got pregnant...

I don't remember what I said, but I can tell you how much this hurts. That I didn't know while it was happening. That her family didn't survive it intact. The pain she must have felt, the anger. That Sherika is gone. That I could've been there for her and wasn't.

She gave me her phone number, but said she was moving soon. We were going to get together. When I called, I got a machine. When she called, she got mine. When I called again the next week, the phone was disconnected. I dreamed that I went to visit her mother in Atlanta so that I could find Ivy, that I hugged her mom and told her I was sorry to hear about Sherika. Then Sherika was outside in the sunshine, dancing in a butter yellow dress, ankle socks, and patent leather shoes. I watched her and thought, oh, she's fine, just fine!

I have not yet found Ivy again, though I hold her close to my heart and continue to look. No matter the time, the miles, the circumstances, she is my sister. I hope that somehow, she feels that way too.

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