He Started It

That was in the summer, when the fighting made the hot days seem even longer. We all lived in Atlanta then, including Grandpa. He showed up at our door in August and he was alone. Grandma had died six months earlier.

Grandpa gathered us all up, sat us down on the couch, and said, ‘Your parents need some time alone. They need to figure out grown-up things.’

‘Are they getting divorced?’ Eddie said.

‘No, they are not. They just need to be alone, so we’re going on an adventure.’

‘What kind of adventure?’ I said.

‘An amazing one.’ Grandpa said it strong and loud, trying hard to convince us it was true.

I was ready for anything other than another day at home. The summer had been long, hot, and miserable. When Grandpa said an adventure would make things better with our parents, I couldn’t get out the door fast enough.

Grandpa drove a minivan. Always had, as far as I could remember, and it was that same greyish-green color as every other minivan. A lot of my friends’ parents had them and I’d been in them a million times. The upside was we had plenty of room to move around if we wanted. There were enough seats for at least six people, so we all piled in and off we went.

First stop: Tuscumbia, Alabama. North of everything, almost into Tennessee. In 1880, Helen Keller was born in a house called Ivy Green and now it’s a tourist site. That was where Grandpa brought us first.

The house itself isn’t large; it’s a simple, white, one-floor building. We went on the tour and learned all about Helen’s silent, dark world and how Anne Sullivan had saved her. The original well pump is still there, the place where Helen first learned the word water and started her long climb out of the abyss.

Outside the house, we walked around the grounds. Grandpa kept going on and on about how amazing Helen Keller was. I can’t remember if I knew who she was before we went there or not. It feels like I should have, but maybe that’s me hoping I knew more than I did.

What I also remember is when we were done and heading back to the car. Eddie walked on top of a short brick wall lining the street. Portia ran from one side of the sidewalk to the other, trying to find the best-smelling flower. I chased after her, giving my own opinion on them. She didn’t ask.

Grandpa stopped and looked at each one of us. He shook his head. ‘It’s a lucky thing you have all of your senses.’

‘But you heard the guide,’ I said. ‘She went deaf and blind after being sick. We can’t get the same disease now.’

‘Yeah,’ Eddie said. ‘It’s been cured.’

Grandpa shook his head again, like he was disappointed by our reactions. ‘Lucky indeed,’ he said again. ‘Maybe we can try it sometime. I’ll cover your eyes and ears and see how you do.’

I laughed because he was being so silly. We all were, because we were on a grand adventure across the country. Our goal, Grandpa said, was California, and that’s where we would see the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Today we go to the same house, except this time we already know the story. We’ve all seen The Miracle Worker and we’ve all read about Helen Keller in school. The only surprise is how small the house is, along with the cottage where Helen lived with Anne Sullivan. It seemed much larger when I was a kid.

As we leave, Felix claps his hands together. ‘What an amazing piece of history.’

‘Isn’t it?’ Krista says. ‘I love uplifting stories. I wish there was a cable station that only played inspiring movies and TV shows.’

‘They already have religious stations,’ Portia says. Sarcasm intended.

‘Oh, not like that. Like Helen Keller,’ Krista says.

‘So, a station about kids who overcome physical challenges?’

Krista gives up and steps away from Portia, realizing she is being made fun of.

We all get back into the car to leave, and no one says anything else about Helen Keller. The drive continues along an empty road, heading neither north nor south. Sometime after dark, Eddie pulls up to a roadside motel called the Stardust.

‘What do you think?’ he says.

It looks like a shithole with Wi-Fi and cable. Perfect.

‘It’s so early,’ Portia says. She has a slight childish twang in her tone. ‘I can drive if you’re tired.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ Eddie says. He drives up to the front office and jumps out of the car.

It’s no surprise Eddie insists on driving and choosing our motel rooms, because that’s who he is. Who he always has been. It doesn’t seem to bother Krista, who sits in the front, smiling and bobbing her head to the music. Portia rolls her eyes and lies down in the back.

I sigh and pick up my phone, scrolling through Instagram to check up on everyone back at home. To check up on him.

Tonight, Portia will stay with Eddie and Krista. She’ll stay with one of the couples each night to save money on motels. Portia doesn’t get a night by herself, because she’s single so she’s alone all the time. That’s how Krista says it. I think it’s payback for Portia making fun of her back at the Helen Keller house.

As soon as Felix and I get into our room, we use quick-drying disinfectant and antibacterial spray on the bedsheets, the towels, and the tops of all the furniture. Even the hangers. There are two.

Not that we’re germophobes, but who wouldn’t do this in a roadside motel? That’s like not using an antibacterial wipe on the pull-down tray when you’re on a plane.

When we’re done, I flop down on one of the beds.

‘I’ll take a shower first,’ Felix says.


I watch him walk into the bathroom and wonder, not for the first time, if our children would have his white-blond hair. We’ve been married for six years, together for almost nine, and I still haven’t decided what our kids would look like. Haven’t gotten pregnant, either.

We met during our senior year of college. Career day. He stood in line for Global Com, Inc. while I stood in line for Williams Kane Ltd. Both were international conglomerates with jobs for every major imaginable. Felix and I ended up next to each other as we waited. It seemed rude not to acknowledge each other, so we exchanged recommendations about where to apply and warnings about who to stay away from. It was the most normal conversation. At that stage in my life, normal was what I needed.

At one point he said, ‘We’re lucky to be born when we were.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘We don’t have to stay at the same company forever. Five years, max. If it’s really terrible, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave after two. Anything less than that …’ Felix shrugged, as if to say you were screwed. Spending less than two years at a job might mean you’re a flake. Or you’re trouble.

‘That’s true,’ I said. ‘We are lucky.’

Neither of us got jobs that day. Instead, we both ended up at the largest conglomerate of all, International United, but in different departments, of course. No corporation would allow married couples to work side by side, not if they want to stay in business.

Felix emerges from the bathroom already dried off, wearing boxers and a Miami Dolphins T-shirt. We’re not big on football but we don’t hate it.

‘Your turn,’ he says.

Not much hot water, if there was ever any. When I come out of the bathroom, Felix is sprawled out on one of the beds. Not the one I was lying on.

‘My legs hurt from being in the car all day,’ he says. ‘You mind if we each take a bed?’

‘That’s fine. They’re small anyway.’

‘Yeah, compared to ours.’

I sit down on my bed and pull up the alarm on my phone. ‘Should we walk in the morning?’ I say.


I set it for seven.

‘How are you feeling?’ Felix says.


‘I mean about seeing Eddie and Portia. Been a while.’

It has. None of us live in the same area. Eddie and Krista live on Dauphin Island, Alabama, just south of Mobile – the other side of the state from our current location. Felix and I live in Woodview, Florida, while Portia went to Tulane in New Orleans and still lives there. None of us live in Atlanta, but we grew up there. It’s where our last trip started.

For the Morgan siblings, separation is the best form of togetherness.

The last time we were all together was a few years ago, when Portia graduated from college. Two days in the same city and we spent about eight hours together, all of it intoxicated. Portia insisted we try the hurricane, the mint julep, and the Pimm’s cup. Dangerous on their own, lethal together.

Grandpa wasn’t there. None of us had seen him in years.

This was back when Eddie was still with Tracy, the girlfriend he used to live with. He hadn’t met Krista yet. I liked Tracy. She was smarter than my brother and told him that a lot. He even seemed to like it.

I remember being at a bar uptown, near the university, on the night before graduation. It was hot as hell and I wore a tank top with a print skirt. Tracy wore a fancy sundress that showed off her arms. They were ridiculously toned.

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