He Started It Page 2

It’s a nice enough thing for Krista to say, if a little generic. Given the circumstances, I expect nothing less and nothing more.

Still. If everything falls apart and we all start killing one another, she goes first.

You think I said that for shock value. I didn’t.

No, I’m not a psychopath. That’s always a convenient excuse, though. Someone who has no empathy and has to fake human emotions. Why do they do bad things? Shrug. Who knows? That’s a psychopath for you. Or is it the word sociopath? You know what I’m saying.

This isn’t that kind of story. This is about family. I love my siblings, all of them, I really do. I also hate them. That’s how it goes – love, hate, love, hate, back and forth like a seesaw.

That’s the thing about family. Despite what they say, it’s not a single unit with a single goal. What they never tell us is that, more often than not, every member of the family has their own agenda. I know I do.


State Motto: We dare to defend our rights

We’ve been on this road trip before. Twenty years ago it was Grandpa’s trip for us, the grandkids, and it was because our parents hadn’t been getting along. Lots of yelling, lots of slammed doors, and too many silent meals. Dad slept on the couch but pretended he didn’t, and Mom pretended not to be mad. Not easy for her, given that she was always slamming cabinets, doors, and whatever else got in her way.

Eddie and I were the closest in age and we talked about it a lot, preparing ourselves for an inevitable divorce. We even picked a date: New Year’s Eve. Eddie marked it on his Nine Inch Nails calendar, filling in December 31 with a big X. We bet that by next year our parents would no longer be together.

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.

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