The Dream of the Gray Whale

Fed up with his job as an assistant manager at the local Dinostop service station, Sean stared through the window at the big purple dinosaur statue in the yard next to the gas pumps and thought about how his boss was skimming money from the safe every morning and doctoring the paperwork to make it look like the assistant managers were always coming up short on their daily balances. The customers weren’t any better. They tended to be rude, manipulative, and dangerous in that part of town. He had already been robbed twice during graveyard shifts, both times at gunpoint.

The rest of his life was just as bad. His sometime girlfriend Gloria showed no real interest in building a long-term or meaningful relationship, which was just as well since she smoked pot all day and did a terrible job of raising a little boy who disliked Sean, partly because Sean wasn’t his biological father. Sean’s one mediocre semester in community college hadn’t served any useful purpose, and his drinking and drugging buddies drained him. Family didn’t count anymore, either. Most of them hated themselves, which means they hated each other. Maybe worst of all, nothing happened in Sean’s town without someone finding out about it. He was ready to reinvent himself and move in a different direction.

Over the course of his shift that day, instead of placing the cash drops in the safe, Sean stashed them in his backpack. A half an hour before the next manager was scheduled to relieve him, he pocketed what was left in the cash register, threw on his backpack, told the customer across the counter to take anything she wanted — it was all free — and walked out of the store, leaving everything wide open and unattended. He spit on the head of the big purple dinosaur statue as he passed it, hopped in his car, and headed out of town, doubting he would ever be back.

Between the $3,500 he had stolen from the store and the $5,000 he had managed to save over the past few years, he figured he could disappear somewhere into the American landscape and function well enough for a while. He had deleted his Facebook and Twitter accounts months ago and destroyed any hard-copy pictures of himself he could find. He had also paid off his bills, cut his credit cards into pieces and melted them into tiny plastic mounds, buried his mementos in the local landfill, and given most of his clothes to charity organizations to atomize traces of his past that someone might come looking for in the near future.

He drove north until he reached Denver and parked his car in a bad part of town. Leaving the keys in the ignition, the doors open, and the certificate of title in the glove box, he walked to the nearest bus station and bought a ticket to Seattle. This plan made sense to him given that he didn’t know anyone who lived within 100 miles of Washington State. In a few weeks, he was working on a fishing boat out of Puget Sound, going by the name of “Tyler,” getting paid in cash under the table, and exceeding his bosses’ expectations because he knew he would be fighting for survival soon enough if he didn’t. He couldn’t contact anyone back home for his own protection, which hurt, at times, but he was earning respect from the crew and realizing that others depended on him to do his job well.

Over the next year, Tyler managed to acquire a new identity through illegal means, and with this metamorphosis came a different personality he liked more than the one he had spent a lifetime patching together before leaving Colorado. On Puget Sound, he worked an honest day’s work for honest pay, and for the most part, the fishermen didn’t put up with backstabbing, immaturity, or laziness. To the contrary, everyone was expected to exercise discipline and seriousness during working hours. They also maintained reasonably upbeat and open attitudes because life on a fishing boat worked better that way.

Along with all of this, Tyler stopped doing drugs completely and quit drinking himself into oblivion on the weekends although he remained a steady beer drinker. He didn’t feel the need to get wasted so often anymore because he was finding more productive things to do, and in fact, these diversions proved necessary because they kept him from dwelling on his former life in Colorado. Instead of vegetating in his apartment — stoned, drunk, and transfixed by reality TV shows and Ancient Aliens — he began spending time strolling through the different communities in the Seattle area and getting to know people. Now and again, he would camp or ski in the Cascade Mountains, and he even saw Soundgarden at the Gorge Ampitheatre.

One day when the crew was fishing off the coast of Vancouver Island, a gray whale breached the water within fifty feet of the boat. Tyler had never been so close to such a massive, powerful creature, and he watched in awe as it performed an impossibly delicate pirouette and then crashed back into the deep, dark waters like a prehistoric memory. That night, he dreamed of the gray whale, and when he awoke the next morning, he decided that it was time to start looking for a home to buy. Maybe he could actually own a piece of property. Maybe he’d finally meet a decent woman along the way, too, someone who would be able to accept him for both who he was and who he used to be, but things were still uncertain. He could only manage events one step at a time. He knew he would be in hiding for the rest of his life.