There’s a huge bull sea lion on the farthest platform, his chin up in the air, barking to the world at large. I’m standing on the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf watching him, and thinking how much it reminds me of a University lecture. The professor stands at the front of the lecture hall barking out information to students who are talking to one another, doing something else, or maybe sleeping. Probably sleeping.
Here at the Wharf, that also holds true. There’s a multitude of platforms, all covered with dozing, sunbathing sea lions. They’ve even managed to pile onto one another in huge stacks of Zalophus califorianus: the Californian Sea Lion. I guess I paid more attention to the barking zoology lectures than I thought.
This is the first time I’ve been to Fisherman’s Wharf, the first time I’ve been to the States, actually. I’m visiting an uncle who moved away so long ago I can only barely remember him living at home. When I got off the plane, I was worried that I wouldn’t recognize him, but it wasn’t a problem; he looks like my brother.
My uncle moved away and got married when I was still in elementary school. Or he moved away to get married; I’m not really sure which came first, and I’ve never asked. When he got divorced, he stayed in the States. The part of me that is proudly Canadian has always wondered why, but I’ve never asked that either. Maybe it was for the weather.
My gaze drifts up towards the impossibly blue sky, searching for a spot of white. Are there any clouds here at all? I give up the quest and look over at my uncle, and my aunt. If the weather was the reason he stayed, he owes it a debt of gratitude. He’s married again, and she’s wonderful. They look like they fit together, like they’re where they belong. I’m a bit jealous of that.
I turn to watch the sea lions again, and focus on a fight that’s broken out on one of the nearest platforms. It isn’t a long one, and a sea lion is pushed off into the water. If I stick with my previous analogy, that sea lion is me. Only, instead of a shove, I was given a letter from the Office of the Dean of Science.
I’d never doubted I would go to University. I was a good student, with marks higher than required to apply. I never thought of taking an Arts degree either, since I was supposed to do something useful. Something useful, something I was interested in, and something I had an aptitude for, but that turned out to be a triad I couldn’t pull off. I didn’t have either the memory for a Biological Sciences degree, or the desire to study enough to overcome that failing. So, the letter, and the wonderful feeling of failure followed by the hopelessness of being pushed off into the water.
It came right before I had to leave. I’d been looking forward to the trip for months, and there was nothing to do after submitting the appeal but wait. So I’d hopped on the plane, not realising just how much being pulled out of the context of your existence could affect you.
No one here really knows me. No one here has expectations or knew about the failed plans I’d made for my future. Sure, I was staying with family, but the kind of family that’s also strangers. With nothing of my life around, I’m trying to remember why I was taking all those classes I hated, or why I kept struggling to achieve something I no longer even wanted. I’m swimming in the water and thinking maybe my old position on the platform wasn’t as comfortable as I thought.
The sea lion is swimming, too. She seems to be looking for a way back on, but all the others have shifted, and there’s no more room. Will it be the same for me, when I go back? I won’t be out on my ass, I know that. But I won’t be the one who did well at school anymore, who got the grades and succeeded. I won’t be the one who earned the degree the way I was supposed to. It’s more than my own expectations I’ve left behind, after all.
She’s pretty determined, though, that sea lion. There’s a little bit of space at one of the edges, and she’s pulling herself out of the water and onto it. As she tries to keep herself from falling off, she bumps one of the others and gets snapped at. Not encouraging, but she’s only forced back a little and not enough to fall again. As she keeps searching for a spot, one of the other sea lions gives a little cry, and raises a welcoming flipper. The sea lion that is me accepts the invitation, shuffles forward, and rests against the other’s side. They all shift briefly as the flipper is lowered, and then the platform is completely still.
A perfect fit.
I smile. The sea lion looks perfectly content there. Maybe I don’t have to worry as much as I have been. After all, I can swim in the water for a while, search for a new spot. One of these days I’ll find my way back onto the platform. If I don’t fit right away, I’ll just keep trying. Eventually, I’ll find my place again, my perfect fit.
“Are you ready to leave?” my uncle asks, and I nod. Casting one last look back at the platforms and content occupants, I follow my aunt and uncle. They’re talking about a shop nearby that sells candy apples, something else I’ve never tried. Looking ahead, I listen to the sound of the barking bull as it fades behind us.
BD Wilson is a writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada whose work has appeared in Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, Shine! Online Journal, and Long Story Short. A firm believer in a virtual existence, BD’s home on the Web is located at http://www.bdwilson.ca.