The waves keep me up. It’s not fear of a storm or the fear when I think of the boat drifting out to sea or the fear of capsizing. It’s not the seasickness, which I’ve gotten under control by now. It’s not even Marco’s snoring, which starts out softer, more erratic, like a sputtering engine that won’t start, then it gets going, full throttle. It’s the one unattractive feature about this seemingly Adonis like man. No, it’s not Marco’s snoring.
It’s the waves that I listen to now, the way they roar when they hit the side of Captain’s boat like they’re trying to push us out of their way. It’s the sleep sound machine repetition. The build, the release. The build, the release. I envy the waves their purpose. I envy their release.
The problem is, I’m all build since we pushed out of Valdez. It’s just Captain (his real name is Bill, but nobody calls him that), Marco, and me. There is no privacy when you’re on a boat with two other people. I’m so blue my balls look like the ocean. The three of us share a room. Captain and Marco use the “jerk-off parlor,” as Captain has adeptly nicknamed it. There’s only the one bathroom on the boat, so whenever you use it, the other two men will know if you’re showering, shitting, or spanking the monkey. Captain decked out the bathroom with torn out pages from Playboy and Penthouse—a barrage of tits and ass that he rotates out when he returns from his fishing trips and stocks up on supplies in Anchorage. The only one that never moves is the spread of Anna Nicole Smith from Playboy in the nineties.
“Don’t touch Anna. That’s the one rule of the ‘jerk-off parlor.’ She’s my old standby when nothing else will do the trick,” Captain explained when I boarded his fishing boat at the start of June, a week after my graduation. “I don’t normally take on kids your age. At eighteen, you want to tear it up in Anchorage, chase pussy, get your hands on booze. My boat requires hard work. I make my living off this salmon. Do you hear that, Kevin? This is my livelihood. Don’t screw this up,” Captain explained all in one breath, then put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “And don’t fuck with my Anna. She’s the only thing that keeps me sane out here, the only woman who does (she’s outlasted my two marriages).”
My dad knows Captain from the Navy. My dad has dozens of old friends from his Navy days. They’re scattered around the world or else dead. Once a year he and my mom would drive to Reno to visit a couple of his closest buddies and their wives or girlfriends.
Captain’s been up here in Alaska commercial fishing for as long as my dad’s been in Washington working in security. Dad started out as a security guard and worked his way up to middle management. Now, he oversees over one hundred security guards, many of them vets themselves, some from as far back as Vietnam like Dad, others newly booted from Iraq or Afghanistan and looking for a place to land. My dad says security’s a great place for vets to go when they return from deployment. He made a comfortable life for him, my mom, and me, he’s told me more than once. “And all that for not having more than a high school diploma,” he loves to add. This summer, he planned to take Mom to Hawaii for their anniversary (her first time there), but she dropped dead this past winter of a brain aneurism (I don’t say “dropped dead” to be harsh; she was literally standing on a ladder stringing Christmas lights up when she collapsed to the ground).
After Mom passed, things felt too quiet around the house. Plus, I hate Dad most of the time. Admiral Fucking Asshole, he’s always on my case about my art. I picked up drawing as a kid, doodling in the margins of my notebook paper during class, earning my best grades in art. My high school art teacher, Mr. Johnson, was the one who encouraged me to really pursue it. He’s the one who turned me onto charcoals.
“You’re going to college for art? You’re going to study art?” Dad had asked when I came home with an acceptance letter from the Art Institute of Seattle (300 miles away from him) and information about the scholarship I had received that wouldn’t cover everything, but I’d make up the rest in student loans. Dad thought I should join the military like he did out of high school (and his dad before him and his dad before him). Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I couldn’t on the condition that my heart has a hole in it, not a big one, but enough of a defect that makes me “unfit for service.” My dad thinks I’m defective in a lot of ways.