One Wrong Turn




Dad read a funny story in the newspaper about this mama whale and her baby that were lost. Somebody had named them Delta and Dawn.


“How come?” I asked, but he didn’t know, something about nicknames.


I cut out the picture of them swimming and taped it to my door. In blue crayon I scribbled “Delta” and pointed to the mama and then “Dawn” in red crayon and pointed to the baby. And then I drew a yellow smiley sun up above and some baby ducks in brown at the bottom.


We drove down to the water under the bridge, where a bunch of people were cheering every time they saw a blow spout. A guy was standing on top of his car with a camera and I thought he might fall off. Some people were fishing. A bunch of kids were making boats out of driftwood. I looked for my best friend Sasha but didn’t see her.


Dad said both whales had cuts on them, most likely from being hit by big boats. You could see smaller boats shooting water guns at them like it was a game. You get 50 points if you hit the baby and 100 points if you hit the mama. It’s just water so you know.


I pulled Whaley from my jacket pocket. One of its eyes was scratched off and its tail didn’t swim so good any more when you wound it up in the tub. Mom gave it to me before she left to go take care of Grampa in Florida.


“I’ll be back before you know it,” she said, giving me kisses and the longest hug ever. “You take care of Daddy while I’m gone, make sure he gets to bed on time.”


Dad explained how they made a wrong turn. Instead of swimming past San Francisco and up to Alaska, the whales turned into the Bay and got lost. They went as far as Sacramento and when they couldn’t go any further, now they were turning back. That was after he explained how the mamas swim thousands of miles from Alaska down to Mexico and have their babies in warm water. Then together they swim thousands of miles back home to Alaska.


“A baby has to swim that far right after they’re born?” I asked, not really believing it all.


“Yes. Can you imagine?”


I couldn’t. I still didn’t totally know how to swim and I was 7. Off in the distance, I saw a giant red and back ship coming this way. It looked like it was 10 stories tall. And it was moving faster than a train so you know.


I tugged Dad’s arm, “Is that boat gonna turn around?”


He looked up, seeing it for the first time. “I don’t think so. The whales will sense it and move out of its way.”


“But you said they already have cuts on them.”


“I know,” he said. “But these big boats have no brakes, so the whales will have to move.”


As the big ship passed, people booed. Kids threw rocks in the water. The smaller boats with water guns moved out of the way.


When it was gone, the water was smooth and calm like a swimming pool. Everybody waited in silence. I thought of this kid Evan from school who always yelled, “The suspense is killing me!” from some movie everyone had watched but me.


Just when I decided I was gonna hold my breath, a tiny blow spout shot up. It was the baby! Everybody cheered like you’ve never heard so many cheers before. The mama came up next to her after that. It was gonna be OK.


On the way back, I asked, “When’s Mom coming home?”


“Soon,” Dad said, like a broken record, which was a saying Grampa taught me. “Hopefully next week.”


She would have to get on an airplane and fly all the way back from Florida. I looked out the window, deciding not to hold my breath for this one, and wondered what would happen if she got lost and maybe we would have to spray water guns at her so she would turn around and find her way back home.