Taking a shower was a Zen experience for twenty-eight-year-old social worker Kera Jacobsen, especially after a tense day, which Saturdays were not supposed to be. Being careful not to fall since her bathtub's curved, porcelain-coated bottom could be treacherously slippery, she stepped in, yanking the shower curtain closed in the process. She had already adjusted the water temperature to the near-scalding heat she preferred. After wetting her body thoroughly, she began to scrub herself with the help of a fragrant gel and a long-handled shower brush, washing away the stresses of the day and calming her general anxieties. She'd been experiencing more than her share of both lately.
Kera had been in New York City for just under eight months. Coming to the Big Apple had been a rather sudden decision. She'd grown up in Los Angeles, obtained her master's degree at UCLA, and had held a position in social work at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. Her specialty was working with children with complex medical needs and their families. It was demanding work and often emotionally draining, although ultimately fulfilling. There was no doubt that her efforts made a big difference and were an important complement to the work of the doctors and nurses who were understandably focused on curing and alleviating immediate symptoms of the disease process rather than the bigger picture of how families and individuals coped. In this capacity she'd been content and professionally satisfied. What ended up rocking her world was the sudden and unexpected end the previous September of a long-term relationship with a medical student named Robert Barlow. Over the course of the two and a half years they had dated, they frequently spent the night at the other's dwelling. With similar interests, including a shared liberal political orientation, they were never at a loss for conversation, which occasionally included discussions of future plans with the standing assumption it would be together. His intention was to take a surgical residency at one of the well-known academic medical centers, preferably there in LA or, if not, possibly San Francisco. As a particularly dedicated student, he was hopeful he'd have his choice. Kera had assumed that she would follow if he was to head up to San Fran. With her sterling credentials she was confident she could get a job at any academic medical center.
But it wasn't to be, and Kera still had no idea of exactly what had happened, although she had heard through the UCLA Medical Center grapevine that Robert had been seen frequently in the company of one of the surgical department's first-year female residents. Nonetheless, and with zero warning whatsoever, Robert had informed her one hot, smoggy LA afternoon that their relationship was over.
Having suffered a big blow to her self-esteem, she felt the urgent need to fly the coop. Mutual friends kept asking what had happened between her and Robert, pretending to be sympathetic but actually loving the drama and gossip. Besides, there were just too many chances of inadvertently running into Robert in and around the medical center. On top of all that, Kera had always had a soft spot for New York City, coupled with being tired of the monotony of Los Angeles weather, its uptick of annual forest fires, and the ever-present threat of San Andreas Fault activity. A few weeks after Robert's shocking news, she decided to turn an emotional whammy into something positive and made the cross-country move.
After rinsing the soap off her body, she squeezed a dollop of shampoo into the palm of her hand and began to wash her hair. This was the part of the shower that she liked the best, and she used considerable force as she worked up copious suds to massage her scalp, trying to blank her mind.
At first the move to New York had been positive in all respects except for the continued disappointment voiced by her mother and sister, who claimed they missed her terribly. Kera had managed to get a commitment for a social work job at the NYU Langone Medical Center—specifically with the Hassenfeld Children's Hospital—before leaving LA, so employment hadn't been an issue. As for an apartment, she lucked out by responding to an ad on one of the Langone Medical Center's bulletin boards that had been posted by a nurse who had opted to join the Peace Corps. The listing was for the sublet of a furnished, rent-controlled one-bedroom on 23rd Street just off Second Avenue. More important, from the standpoint of her self-image, she also found herself involved in a whirlwind affair with an attractive, highly accomplished, and older and more mature man than Robert, whom she met over the December holidays.