Consciousness hovered, tickling her eyelids, and TK knew her alarm was about to buzz. Her eyes twitched, trying to bat the intruder away. She rolled onto her side and curled her head under the sheets toward her legs, a daily attempt to postpone the inevitable. She felt a familiar pain in her knees and shifted the top one back a couple inches to get rid of the bone-on-bone pain that could be grounding but, at that moment, was requiring more awareness than she wanted.
Her legs stayed sideways and she flattened her back again into the mattress and then removed one arm from the bubble of warmth to reach above her head for her cell phone. It began to vibrate as she picked it up. She turned off the alarm and released the phone, leaving her arm arched above her head, hand cupped over the device. Her body felt weighted, and after the bravado she mustered to silence her alarm, she feared she lacked the strength move again.
“Three, two, one, up!” she murmured. Like friends scheming to jump off a wall in tandem, beginning a countdown aware neither of them will move on command, her body did not buy the ploy. And her brain remained heavy, threatening to pull her headfirst through the bed, the floor, her bass-happy neighbor’s apartment. She’d be the brave explorer who discovers what the bottom turtle looks like. Her wager: like turtle pancake.
A boat down on the river sang. She no longer reacted by thinking its hum was her cell phone. There would be seagull chatter filling the morning air come summer, too. But it was still January, and frigid. These facts did not stop two men from sauntering onto the State Pier the other night in diving gear. Police added them to a homeland security list but did not arrest them, because idiocy, though ill advised, is not illegal.
She’d missed the latest art party working late, listening to scanner reports of would-be divers and alleged structure fires. She missed most goings on either working or claiming to be, the soirées where bright young downtowners played their songs, displayed their paintings and strutted around like pioneers for moving a couple stops down I-95 and foregoing health insurance For Their Art. They would be flattened in a day in New York, she always thought, where young artists had degrees from Parson’s or NYU and drank with the critics who mattered. That New London artists promoted on MySpace was enough to mark them amateurs. TK scoffed at the notion that the enthusiasm required to nurture vitality in a tiny, empty city could be a serious choice for a serious artist.
The truth was that she’d gone to great lengths in college to transform herself into the elegant New Yorker that could share tapas with a young Joan Didion or a lucky E.B. White, those who came for the myth and stayed because New York’s hardscrabble truth is still more seductive than most others. She learned to order straight-up espresso and to float like a trapeze artist along the sidewalks.
Then college ended and she slept, and struggled to believe it possible to commit to any one thing at, it seemed, the expense of all others. Still missing Malinowski, she shut both eyes, held her breath and moved worlds away to train – to write – and then return. But month followed month, and she no longer knew what was on the MoMA's exhibition floor. And she awoke in a “Mrs. Doubtfire” haze: Robin Williams, carting packages around a warehouse, says to his indifferent boss, “Did you ever wish you could freeze-frame a moment of your day, look at it, and say, ‘This is not my life?’” And just about then, the damned cell phone alarm begins to buzz.