Life at Sloane House YMCA

2006-05-14

Kate Who Dwarfed Me Intellectually

If you like to be entertained with a few laughs, you would like to hang out with Kate. Things came out of her mouth that would make you spit your beer out of your mouth. She was funny and you never knew what she would say next. It could be anything. If you like attention, you would like to hang out with Kate as well. She was a magnet for stares coming from the street, or anywhere she went. When we walked along the streets in the city, everyone would turn their heads. She was an intelligent, humorous and foul-mouthed girl from Belgium. She was a fascinating girl and if you think she sounds like the most perfect girl on the planet, you are right. The only thing was she was 1 foot tall and her head was half the size of her body. As she could not stand up, she rode around in a battery-powered wheelchair. Like everybody else in this world, I did not know how to react when I first saw her. But soon we became good friends.

Kate came to Sloane House YMCA with the same exchange program as I did. She came to New York City a few years earlier. In the beginning, ICYE staff placed her under Carla’s care. Carla was one of ICYE’s early exchangees to Sweden. (She became my host when I arrived in New York) Other ICYE exchangees would stay with their host family. Exchangees in New York City like me would stay at Sloane House for an obvious reason: nobody from IYCE’s hosting network in New York City had enough living space to offer for exchangees. Carla lived in a small studio apartment on 25th Street between 9th and 10th and the building had no handicapped facility. So it was not an easy thing for Kate to get around. Carla had to carry her out of her wheelchair whenever Kate needed to be in and out of the building. Kate had to rely on Carla and others to get around the city and since she loved the city very much, she wanted to go out a bit more. But she hated people who patronized her. She hated people who show any sympathy towards her. She believed they pitied her. So there might have been some misundersanding between Carla and Kate after a while. ICYE program staff had to find her a place that better fitted her. Sloane House YMCA was a perfect situation. Kate lived at Sloane House and worked as the Hospitality Center staff. She liked her situation so much so she decided to come back to Sloane House every summer to work at Hospitality Center and enjoyed the city at the same time. Before I met Kate, Carla warned me about what to do and what not to do in regards to Kate. The message was: Kate disliked people in general.

Carla was half right. Kate liked men. She liked to flirt and enjoyed the attentions from men, especially the good looking ones.

One evening, Tii invited her staff to her apartment at Lower Eastside. We took a bus across town from 34th Street to 1st Avenue and walked to Tii’s apartment. It was a long walk but walking in Manhattan was a treat. when we got there, I did not what to expect at Tii’s party. But Tii was one of the kinds. She just knew how to make a new comer feel comfortable. We all had a good time that night. On our way back I found something strange about Kate’s behavior. She was mad as hell, cursing all over the place and she sure had great commend of English curse words. I had never seen anyone could curse in English and Dutch so effortlessly. I soon found out from others that it was Kate who introduced her friend Jeff, another fellow ICYE exchangee from Switzerland to Tii. Jeff quickly fell in love with Tii and they got married soon after. Kate felt Tii betrayed her friendship and stole the love of her life. Any rational person would think differently, but Kate was not always rational when it came to man.

Kate and I usually took a walk together along the 9th avenue and enjoyed a few laughs together at Empire Dinner on 10th Avenue. We would be voluntary commentators on people passing by the dinner. She would flirt with the waiters there and giving hard times to the waitresses. She had this devilish mentality towards women and I felt her hostility came from her realization that no woman in the world was as half smart as she was but she could not enjoy man physically as they could. Somehow you just knew Kate was balancing herself psychologically. Usually at the end of the conversation, she would always say the waiter was gay. I couldn’t tell.

Kate hardly talked about herself and her family. But occasionally, after a few good laughs and a few sip of beer, little by little, she told me her hardship while growing up. Her father was not a loving dad, to say the least, because of Kate’s physical condition. She was regarded more like a burden to the family. So she became more and more independent, mentally and physically. I sensed the psychological wounds never healed. She did not want people to remind her of her physical situation because it painfully reminded her of reality and her unpleasant childhood. She wanted to be treated just like any other person. That was how I treated her and that was the reason we became good friends and it was a privilege of knowing Kate and be close to her.

Like every European, she loved New York City but despised the rest of America. She believed Americans were condescending and ignorant. Right or wrong, I learned to appreciate America because of her. She would tell me there was no place on earth that she would rather stay than in New York City. Because New York City was the most exciting city in the world and the attentions she got were mostly positive ones than negative ones she received from other places. It was a convenient metropolitan city for physically challenged people like her. She could go any places as she pleased. One year she visited New York City again. After a night-out, we went to Port Authority to wait for the bus. She stayed with her friend who lived in Hackensack. I was amazed that a NJ transit bus came to the terminal to pick her up. A whole, empty bus just for her, in the middle of the night! What a great country! What a privilege to live in this country. How could you not love America?

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