Kat’s Book: How We Got To The Beginning

I graduated from Bernard Baruch College in New York City in Jan 1966. I went to graduate school at the New School for Social Research in NYC for a year after undergraduate school when I realized I didn’t know why I was going to school. I left school and I needed to get a job. My cousin, Bill Orzen , had gotten a job as a caseworker with the NYC Department of Social Services (DSS). I decided to do the same thing. I had no real career plans beyond being gainfully employed at something. I started working at DSS in February 1967.

My romantic life, up to that point consisted of serial, occasional, dating with one semi-serious relationship that lasted about a year and ended about 1 ½ years previously. Geri dumped me and it took me almost half a year to get over what was a massive blow to my young ego. I confess that I lacked a certain maturity when it came to affairs of the heart. All the girls I dated were Jewish. Not necessarily by choice, but I seemed to meet only Jewish girls.

DSS had a lot of young employees. It was the 60’s in NYC. A lot of dating, hooking up, or whatever we called it in those days. A lot of partying. During the first six months I worked there I remember going out several times with Shannon O’Dorney who lived in Greenwich Village and was 2-3 inches taller than me, followed by Florence Amato who lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I vaguely remember dates with some other girls. Nothing serious, all fun, and no chance of anything lasting. I hung out with Jeff Coles, who was also a caseworker with DSS, and lived in an apartment on East 4th street near Avenue A in a neighborhood that was known as the East Village. There were a lot of parties in Jeff’s apartment. I was 26+ at the time.

The DSS center where I worked was located in downtown Brooklyn around Lawrence Street. I worked on the first floor of a two story building . I thought all of the caseworkers worked on the first floor. One day, in the middle of July, 1967, I decided to go up to the second floor to see what was up there. There may have been other people in the vicinity but I only saw one person. A slim girl with big eyes and long dark brown hair that framed a beautiful face. That girl was Kat, but, of course,  I didn’t know it at the time. She was a stranger to me. I walked up to her desk and asked her, in my own inimitable, Brooklyn wise ass style, “What do you people do up here, anyways?”

She got up from behind her desk, came out to the front of her desk next to me, looked at me, and said to me, “What do you mean by that remark? We work just as hard as anyone in this building. You got a lot of nerve. Blah, blah , blah. Blah, blah, blah”. I thought to myself “that is one feisty girl” and walked away. Basically, she chased me away. But for the first time in my life my Brooklyn wise ass style paid off because she did remember me.

I believe Kat started at DSS about a month before I did.  Kat graduated from St. Elizabeth College in Convent Station, New Jersey in June, 1966. At the time St. Elizabeth’s was an all girl school.  Graduation completed 16 years of Catholic school education for Kat. She wanted to join the Peace Corps after graduation but was rejected because she had come down with epilepsy as a senior in high school. Epilepsy caused her to suffer from periodic grand mal seizures. Grand Mal seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

In most cases Kat would get an aura before the seizure. The aura may include feeling a sense of unexplained dread, a strange smell or a feeling of numbness. Once she experienced the aura there was nothing that could be done except to wait for the seizure to occur. When the seizure begins, loss of consciousness occurs, and the muscles suddenly contract and cause the person to fall down. This phase tends to last about 10 to 20 seconds. The muscles go into rhythmic contractions, alternately flexing and relaxing. Convulsions usually last for less than two minutes. Unconsciousness may last for several minutes after the convulsion has ended, sometimes as long as an hour. Loss of bladder control often occurs. A period of disorientation often follows a grand mal seizure. Sleepiness is common after a grand mal seizure. It would often be 1-2 hours before Kat would awake and she usually would have a severe headache that could be treated with aspirin. During periods of her life the seizures were sometimes as often as weekly. After epilepsy was diagnosed Kat had to take anti-seizure drugs to control the electric charges in her brain that caused the seizures.

She would take anti-seizure drugs for the rest of her life. The drugs side effects made school and studying more difficult than it had previously been. She was an outstanding student before taking the drugs and an average student afterwards. It was a constant battle but she would never accept defeat.  Her driver’s license was taken from her and she would not be able to drive for 25 years. In high school Kat was a member of honor societies, well-liked, dated the son of the owner of Belmar, New Jersey’s one funeral home, sometimes went on dates in a hearse, was prom queen and was, generally, lusted after by the boys in her school.  In the blink of an eye she went from someone who had almost an ideal life to someone who had difficult challenges to overcome. She did not give in. The challenges made her both tougher and more compassionate. She was 17 years old when her life changed drastically….17 years old. Whether male or female, how would you have handled it when you were 17 years old?  If you know anyone tougher I would like to meet them.

College was a lot more difficult than high school. Kat told me she would get into arguments with the other college students. Most of them expressed the desire to get married as soon as possible and were looking for a husband. Kat would tell them, “Why bother going to college if that is all you want to accomplish”? That attitude did not help her popularity, but she always stood her ground. She wasn’t afraid of being disliked or unpopular. She found a roommate, Mary Debiak, who shared many of Kat’s attitudes. I am not certain, but I can see them as a clique of two in college. Mary also wanted to join the Peace Corps.

After they graduated Mary and Kat got an apartment together on Ninth Avenue and Fourth Street in Brooklyn, very close to Park Slope. A two bedroom, railroad rooms, apartment with total rent of $66 monthly, or $33 each. After graduation Kat’s mom, also named Kathleen, told her there was nothing for her in the Jersey shore area and she would be better off moving to New York. “Thank you, mom” as I have said to myself many times. By the time I met Kat, Mary had joined the Peace Corps and Kat had the apartment and the $66 monthly rent to herself.

Kat wanted to help people so she became a social worker in Brooklyn. That was a difference between Kat and I: she wanted to help people, first and foremost, and I wanted a job. For our whole life together she always wanted to help people. That was an innate quality she had that never left her.

About three weeks after I first encountered Kat I was standing in front of the building we worked in at lunchtime with my buddy, Jeff Coles. I had not seen Kat since our first encounter. Kat walked up to me, stopped, and asked me, “Do you work for DSS”?

  1. Annette says:

    Again, I believe that it s/be, Differences between Kat and me.

    O.K. this is NOT fair. After reading this far I am gushing, and, I am not a person who gushes.

    Furthermore, I am extremely jealous of your education and your love affair.

    But, I do admire your intellect, and, encourage you to keep writing.

    • Bob Jacobs says:

      Again, Thank you. Kat was incomparable and we loved each other deeply. That is what i wanted to get across.

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