Rykobiography, Part 11: Upstairs, Downstairs

On patrol, April 2014.

On Monday, November 28, 2016, at 9:45 PM, I lost my best friend and lifelong companion, Ryko, to complications from alimentary feline lymphoma. She was 18 and a half years old. In order to keep myself somewhat sane as I learn to process the loss of my girl, I’m going to be writing her story here in serial form. Hope you enjoy. Part eleven: Ryko surveys the grounds.

There were still happy memories to come. A great many, in fact.

The onset of Ryko’s osteoarthritis may have diminished her lifelong love affair with stairs, but it couldn’t extinguish it completely. She continued to enjoy her outdoor perambulations both upstairs and down.

Some mornings I would find her perched at the door to the roof deck, wagging her tail with giant saucer eyes of anticipation. Each unit in our building had a small rooftop allotment, separated by a half-wall. Our landlord had upholstered his portion with artificial grass and a patio table. Ryko would often spend afternoons lazing in the “grass” and enjoying the fresh air in the shade of the furniture. (See the cover photo from Part 10.) Other days, I’d have to tread lightly atop the ceilings of our grumpy neighbors as she ventured out to explore the forbidden world beyond.

On the ground floor, she would take exploratory strolls along the wraparound walkway which formed a fenced-in “U” around the building. She would chomp on blades of grass growing through the pavement or perch on the steps leading down to the garage, tail thumping among the fallen leaves. She was never terribly interested in running away or going on long expeditions; she just enjoyed having a variety of places to lounge.

Back inside the house, her strange behavior evolved. She suddenly developed a severe antipathy to her own reflection. She’d be walking by the mirror in C.J.’s room, or the reflective oven door in the kitchen, and seize up in a fit of hisses. She’d freak out at iPads, marble tabletops, and computer screens. A comedy podcast came to our apartment to document the phenomenon in a treatment I would describe as backhanded to all involved. My conclusion in retrospect is that this was a manifestation of her incipient dementia, which also became much more apparent to me in the coming years.

This all sounds very catastrophic in writing, but it was easier to handle in the day-to-day. I was managing her arthritis as best I could, and there was nothing to be done about the hearing loss. Her hissy freakouts were mildly discomfiting, but otherwise she was the picture of health. I was in the habit of taking her in at the first sign of trouble, so her veterinarians were well informed of the progression. My girl was being carefully watched.

Cuddle time, November 24, 2013.

As for me, the bottom was about to drop out of my life completely.

On May 21, 2013, at 6:59 PM CST, my mother passed away unexpectedly from complications arising from hospital-acquired pneumonia during a routine cancer-related surgery. She was 66 years old.

I lost my bearings for at least a year thereafter. Some parts of my life went dark completely, while others were exposed with an awful clarity. By the end of it all, I was too tired to hang on.

The following November, Ryko and I walked over the threshold of a new beginning together for the last time.

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