Rykobiography, Part 6: The Mother-In-Law

Ryko in our Hartford, CT apartment, December 2003.

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 six: Ryko comes home to Boston.

My heart thumped in my throat as I caged up Ryko and made a mad dash for the door. I hauled down the back stairs and threw the U-Haul into gear. The accumulated weight of more bad choices shifted in the truckbed as I floored it out of the parking lot.

“I really must learn to stop leaving like this,” I thought.

The U-Haul was packed with the remnants of what I would politely describe as a rebound relationship that went on far too long. Less than a year after leaving Ash, I shacked up with someone else in a painfully clichéd attempt to dull the pain of our separation. And although I knew that running from one’s pain usually ends up inflicting even more, I hadn’t bargained on it being quite this much.

It happened one night while he was out working the closing shift at his retail job. Something in me just snapped. I took everything it was possible to take, right down to the cleaning supplies: anything I had paid for with my own money, regardless of its official domestic status. I wasn’t interested in stealing from him, only reclaiming what was mine, starting with my life itself and working down to the subatomic level.

It was the fall of 2004, not long before my 28th birthday.

Ash, to his great credit, took Ryko in one last time while I got my life squared away. Back in Boston, a co-worker and her husband generously put me (and my guitar) up in their spare room. After a month of searching, I turned up a basement apartment in Harvard Square’s lower-key neighbor, Porter Square. The rent was impossible to beat — $695 a month — and it was mere steps to Porter and all of its amenities. As they say, it was too good to be true.

The Internet tells me that this type of residence is commonly known as a “mother-in-law apartment” or a “secondary suite”: essentially one room in the rear basement of a single-family home. The room had its own entrance and was otherwise sealed off from the rest of the house. I was allowed only a mini-fridge and microwave for kitchen facilities. The dorm-sized freezer was too small for anything beyond TV dinners, so I stored my cold food in a snowdrift outside my door. The bathroom sink doubled as my dishwashing post.

The landlord’s teenaged son clearly did not approve of an interloper living in his basement, so he would occasionally fuck with me by switching off all the fuses. I learned to keep a healthy supply of candles on hand for such occasions. I also experienced interruptions with my cable Internet and called in a service technician, only to discover that someone from within the house had illegally placed a splitter on my coax line in the garage and was throttling my bandwidth.

I knew I had the option of reporting my landlord to the city, but I desperately needed that apartment and I couldn’t handle any more drama. I think some part of me also privately liked the ludicrousness of the situation, as it seemed befitting of my chaotic adult life thus far. But more importantly, I had to protect Ryko.

The rental agreement had specified “no pets”, but based on the prevailing conditions, I knew my landlord wouldn’t dare take action against me. He would sometimes show up at my door unannounced to ask about this or that and, seeing Ryko at the door, would tersely remind me of the conditions of our lease. In response, I offered up a complete fiction about temporarily looking after her for a friend who never seemed to arrive. During one of these encounters, I even asked a visiting friend (to his great chagrin) to play-act as her missing owner. The landlord and I were locked in an uncomfortable stalemate.

My lease was clearly not up for renewal in the autumn of 2005, but by then I had saved enough for us to upgrade to a beautiful rental house in Somerville’s Spring Hill neighborhood. In some ways, it was a similar arrangement to Jamaica Plain: the landlady and her husband lived upstairs, while I had the ground floor and the run of the unfinished basement, including a washer-dryer and tons of shelf space for storage. After nearly four years, Ryko resumed her stairwell expeditions with great enthusiasm. But now, the space was ours to command. She enjoyed strolling through my landlord’s modest rear garden and spent long afternoons on neighborhood watch listening to the distorted hymns leaking from the Guatemalan church across the street. Domestic harmony was ours once again.

And then, the Man burned…

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