Los Angeles was the place to be. On Thanksgiving Ryo called home to frozen New Jersey to report that he was sitting by an open window and it was 79 degrees outside. Later, when circumstances forced a move back east, he thought longingly of that climate as he shoveled snow.
His best friends in L.A. were his cousins, Sharleen and Jaimee. At that time, Ryo knew only that he was shy and awkward. He had no inkling yet of Asperger’s. Nor did the cousins. Sharleen wrote later, “Ryo was a loving, sensitive, caring person. His reality was a little different from the norm but that is what made him unique.”
With that observation, His reality was a little different from the norm, she captured the essence of Asperger’s although she had probably never heard of it.
As for sensitive and caring, she told this anecdote:
Ryo and I shared many moments and I loved him a lot. He was kind and sensitive. One night he and I heard these cries through the apartment vents and went down to the basement to see what the heck was going on. We found a litter of kittens (I believe 3) and he said, “Shar, we need to take them upstairs.” (Me, I’m thinking, ah man, fleas, disease, what towels can I sacrifice to these baby kittens and how long will I have to keep them until we find them a home?) Anyway, I finally caved in and to see him so gentle and caring was worth it all. He fed them, cuddled them, and then took them to the pound.
Ryo always loved animals. He had grown up with dogs and sometimes cats and for a while had pet chameleons. He found animals uncomplicated, non-exasperating, and far easier to get along with than most humans. Animals he could understand. They didn’t say one thing and mean another, and had no hidden agendas. They were, in fact, good people.
In Los Angeles he studied Geographical Information Systems at Santa Monica College and took an apartment with a relative by marriage. It seemed ideal, but turned out not to be. He and the relative did not get along. The situation became so fraught that Ryo thought of moving out and living in his car. His mother, who had left New Jersey and lived in the Catskills, suggested he come back east and stay with her while he studied. That had a certain rent-free appeal, and so in mid-January he crossed the continent again.
For that spring he worked at a temporary office job, then enrolled in Ulster County Community College to finish his GIS studies. With no other degree than a bachelor’s in American history, he still considered himself unprepared. It didn’t feel like a solid basis, and so he entered the State University of New York at New Paltz and spent another two years earning a second degree, this time in geography.
The hard studies paid off. He landed the first job he applied for, as a cartographer with the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management.
He was on his way. He regretted the wasted years of indecision, but with this job, the first one that really meant something to him, his life had finally come together. He enjoyed the work. He made friends, or so he thought. The high point was a Fourth of July weekend spent at a coworker’s home, that included a canoe trip on the Delaware River. He looked forward to many more such events, now that he finally had a life. He was in his early forties. He might even have a real life from now on.
But there were signs that all was not well. For a long time he resisted those signs. After all, he was young(ish) still. He couldn’t be sick and didn’t want to be.
Nevertheless, he was. He had cancer.