I'm the assigned CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for a young man in foster care who is currently living at the Ranches for Boys and Girls south of Belen, NM.
He's been in foster care since 2010, and he's going to graduate from the system in November of this year. His childhood leukemia is in remission.
What I'm trying to say is that he's had a hard go of it. And yet he is a bright, mature young man who's had a real bumpy road to become the person that he is.
I was assigned to this case in early 2017. "Martin", let's call him, had only been at the Boys Ranch for a couple months and he was adjusting. He was cautious and closed off. I get it. You don't get shuffled around 13 times in 7 years without a little skepticism when an adult comes to see you.
But over the next couple of months, he blossomed. He blossomed, y'all. For the past three times that I've visited him south of Belen, the sky has decided to rain. Rain in New Mexico is wonder and drama and life. I like to think the rain has been a good omen for my visits.
I've sometimes wondered about how to really assess how important CASAs are for foster kids. We don't house them or clothe them (though in Martin's case, we did send him bedding, deodorant, body wash -- quality of life things when he was in a treatment facility in Colorado). We aren't their teachers, therapists, or doctors. We're people who care. And while we're not the only people who care, that's the whole and the sum of it, and I think our foster kids know it.
Martin's lawyer pulled me aside to thank me for being his CASA, that she saw a big change in him since I came on the case. This lawyer is one of the good ones. She travels everywhere for her clients. Martin's social worker is also one of the good ones, but she too has a case list the length of her forearm. Foster kids somehow know that CASAs are completely theirs and no one else's. I guess it makes a difference.
Deserts are thirsty. Torrents of rain can disappear into the ground only to sprout just days later in thousands of shades of tender greenery. Rain is good here.
Over the months, Martin and I have gotten closer. We're not as close as the staff at the Ranches. He laughs and jokes and teases with them. And he receives the same in kind not with bruises behind his eyes but with a big, wide grin. He belongs there, and they love him.
No, we've gotten closer in a way that has crept up on us either quickly or slowly, I still can't decide which. This Wednesday, Martin told me with great excitement about his baptism in November, only to genuinely falter when apologizing that he hadn't invited me. I reassured him that I wasn't hurt, that I was glad that he had crossed this big milestone. I did tell him that if he didn't invite me to his high school graduation, that would be another story.
I think it caught us both by surprise that we meant what we each had said. We just didn't know until the words formed on our tongues.
Martin and I have less than a year left together as CASA and foster, but I'm sure we'll know each other the rest of our lives.
The sky had cleared by the time I left the Ranches, but for the long drive home, all I could think of was the sound of rain.