who adopted me. His name is Casey (not a pseudonym--he would not appreciate that). Ten, well eleven years ago now, Casey adopted me.
I wish I could tell you exactly why, but I still don't really know.
Here is what I do know:
Casey was in one of my freshman English classes. He was a mediocre student with low confidence and very low tolerance for what he perceived as the foolish behavior of his peers. I got to know him reasonably well and I worked really hard to encourage him to try, to work hard, to write, to read, to learn.
I know he had a tough year because of some events in his family life. And I know that, somehow, I decided I should give him my cell phone number in case of emergency.
Casey did well in my class and I guess my encouragement meant something special to him.
The next year, he enrolled in a technical school in another part of the city, but he wasn't done with me. I got regular phone calls every couple of months asking for help with English concepts or grammar or essays. His mother called and asked me to come over to her house after school and help "this child" get organized.
So I went. Armed with colored folders, highlighters, and a sharpie we created a simple system to help him keep track of his papers.
This pattern of contact continued throughout Casey's high school career. Sometimes he called me because he just needed a calm, outside adult to talk to about his life. Mostly, he called when he needed help. Occasionally, he called to share something good--those were my favorite conversations.
In the spring of his Senior year, Casey called me and asked me to attend his high school graduation. He said "I only get five tickets, but I saved one for you. I wouldn't be graduating if it hadn't been for you." I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It never even occurred to me to say no.
So I went. And I cried. And he hugged me so hard, I thought my ribs would crack.
He used his HVAC certification to get a job, but he wasn't satisfied. Instead, Casey joined the National Guard and used his funds to enroll in ITT. He continued to call me when he needed advice, or a friendly ear, or sometimes to ask me how I was doing.
He got married. He became a father to his step-daughter, and had a son. He sent me pictures and called while the kids were literally crawling all over him screaming.
Then he called me and asked me to attend his college graduation for his Associate's Degree.
So I went. And I cried. And he hugged me so hard, I think my ribs did crack. Then I went out to dinner with his family. I tried to decline and say dinner should be for his family. He told me I was family...so I shut up and went.
He was 24 by then, so we had our first drink together--something he had been angling for since his 21st birthday. I still think of him as a student, a child even, but we are finally moving towards friendship.
I thought he would settle into his life: first generation college graduate with solid employment and a beautiful family.
I was wrong. He still isn't satisfied. He's enrolled in a BA program and is working as a legal aid in a lawyer's office.
Recently, he told me wants to go to law school. I was speechless (which is a rare occurrence--trust).
Recently, I called him about my air conditioning and he invited himself over to my house to fix it himself. He has plans to replace the whole unit for me this spring.
And through it all, he is the only student over the age of 5 who has called me "Ms. Riina" rather than "Ms. Hirsch." He still calls me Ms. Riina...especially if he wants something.
He owns my teacher heart. He was this one kid who adopted me, and I call him when I need a reminder of why I go to work each day, because he is a remarkable young man.
I can't wait to go to his next graduation. . .Casey is one good thing that just keeps giving.