The last story of this season's Radio Rookies series comes from Raymond Henderson. At age 15, Raymond is struggling to make a very grown-up decision: he was raised primarily by his father, but last year he was placed in the foster care system. Raymond's foster mother is no stranger—she's been helping to take care of him for most of his life. And now she’s offering to adopt him. But for Raymond, and many foster kids like him, the idea of adoption can feel more like a burden than a blessing.
NARRATION: I want to tell you about this lady.
OPHELIA: Hi Raymond.
NARRATION: Her name's Ophelia, but when I met her I was too little to say it. Then I called her Ophie, now I call her Oph.
RAYMOND: So now I'm living with you right?
OPHELIA: Yes, because I always wanted you guys to be with me.
[sounds of moving into new apartment]
NARRATION: Oph was the home attendant that took care of my mom when she started dying of brain cancer. Before my mom died, Oph promised her that she would always take care of my sister and me. And now, 13 years later we're moving in with her. She's our foster mom.
OPHELIA: It's a relief moving into a new house.
RAYMOND: Oh I feel very, very relieved 'cause I get my own room finally.
MONICA: Oph, we need to stay in this house.
OPHELIA: Everybody want pray, and give god thanks.
NARRATION: See what God does?
RAYMOND: Ok, I'm the man of the house.
NARRATION: I tuck everybody in—
RAYMOND: Everybody gotta go to bed!
NARRATION: But there's nobody to tuck me in.
RAYMOND: Come on, come on. Gotta go to bed, go to bed.
MONICA: Good night.
NARRATION: Cause I'm the man of the house, I tuck myself in.
RAYMOND: Ahhhh, I haven't sat on my bed yet, it's so comfortable.
NARRATION: When I get time to just chill, I mostly think. I'm 15 years old now and I have to grow up. But people are always in my ear telling me different ways to become a man. Who am I supposed to listen to? Oph's been like a best friend to me my whole life. And now she wants to adopt us. And I'm thankful for that—but that means she'll be my family. So then—what happens to my old family? They may have some flaws but they're still mine.
CASSIE: It's Cassie.
NARRATION: Gosh, here she is again, my caseworker, Cassie. She comes over every month to check up on Monica and me.
CASSIE: You ready?
NARRATION: I call it: "The meeting"—da na na na.
CASSIE: Have you guys been getting along since she came here?
NARRATION: Monica's always telling Cassie that she wants to go back to my dad.
RAYMOND: Are you a daddy's little girl?
NARRATION: She was always daddy's little girl.
RAYMOND: Stop saying that.
NARRATION: And me, I was just little.
RAYMOND: That means yes everybody.
NARRATION: Then I was really scrawny—just all bone.
RAYMOND: So did dad abuse me?
MONICA: I have no idea, did he?
RAYMOND: I'm asking you this question. I know my answer, you know my answer, what's your answer?
MONICA: Well, yeah, he did hit you, but it was for purposes.
NARRATION: When Oph was over, she would stick up for me. Sometimes she'd sit next to me on timeout for hours. But when she wasn't around, my dad was meaner—and Monica knows it.
RAYMOND: She's seen what he did to me, she's got pulled by her hair more than once, she's got hit with hangers. I've got hit with hangers, tools, fists, plates, spoons, forks.
NARRATION: He used to call me retarded and say I would never grow. One day he kicked me and I got tired of it, so I turned around and said, "You didn't have to do that." Then—bam. He grabbed me by the neck and was slamming me into stuff. The next day I happened to have a doctor's appointment. And when the doctor saw the bruises on my neck and arm—I told him the truth. According to Monica I snitched.
NARRATION: She acts like I ruined our lives.
RAYMOND: Why did you want to go back to dad?
MONICA: Why do you want to know? Is it your business?
CASSIE: He's curious.
RAYMOND: Technically it is Monica.
CASSIE: He worries about you Monica.
NARRATION: Sometimes it's good to have Cassie around. At least she's on my side.
CASSIE: Bye, have fun.
NARRATION: But she always brings up things that are hard to talk about.
NARRATION: So I'm glad when she leaves.
[running up stairs]
RAYMOND: I'm running up the stairs, I'm bored, I'm hyper, I'm hungry.
RAYMOND: I just went in. Da na na na, da na na, boom!
NARRATION: Sometimes, I secretly wish I could go back to my dad. I know it sounds crazy but he did raise me. You can't just drop somebody like that. He's the one who taught me how to ride a bike. Now, there's an order of protection. That means every time I see him it has to be supervised by a case worker.
DAD: Bing! Ok, we're back at W-T-I-T-O radio station. Yo, I sound pretty cool on this thing, seriously.
NARRATION: My dad's not tall but he's strong.
DAD: I should be on the radio!
NARRATION: He wears chains around his neck and rings on his fingers.
DAD: Raymond. Have you thought about anything to say?
DAD: I didn't think so.
NARRATION: I know my dad loves me but sometimes he's like Bizarro—Superman's opposite—when he thinks he's doing good, he's actually doing bad.
RAYMOND: What are some of the things that you taught me?
DAD: I taught you a lot of things, basic morals, good scruples, uh, treat people the way you want to be treated and always remember to try to do the right thing.
RAYMOND: Ok. Um, you always say to stick up to a bully but you were bullying me, so how was I supposed to stick up to you?
DAD: Umm, try and be honest, be direct, let me know what I'm doing wrong, just like I told you, the same way. So it might seem like I was bullying you but you in turn could have did the same thing to me. And told me, "Hey dad you're doing this wrong," or "I don't agree with this." That's communication, it has to be two ways.
RAYMOND: Ok, um...was there any reason to abuse me?
DAD: Uh, no. There was no reason at all.
RAYMOND: Ok, I think we're done.
DAD: Alright. Anything you want to ask me off the record?
DAD: Don't you have to say it's Raymond, the date and time?
RAYMOND: No. I'll just shut it off cause I'm done.
DAD: That's it?
RAYMOND: Mother dear. Oph.
NARRATION: Living with Ophelia is good.
RAYMOND: There's no hot water.
NARRATION: Because at least I don't get hit. But it's hard because I feel like I can't do anything right with her.
[shower fades out]
NARRATION: Just like with my dad.
OPHELIA: Raymond, Raymond.
MONICA: She don't know nothing.
RAYMOND: You don't get it! That's why I said you're in the old generation.
OPHELIA: I'm in the old generation and I'm glad I'm in the old generation, Raymond.
NARRATION: And I'm a teenager! She only sees her way, and no other way. Oph even tells me it's wrong to high five my friends.
OPHELIA: High fiving.
RAYMOND: Oph! Nowadays that's what you do!
OPHELIA: I'm trying to enlighten you guys.
MONICA: Ok, look, look, look, look.
NARRATION: She says, "I've never raised a 15-year-old boy, so I ask God everyday to help me." My dad would never ask God for advice.
OPHELIA: I know what's good!
RAYMOND: Oph but this is like a whole new life!
OPHELIA: Because I'm teaching you.
RAYMOND: Exactly! And you can't...
OPHELIA: There you weren't being taught, I'm teaching you now the right way.
RAYMOND: You don't know how it is to have just a whole new life!
RAYMOND: And you see other people have a certain life that you wish you could have.
OPHELIA: Cause Raymond, you want everything!
RAYMOND: I'm not saying that!
OPHELIA: Everything Raymond.
MONICA: Good night, Oph.
OPHELIA: Good night Monica.
RAYMOND: I'm saying.
MONICA: Just go to sleep, please. I do not want to hear you guys arguing when I'm trying to go to sleep.
OPHELIA: We're not arguing.
RAYMOND: We're conversating.
NARRATION: One good thing about foster care is if I have problems with Oph, I can call the agency and my case worker, Cassie, will be there to look out for me. Like when I didn't want to go to church on Fridays, the agency stepped in and said I didn't have to.
NARRATION: When I have other problems—like with girls—
RAYMOND: Vroom, vroom.
NARRATION: I call my Uncle. He'll pick me up in his Jeep and we'll drive down to the beach. Lately I've been talking to him a lot about Oph.
UNCLE: It's not like she's a bad person but it's not the way I want you to grow up either.
NARRATION: Uncle says he could raise me up better than anybody else. And sometimes I wish he would...he's more fun than Oph.
UNCLE: She's imposing too much of her own will on you. Now look at the way things are with us, and how much different they are. And learn to appreciate that. I won't pay a bill to have a day with you. You know, now some people think of that as foolishness, but to me, you know what I don't care.
RAYMOND: That's what I keep trying to tell Oph but she doesn't get that.
NARRATION: The thing is my Uncle's life isn't always stable. And he has money problems.
[car fades out]
NARRATION: So I can fantasize all I want, but in reality he can't take me.
OPHELIA: Turn this light off Raymond.
NARRATION: And neither can my dad.
OPHELIA: Sleep on it Raymond.
NARRATION: Oph is the only one.
OPHELIA: It's not like I just jump into the picture. This month alone make 13 years since I promised your mother that I'll make sure everything is ok with you and Monica.
NARRATION: I used to beg Oph to adopt me—but now that she can, it seems too big and too permanent.
RAYMOND: Hmmm, I don't know that's very huge. Don't you think?
NARRATION: I still want to believe that my Uncle or my dad will try to get me. And if I get adopted, they can't do that anymore.
RAYMOND: I have to become a man faster than usual.
OPHELIA: You're gonna become a man.
RAYMOND: Yes, I have to take manly steps.
OPHELIA: Manly steps.
NARRATION: To tell you the truth, I'm just not sure I want anyone to be my parent forever.
RAYMOND: Something's telling me to say yes and something's telling me to say no.
OPHELIA: Well, what you could do, you could pray about it.
RAYMOND: No, no.
OPHELIA: Pray about it.
RAYMOND: I'll be using my mind.
OPHELIA: Mmm, mmm, pray about it.
NARRATION: For WNYC,
NARRATION: I'm Rookie Reporter Raymond Henderson.
OPHELIA: Adios amigo.