Communicating, Randy’s school report tells us, is not his strongest skill. For the first eight years of his life, in fact, he didn’t speak at all. Nowadays he does, although his words are sometimes inaudible. But he is communicating, albeit in his own way. A few days ago I had to cry while Randy was standing right next to me. I was trying to hold back the tears and be strong for the little guy. That didn’t really work out, but it was okay. Maybe I felt that I owed him something after all that he gave me.

Once Randy began talking, he kept on talking. He shared his tearful moments, told me that he often had to cry when he didn’t know how to react. I feel lonely at times too, he said. I don’t really have friends I can hang out with, and I miss my (half) brothers and sisters. His brother Austin lives with him, but a large part of the family lives elsewhere – mostly in Utah. Randy hardly ever ventures outside Ely, let alone the state of Nevada. One time he went to see his brother Justin in Utah – the sibling he misses most of all, because he made him do things like hiking.

The first time I photographed Randy and asked him to look straight into the lens, I forgot to mention that he was allowed to blink. He stared into the lens until the tears were rolling down his cheeks: not once did he blink. Now I know he needs to be told stay like this, but also blinking allowed! Other things I now know about Randy: he gets quiet in busy crowds, and he likes Dr. Pepper; he gets really upset when he disappoints someone; he loves animals and is caring in his own way; when he grows up he’d like to have three kids and wants to be a cop; he laughs when he’s in pain and is almost always hungry. I also know that Randy makes dance-like moves when the sun goes down (because he’s been feeling mosquitoes all over his body since learning recently that mosquitoes drink blood), is wondering whether his beloved Mountain Dew actually kills sperm (like his friends told him it did) and smokes his mother’s little cigars – a confession he hadn’t dared to make until last night.

Every morning I pick him up. When I get there, I call his name and he comes out. Rarely do I enter the house. Once he’s outside, I usually send him back in to wash his face. He always answers with a neutral okay. Then he returns with a cleaner face and we leave. After a few minutes (or even seconds) he’ll usually say that he’s hungry. But today was different. When I arrived, he called out I’m coming! – an excited, adult sound. He came out, sat down next to me. Seeing his clean face, his clean ‘new clothes’ that he had carefully picked out, I noticed that he smelled nice. Randy then told me that he had fixed himself some breakfast with strawberries and banana – he was looking after himself.

Will you miss me? I asked him. Yeah, I like being with you, he replied. But you’ll be back.