I ’d just stepped onto Retorno’s basketball court when the skies opened. Rain came pouring down, sending me running for cover. I called the staff of both the women’s and girls’ groups, and they both decided to cancel basketball that week.

I trudged over to the ranch, certain my weekly trail ride had also been canceled. Instead, Yoram, the ranch manager, told me to wait ten minutes and see what happened.

Nine and a half minutes later, the rain stopped, the sun burst out from behind what had seemed like an interminable cloud, and stable hands began grooming the horses.

“Stable hands” in Retorno refer to the crew of residents who work in the stables any given week. It’s a coveted job, not only because the time spent doing physical activity is invigorating, and not only because being around horses is calming, but also because working in the stables greatly increases your chances of being told, on the spur of the moment, “Go grab a helmet, you’re coming with us for a ride.”

I was early for my ride, so while Rabbi Eckstein took another group out on a trail ride, I found some withered apples to feed the horses.

Orna, the women’s counselor, found me there. “I guess the women could’ve played basketball after all,” she said, pointing to the sky.

“Nah,” I replied, “the court’s all wet, full of puddles.”

Orna nodded. “You know Ayala left, right?”

I felt like she’d punched me in the stomach.

I’d first met Ayala during a horseback-riding workshop I’d helped run. She and the other girls were there to have a good time; the organizers were hoping the experience would influence these teenagers — officially “youth at risk” — to enter Retorno’s youth division or seek help elsewhere.

Ayala had, in fact, entered Retorno, but she never showed up on the basketball court with the other girls, so our relationship remained warm, but casual. When Ayala wanted to leave treatment prematurely, I had been part of a concerted effort to convince her to stay. She did stay, and I wrote about the experience in an essay for Family First. After that, Ayala started to show up on the basketball court, and we’d forged a deeper connection.

And then one day, I was told Ayala left Retorno for good. I was very worried about her. She had so much fear inside her, so much pain, and so few tools to navigate those feelings.

*

On a Shabbos walk with my husband, I heard my name being called. A young woman with long, black hair approached me. She pushed her bangs out of her face, and my jaw dropped. It was Ayala. She’d grown taller and thinner, but I’d recognize her anywhere.

Ayala threw her arms around me in a huge hug. “It’s so amazing to see you! I miss Retorno so much, I miss basketball with you. Oh, I miss the girls! How’s Chavi? You have to say hello to Donna for me!”

I was nearly bowled over by her enthusiasm. “You know,” I said, “you could probably come back if you wanted.”

She stepped back. “No. Oh, no, no, I can’t go back. I have too much to do.”

I looked into her eyes, trying to convey my care for her.

She turned away and said goodbye.

My husband looked at me. I just sighed. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)