About once a week, or whenever we had the money, I would walk down to a motel from our homeless shelter. The four-way streets covered in construction workers and broken roads dusted my sight as I went past. The workers would wave and I would smile on my way. I went on my tiptoes to press the crosswalk button. My mother lived at the motel, most of the time alone, but sometimes with an accompanying man. All I knew is that I would go to motel room number 1, on the bottom floor and get cash from her. I would then scurry my way to the cross-walk again and take a few hundred steps to the closest gas station. Diapers and occasionally the cheapest box of cereal I could find was what I left with. I brought the pathetic bag of groceries back to my father and my three youngest siblings. We didn’t have a home. It was my life, it was normal, but it didn’t scare me until now.
“The Haven” is what it was called, beckoning people like me, people like my family, to come inside and have a safe place to stay. We were homeless: evicted from our last home in Barnard, Vermont. Then, we sat in White River Junction, Vermont in a 10 by 10 room. Before my mother left for the motel, my father, three siblings, and I shared this room. Two sets of bunk beds pinned against the right wall and a queen-sized bed in the farthest right corner where my parents slept. We’d fall asleep to Delilah on the radio and wake up to static on the television that didn’t work.
That television seemed like a metaphor for my life at that time. Always plugged into a broken outlet and the power button pressed only to make a static sound that rang in your ears like an endless emptiness. It was a black box that was supposed to be filled with a variety of channels and characters that would fall in love and families that would live behind their white-picket fences and forget about the world. But it never turned on, so none of us knew what that was like.
We never had any normalcy. My life was full of ambiguity. Before we lived in Barnard, we lived in Oakland, Tennessee. A ghetto neighborhood where cats fought each other in the alleys and houses were full of garbage. It was a community of meth basements and messed up kids. Sometimes our parents would leave for a few days without even leaving a note, as if they could even find a pen in the cluttered hoarding that was hidden behind our one floor, red-brick house. There was a time they left us and we had run out of food. We started to ration the ends of Wonder Bread and drink rotten milk in plastic containers with the crumbles of cereal left. We were hungry and didn’t have any money to buy food. My older, half brother and sister went into our backyard and caught crickets, one by one, until an empty Coca Cola liter bottle was filled with hopping insects. They cooked them in a pan and folded them in between a piece of crusted Wonder Bread. We ate it, hesitantly, and continued that until our parents came back.
I was eight years old when the Department of Children and Family Services put me and my younger siblings in a car immediately after I got off the school bus at The Haven. My brother, Gavin, and I went to one home while my two younger siblings, Maria and Jacob, went to another. You’d think being pulled into a warm house with good food would be a nice change from what we had in that homeless shelter, but it was the scariest months of my life. Being pulled from the life I felt so adapted to was scarier than living that life itself.
We were allowed to see our parents two to three times a week supervised at this old church that was only a few blocks down from where Maria and Jacob were staying. Gavin and I would drive over an hour twice a week to see them. We were being pulled out of school early and constantly needing to make up missed work. It was exhausting living a life I did not ask for. This routine continued for a few years. Within that time, Maria and Jacob stayed with their foster parents while Gavin and I were moved to a new home in Barre, Vermont. The Benoit’s—they had four kids of their own: two that were their birth children and two they had adopted. Their house was always warm, smelling like clean laundry and home cooked meals. Park Street became our home until they were unable to adopt us. The Benoit’s knew what we personally needed, and even after three years of being in their care, they knew it was not the right fit. Gavin went from foster home to foster home until he was adopted by a single mom in Brattleboro, Vermont. I, on the other hand, ended up being adopted by the Lamberti’s, a five minute drive from my Park Street home.
Life felt calm after the storm that was my childhood, for once. Hurricanes, demolished homes, tsunamis tearing up everything we knew: that is how it felt to live up until this point. I thought it was over and that I could start a fresh life. My birth parent’s rights were terminated and we were no longer allowed to see them. Everything had changed so quickly without my control until I was adopted by the Lamberti’s. It was my time to heal.
There’s this quote by Vincent Van Gough that I always carried with me: “If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is grass in the beginning.” I had to remind myself of my worth and who I was despite everything I had gone through, no matter how weak it made me appear. This value of self-worth, however, was destroyed after I was adopted. Mrs. Lamberti was mentally abusive and had a strange complex about children that she did not birth. She did not like me, accept me, or care about me in the way I needed during that time of my life. I was fragile. I was shielded in places that should have been soft. Most of all, I was broken, from a life without a constant mother figure. She despised my existence and made it very clear she did not like me. I was put through that hateful abuse for three years until Mrs. Lamberti pulled the plug and agreed to un-adopt me just to pan me out to the community like an unwanted street rat.
The Benoit’s were the first people to come around and relay their interest in being my forever family. It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2014 that we were reunited. I was officially adopted the following August. I was home.
I have experienced some losses since then. My birth mother, my oldest birth sister, and one of my best friends from high school all passed away about two years apart from each other. Other than coping with the loss of those I loved so much, I was blessed with the challenge to find my worth and feel comfortable in what it is like to be genuinely loved and cared for. I finally had a safe space to do that.
As a member of the Benoit family now, I have nine siblings at home. My adoptive-parents, Nancy and Ed, have adopted seven children on top of their own two. I have my three birth siblings scattered in Vermont and my half-brother in Mississippi. I have thirteen siblings and two parents that bombard me with the love I needed my entire childhood.
The Benoit’s helped me create a platform for myself that I couldn’t be more grateful for. For the first time in my life, I stayed in the same school system for more than a couple years where I met a few of my life-long best friends that will, without a doubt, watch me get married. They attended my lacrosse games, cross-country meets, they had even taken me to New York City to see one of my favorite poets at a meet and greet, “just because.” When my birth mother passed, they did not stiffen their stance or belittle her existence. They held my hand and waited with me as I healed over the years. Their patience and generosity is something any person can’t live to forget.
I am currently a second-year journalism student at the University of New Hampshire with a minor in justice studies, in hopes to get stories like this out there to the whole world and bring awareness to children in need for something so simple: love. There is a simplicity to it, really, that has taken me years to discover. Love is not something you earn. Love is not something someone should decide if they should give it to you or not. Love is generosity. Love is kindness. Love is being open-minded to the needs of other people and above all, love is genuine. Once that type of love is given to a child, something so pure and reliable, they are able to love themselves. So, if I am worth anything later, anything five, 10 years from now, I am still worthy of love, even if people thought I wasn’t worthy of it in the beginning.
A note from the editor: I am thrilled to announce the first winner of the National Adoption Month Storyteller Contest. Aubrey’s voice is one of many in the world of adoption, foster care, and forever families. Although we stand beside her as a community—a family—I truly believe that it is through sharing our stories that we can feel the embrace of one another in the times when we feel alone. We are stronger, we are wiser, and we are united when we, like Aubrey, share ourselves with the world in storytelling. Thank you for so beautifully sharing of yourself, Aubrey. Congratulations!