Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reuniting with Sister After Severe Child Abuse and Over 45 Years Apart

I was just found electronically by my sister whom I haven't seen since I was eight months old and she was thee years old. We've yet to talk or meet face-to-face, as she works out her phone issues; but, we've messaged each other. I've learned that she was traumatized at three as she was forced by our biological mother to watch as I was abused for my first eight months of life, culminating with my skull being fractured. Valerie has wondered about her little brother since that fateful day in October 1969. I, of course, was too young to remember that she existed. That said, our reunion is more for her than it is for me, as I've known that I was alright -- though I'd absolutely love to meet her. She still lives in my birthplace of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

I was born as Eric Gooden on February 15th, 1969. Valerie said that I was born with water on the brain (hydrocephalus). She also told me that our mother had many issues – I'm guessing some level of mental illness -- and that both parents are deceased. I guess that fracturing my skull may have been our mother's demented way of getting the water off of my brain. Val says that our father really loved me; but, our mother gladly gave me up for adoption to the Dept. of Youth and Family Services.

I spent almost five years in Foster care – also in Atlantic City. My foster mother, Esther V. L. Racks (a retired nurse), was elderly and my adoption had to be expedited. (I learned in 1994 that she died in 1978 or 1979.) In August 1974 Rudy (1932-2000) and Joanne (1937-present) Sheptock picked me up from Atlantic City and got a girl named Becky from Morristown, NJ on the same day. We were numbers nine and 10 of what would become a total of 37 children who would be raised by this couple – one having died in 2007.

In August 1975 the family moved from Chester to Peapack, NJ. That month we both got adopted, at which time I became Eric Jonathan Sheptock and she became Mary Elizabeth Sheptock. My adoptive mother (the one I call “Mom”) told me when I was six years old that I had to decide if I wanted to be adopted and that, if so, I had to choose a name from the Bible. You can see what I chose in both cases. The rule for all 10 sisters was that their first name had to be “Mary”.

Throughout the late 70's and early 80's my parents were guest speakers at different churches, pro-life meetings, Salvation Army gatherings and the like due to the size of our family. We were filmed, photographed and interviewed by many media outlets. My parents would often put my siblings and me on-stage at their speaking engagements and have us sing “Jesus Loves Me”, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” or even a song written by my brothers Rudy and Robert. In 1980 a book about our family was published by Logos Publications and entitled “Our Growing Family”. It lived up to its name, as my parents only had 21 kids when it was written and got 16 more later on.

Beginning on December 26th, 1984 and going through March, 1985 we moved from Peapack, NJ to Interlachen, FL. I graduated from Hollister Christian Academy in Hollister, FL in June 1987, went to Georgia for a few months and returned to Florida where I would eventually get a job at Shands Hospital in Gainesville at UF. When I left that job in February 1994 I returned to Atlantic City to see if I could find my birth parents. Having a relatively good memory, I thought that my name at birth was “Eric Goodwin”. I would learn from “Mom” as I was heading back to Florida that it was “Eric Gooden”. Needless to say, my search was unsuccessful.

However, I disclosed my story to several people while I was there in A.C. And they laid into me pretty hard by telling me that it was foolish for me to seek out my birth parents. They said my biological parents might just finish me off this time. I admittedly was holding back tears as they spoke. I've yet to learn when either biological parent died; but, it looks as though these people might have been right concerning my mother – not so much when it comes to my father.

I made no more attempts to find my birth parents, even though I moved to Washington, DC in the summer of 2005, began using computers in November 2006 (as part of my homeless advocacy) and heard years ago that I could review adoption records at the Library of Congress. I've had fleeting thoughts from time to time about someone from the family of my birth finding me on-line. As my on-line presence continued to grow, those fleeting thoughts became more frequent, though I kept quiet about them. As it turns out, that's what led to this reunion-in-the-making.

On February 8th, 2015 I was guiding a group of university students through DC to speak to the homeless and give out care packages when I came by the McPherson Subway Station and saw a woman who I assumed wasn't homeless moving among the homeless people with a camera in her hand. I asked who she was and what she was doing there. Long story short, she was doing a documentary about what it's like to be in a relationship while homeless and I ended up helping her and a lady friend (both French natives of mixed origin) to navigate DC's homeless community.

The documentary website is now up. A 22-year old woman named Turquoise posted a comment on the site, explaining that she might be my niece and that her mother had an emotional need to know what happened to the little brother she hadn't seen in over 45 years. Turquoise and her mother both live in A.C. still and enough of the facts matched for me to be convinced that we are indeed from the same biological family. I found my niece on Facebook and posted my cell phone number. Days later, I got a text from her mother Valerie. With text being all she currently has the capacity for, I've learned several of the facts stated herein from my older sister.

When I met Lalita at the subway station, I never imagined it would lead to this!!! That connection led to me meeting Ariane on March 6th, 2015. (I love them and there's not a damn thing they can do about it!!!) Our project included the creation of the website. My niece visited the website, though I'm not sure what led her there. Ariane who has returned to Europe viewed the site from across the Atlantic Ocean and told Lalita to tell me to visit the site and view the comment. I did. Lalita gave me Turquoise's e-mail – site moderator's privilege. I e-mailed Turquoise. I then found my niece on Facebook where I posted my number. I then got texted by my sister days later. We've yet to speak or visit. I'm still working on completing the connection. In any instance, it's almost crazy how these things happen!!!

As it turns out, I have my own socio-economic struggles and I'm not strapped with cash. However, my homeless advocacy which began in June 2006 has afforded me much social capital, resulting in me being able to simply put out the call in order to acquire funds to travel to Atlantic City to see my sister – though I've never put out a call for funds for a personal endeavor such as this in the past. I'm sure that there are many people who would love to help. I'm actually worried that I might get TOO MANY people wanting to help. That said, I strongly advise anyone who is interested in helping us to complete this reunion-in-the-making to TEXT my cell at: 240-305-5255 with a concise message. If you DO call, don't bother leaving a voicemail. (If you hang up before it goes to voicemail, I'll get a visual display with your number and I'll call you back. If it goes to voicemail, I won't get that display; neither will I go through all of my voicemails to call you back.)

Thank you.

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