Story on the memoir written by Howard Shulma, Running from the Mirror, buy it here
From the day he was born, Howard Shulman was an outsider who was destined for a life blighted by a deformity on his face.
He was abandoned at birth, made a ward of New Jersey and spent a childhood – rife with bullying and filled with endless surgeries – in state foster homes.
As he grew up, and forged a daring life for himself, he feared he may one day be trapped inside another state system: prison.
In his memoir, Running from the Mirror, 54-year-old Shulman describes how he ran drugs across the country, dealt pot to tourists on a beach in Mexico to make ends meet, and was nearly caught by the DEA with a suitcase full of ‘product’ at a Chicago train station in the 1970s.
He told Daily Mail Online how he went on to buy a nightclub in San Diego, where he met his wife, before deciding to track down his biological mother – 40 years after she walked away from him.
Howard Shulman was abandoned by his parents and left destined for a childhood in foster care when he was just days old, because of a deformity on his face. He later became a drug runner, would deal drugs to tourists in Mexico and purchased his own nightclub in San Diego
After meeting her twice, once at a New Jersey deli and once at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, he never spoke to her again. He said he felt too much anger towards her.
His father died before he got the chance to meet him. Shulman said he had always wanted to ask him whose choice it was to give him up.
Describing his childhood, he said he was bullied ‘before it became a contemporary word’ and was called everything from ‘pig nose’ to ‘flat face’.
But, he insists he has no regrets and has spent his whole life choosing not to regress.
He told Daily Mail Online: ‘I missed out on a normal childhood with a sense of stability and security but, at the same time, with everything I went through, it was about self-discovery, and I became a survivor.
Howard’s biological father died before he had the chance to meet him. He always wanted to ask him if it was his decision to give him up as a baby
‘I knew if I could endure abandonment and being ostracized from my biological family, that I had a choice. I could wallow in regret but I found that with regret comes regress.
‘I choose not to regress. I would prefer to progress. Life is too short and I am too blessed with so many things in my life that I am happy with being healthy and being around so many good things.’
In his book, which will be released next week, Shulman describes first contacting his mother after watching a TV commercial aimed at ‘finding loved ones’. He paid $50 for information and eventually reached her.
After speaking on the phone, the pair arranged to meet at a deli, near where his mother lived in New Jersey.
There she admitted to him that when he was born, she couldn’t cope with the medical attention he would need – but at the same time insisted she did not regret giving him up.
When Shulman was born he appeared normal. But within a couple of days, a type of Staphylococcus bacteria had infected his face, causing his nose to swell and damaging the skin around it.
He told Daily Mail Online that as a young boy he was bullied ‘before it even became a contemporary word’ – being called everything from ‘pig nose’ to ‘flat face’ – and was constantly moved around schools because of his surgeries.
After spending his first three years in hospital, he was moved to his first foster home in Morristown with Ed and Shirl Mackey, where he remained until he was 16.
After that, in between surgeries, he went from the home of a German woman who could barely look after him to a Jewish family – where he only lasted a week.
He then stayed with Vito and Mary Signorelli in the Bronx, New York, close to the hospital. It would be his last home before he turned 18 and would have to go out into the world on his own.
‘It was a constant harassment from other kids,’ he told Daily Mail Online. ‘I was also in and out of school many times because I had many ongoing surgeries.
‘It was not the best of times. But I made the best of it and fortunately, I survived my school years.’
One experience that stands out for him came when he was at a preparatory school in Massachusetts.
He was a goalkeeper for the soccer team and was playing in a game that came down to a penalty kick.
‘I got lucky and managed to save the goal, he said. ‘Then, when I was shaking the players hands at the end, one of the players said: “Lucky save, flat nose”.
‘And it just took from a moment of euphoria to just dropping everything down to the bottom of my stomach.
‘And that always stuns me that a child can take away another child’s moment in just one word. It was just very cruel.’
So, after one of his teammates stood up for him, they went behind a church and had a fist fight, which Howard says he won.
Describing his childhood, Howard said he was bullied ‘before it became a contemporary word’ and was called everything from ‘pig nose’ to ‘flat face’. He said he was constantly harassed by classmates while the numerous operations meant he was frequently taken out of school
In his book he talks about how, before he tracked down his mother, he got into the illegal drugs industry.
It was drastic change from his teenage years, where he made his pocket money working in the kitchen of a diner.
Despite the life he was living, and the money he was making transporting and selling narcotics, he was always scared of what the repercussions would be.
In one extract, he writes: ‘I had never wanted to make a career out of dealing, and never lost sight that one mistake could land me back in the state system – and this time it would not be in a foster home.’
While people he worked with were getting arrested, he feared one of his ‘colleagues’ might rat him out to the authorities.
At one point in the 1970s, Howard was using the US mail to deliver his ‘product’ and would put baby power and coffee grounds in shipping boxes to contain the smell and keep the sniffer dogs at bay.
However, after six months, his team decided to change methods – so he ran the drugs himself.
In one extract of the book, he describes a perilous trip to Boston that almost changed his life.
‘I packed a small trunk and a large hard-shell Samsonite suitcase and booked a private cabin on Amtrak,’ he writes.
‘I didn’t want to risk driving across the country and didn’t know anyone I could trust to do it.’
The train was pulling into Chicago, where he was waiting to catch a layover to Boston.
‘As the train slowed to a crawl on its approach to the platform, I looked out the window to see four or five men running alongside the train, badges in hand.
‘I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and had to blink several times to make sure I wasn’t having a bad dream.
‘How could the Drug Enforcement Agency be on to me? My heart began racing wildly, beating almost out of my chest, as visions of life in an orange jumpsuit in a Chicago prison flashed before my eyes.
‘Trying not to panic I struggled to compose myself.’
In his memoir, Running from the Mirror, describes first contacting his mother after watching a TV commercial aimed at ‘finding loved ones’. He paid $50 for information and eventually reached his biological mother. The pair met twice, but they have not spoken since
He rushed off the train and grabbed a porter to load his luggage onto a cart. Eyeing the waiting room, he went inside to hide.
Surrounded by people watching coin-operated TVs with 1970s soap operas, he was still on high alert, fearing he may get caught.
Then he heard: ‘Ladies and gentleman, DEA. No one move! We will be conducting a baggage search.’
He writes: ‘I looked up to see my suited greeting party standing shoulder-to-shoulder, badges in hand, and exhaled in defeat: “That’s it. I’m done for. Illinois Department of Corrections, here I come.”‘
With nothing left to do but hope, he picked up a newspaper from the seat next to him and started reading.
Then, he saw two black shoes approach him in front. A voice from one of the men wearing them said: ‘Hello, son, where are you headed?’
‘Jail, was my sinking thought,’ Howard writes. ‘I looked up at him and tried to appear as meek as possible.’
He then told the officer he was heading to Boston for Thanksgiving to see his family. In a bid to avoid attracting suspicion, and try and pass himself off as a college student, he wore a University of New Mexico ‘lobo’ sweatshirt.
The officer told him: ‘That’s nice, would you mind if we check your bags?’
‘No sir’, he replied and, trying to make it seem like he had nothing to hide, he steadied his hands and complied.
As he fingertips touched the locks of his suitcase he felt a light double tap on his shoulder: ‘That’s ok, son, you’re good to go. Have a nice holiday.’
Dumbfounded he looked up at the officer and said: ‘Thank you sir. You too.’
He writes: ‘Within seconds I had died a thousand deaths. I leaned back limp with relief and exhaled hot air for a balloon ride.
Assessing his options again, he slowly made his way back into the train, as his DEA buddies waved to him from one end of the platform.
‘Settled safely in my private cabin, my bags stowed and the door locked, I sat down to watch the crowd outside and to wait for my DEA savior to realize his mistake.
‘”God”, I said, “if you get me out of this, I will never do it again, I swear”.
‘On a little pullout shelf sat a hospitality basket containing fruit and snacks and, most conveniently, two mini-bottles of wine. If there was ever a time for me to take up drinking, this was it.
‘Before the train pulled away I had already torn one bottle open and guzzled it down.
‘When the train lurched forward I cracked the second bottle open and downed it at a more civilized pace, but found it had little effect on my nerves.’
He also described how, while living in Albuquerque, the ‘noose tightened’ and he became concerned any of his colleagues in the illicit business would turn on him to get immunity from prosecution.
In the book he writes: ‘When my lawyer called to tell me I was on the hot list and that a vacation might be well advised, I listened.
‘After taking only enough time to dress, I drove to the bank to stash the bulk of my cash in a safety deposit box, then returned home. I quickly packed my gym bag, including a fat envelope of cash I tossed into the mess of clothes, and casually left the house as though I were heading to the gym.’
He added: ‘I moved around, down to Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, and then Guadalajara, checking in every few weeks with my lawyer who always had the same advice for me – to lie low a while longer. Before long, one month had somehow turned into six. My anxiety was gone, but I was bored and doing little more than killing time – swimming, scuba diving, sunning on the beach, and flirting with cute tourists.
‘On the beach at Playa del Carmen I made a local contact and was soon in business again, dealing pot to tourists who were too afraid to buy from a local. I didn’t want to risk running out of cash and so gladly took advantage of the easy nickel-and-dime business, which was more than adequate to cover my expenses.’
Pictured alongside one his old school teachers, Howard said school was not the best of times for him, but he managed to survive it
Eventually tired of running from the law, Shulman set himself up as a nightclub owner.
He told Daily Mail Online: ‘I met my wife in a billiards room of a nightclub I own in San Diego.
‘When I saw her standing by the bar she looked like Rita Hayworth. She was a beautiful woman.
‘We became friends. She had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend at the time, but she said to me later: “The first time I saw you, I always knew you would be in my life.” She didn’t know when or in what capacity, but she was right.
‘We went our separate ways. But we then got together 10 years ago and we have been married for four years. She brought a family into my life which I have never had.’
‘It was just a chance meeting. She came into the club occasionally but I never met her before. So I took the chance and I offered to buy her a drink. We had a dance.
‘She warned me she had a boyfriend, but I said: “Don’t worry about it. I have a girlfriend”. And the rest is history.’
The couple live in California with his spouse and her children.
Twenty years after leaving the foster care system, Howard found himself watching From Here to Eternity.
He wrote: ‘Just as I was drifting off, a commercial roused me: “Find your long lost loved ones! Call now! 1-800-SEARCH”.’
‘Half asleep, I fumbled for the remote and turned up the sound as smiling men, women, and children ran toward each other across the screen. Radiant with joy, they embraced in a meadow of wildflowers, the empty void in their hearts filled. “Call now and find that special someone today!”
‘I scrambled to find a pen and jotted down the number.
He added: ‘I had never intended to track down my birth parents. Apart from desperate times in childhood when I had ached for my birth mother, I had mentally banished her and my father from my life.
‘My attitude was, if they didn’t care enough to seek me out, to hell with them.
‘But now, with that one call, I began to imagine my parents. What would they be like? How would they react to my contacting them?
After he paid $50 to get information on his family, he was told he had to wait six weeks
Weeks later he received the letter with a list of phone numbers for Shulmans in New Jersey. Knowing his parents were called Leonard and Sarah, he concentrated on the ‘L’s and ‘S’s.
On the third set of details, he got the response he had been waiting for. A woman on the other end of the phone said: ‘Yes? I’m Sarah.’
To which Howard replied: ‘I think you may be my birth mother.’
After that he began to hear muffled tears. He then heard a whisper: ‘I always knew you would call.’
She asked Howard what his life had been like – whether he was married or had children – but failed to mention his deformity. Sarah then informed him his father had died.
It was then he said: ‘Why did you give me up?’ After a long pause she tried to explain: ‘I couldn’t handle it.’
Without giving him a straight answer they went on to the topic of whether he had any siblings.
Sarah revealed he had an older brother, David, a sister Linda and a younger brother Joseph – all of whom knew about Howard.
He then asked if they could meet face-to-face. Despite some trepidation, he arranged to meet at a deli in New Jersey.
Howard went on to become an entrepreneur. He owned a nightclub in San Diego where he met his wife on a night she looked like ‘Rita Hayworth’
Howard describes how he arrived in a taxi, walked in between the tables and found a petite woman sitting on one of the benches.
Describing the encounter he writes: ‘Sarah? I heard myself ask.’
‘Did my mother have an emotional breakdown over my disfigurement? Had it psychologically incapacitated her? Had my father forced the decision to abandon me? A ‘him or me’ ultimatum
Running from the Mirror will be released on October 5. You can receive a 20 per cent discount if t include the code THEDAILYMAIL when you order
‘Yes, I know.’
‘How could she not? With her eyes absorbing my face, I could barely follow what she was saying. We tentatively shook hands.
‘Facing Sarah, I settled myself in the booth and took measure of the stranger sitting across from me. Tired and drawn, with deep shadows under her eyes, she betrayed her studied composure by nervously fidgeting with her coffee cup.
‘“You look good,” she said, her voice quavering.’
He then asked again why she gave him up, to which she responded: ‘I thought it would be best for you that you start over with a new family.’
She went on to say how a lawyer the family had appointed to look after Howard told them he had been adopted and had moved to the Midwest.
However he had not been given a new family and was growing up only a short distance from them in New Jersey.
They even discovered how he had been working as a dishwasher at a diner where Sarah and Leonard would often eat.
The confrontation intensified and Sarah began to cry. He asked whether she had any regrets. Sarah replied: ‘No, I don’t. I did what I had to.’
‘I felt no satisfaction in seeing her cry,’ he writes. ‘The woman who had been in control was gone, and in her place sat a pathetically guilt-ridden one, burdened by a lifetime of crushing denial.
‘At that moment the depth of her distress suddenly struck me, and I apologized over and over, swearing to her that it had not been my intention to hurt her. My quest had gone from curiosity to attack — with an aging woman who could never defend her actions and could never dare to revisit the past.
‘The table between us seemed to broaden as the distance between us grew, the air suddenly as stifling as our conversation. I made a feeble attempt to reach out to her. “I’m having a hard time understanding this, you know”.’
They finished the meeting with a simple hand shake with seemingly little ties between them.
Howard writes: ‘Our meeting replaying in my head, I struck out towards home. I had poured my heart out, venting frustrations buried so deep I didn’t believe anything could ever have awakened them.
‘I had barely refrained from lashing out that she was a God-fearing, synagogue-attending, do-gooder, Jewish hypocrite, all of which would have served no purpose and would have done nothing for the anger I felt.
‘Emotionally and physically spent, I arrived at my apartment exhausted, taking no comfort from the thought that blocks away she was probably experiencing similar emotions. Sarah, too, I realized, had suffered her own torment. How had she always known I would call?’
After that meeting, he tried to arrange a lunch with her again, but there were still underlying tensions.
He explained: ‘I met her one other time, in the dining room of The Plaza Hotel in New York. She brought along my biological siblings – two brothers and one sister. And unfortunately was very acrimonious because the brothers are attorneys.’
‘One was very nice, but the other one is a former prosecutor, so he was asking me what I wanted. But I was just trying to learn my heritage: Who I was? Where I was from? What was going on?
‘I felt like an outsider intruding on them, so I gave them credit for turning up. It just didn’t work out. But that’s OK.
He told Daily Mail Online that he kept in touch with his younger, biological brother, but has never met up with him because he lives thousands of miles away.
However he has maintained a healthy relationship with his foster family.
He said: ‘I keep in touch with my sisters. They are both wonderful people and a very positive influence on my life.’
He insists he has no regrets and has spent his whole life choosing not to regress. He told Daily Mail Online: ‘I missed out on a normal childhood with a sense of stability and security but, at the same time, with everything I through, it was about self-discovery, and I became a survivor.
His biological father died before he had the chance to meet him, so didn’t get the chance to ask him about something he had always mulled over.
‘I always wanted to ask him if it was a mutual decision with him and my mother,’ he said. ‘Or was it hers? Or was he imposing the choice on her? Because I asked her and she wouldn’t give me a direct answer.
‘I was suspicious because she wouldn’t tell me. She told me it was her decision, but I can’t speak for him because I never met him. So I will never know.’
He added: ‘My biological mother is still alive. She just decided that she just didn’t want to speak with me any longer. She thought I was just too angry about the situation and I wasn’t angry initially.
‘I was going in to learn about my heritage and what was going on, but, as time evolved, I did begin to get angry with what my brothers had.
‘They were very well educated, they were a very tight family, and I was an outsider. There was no common ground. There was too much guilt from them. I had no guilt because I had done nothing wrong.’
Asked if he had any advice for anyone in a similar situation, he told Daily Mail Online: ‘Today people have so much more access than I had 30 years ago. Nowadays, you can go online, search your family history.’
‘You can find out so many things. I felt alone. Now, there are so many wonderful people in similar situations.
‘Whether it is a birth defect, or being abandoned, there are just so many resources people can use.’
Shulman now works with children in care and is a volunteer for Hillsides, a non-profit group that helps vulnerable children, youth and their families.
He said: ‘I’m giving a percentage of the book to Hillsides. I work with foster kids, I answer questions. I felt obligated and I also felt blessed to help people in my situation.’
Running From The Mirror will be released on Monday, October 5. You can purchase it here.
For a 20 per cent discount, use the code THEDAILYMAIL
A portion of profits from the book is going to Hillsides, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive community-based and residential treatment programs to more than 7,000 at-risk children and families.