As a child, Howard Shulman bounced from family to family as a ward of New Jersey, enduring close to a hundred operations. Suffering from a rare bacterial infection that ate away at half of his face as a newborn, Shulman—or as he became known to the state, XUG-905—was abandoned by his family. "Perhaps my parents assumed or even prayed I would not survive. Or perhaps they believed that without a face, I had become something less than human, incapable of loving and being loved," he writes in his memoir, Running From the Mirror, an excerpt of which is posted at Narrative.ly. He says he sometimes longed for his birth mother and cried himself to sleep, sobbing, "God must hate me. What terrible thing did I do to deserve this?" Years later, with a face restored through surgeries, Shulman saw a TV ad urging, "Find your long lost loved ones! Call now!" He dialed.
"I had never intended to track down my birth parents," he writes. "But now, with that one call, I began to imagine my parents." He located his mother, Sarah, who during their first conversation told him, "I always knew you would call." (His father had died a few years earlier.) During a face-to-face meeting, Shulman listened as she talked proudly of her three children and her role helping Jewish kids in need, and learned that she had mistakenly been under the impression that he had been adopted by a Midwestern family. "Why did you give me up?" he asked more than once. "How could you have done that to a baby?" Her reply: "I've punished myself enough. No more." He arrived home "taking no comfort from the thought that blocks away she was probably experiencing similar emotions," he says. "Sarah, too, I realized, had suffered her own torment. How had she always known I would call?" The book is out Oct. 5. Read the excerpt in full here. (Read more book stories.)