A Gift From God To Women
I was born Eric Gooden on February 15th, 1969. I suffered a skull fracture at eight months old and went into foster care for almost five years. I was taken in by Rudy (Polish) and Joanne (Italian) Sheptock in August 1974. A year later my siblings and I were on summer vacation. We’d just finished eating lunch. Mom was wiping the table and my siblings were running outside to play when Mom said, “Eric stop. Mommy needs to talk to you.” She explained that I’d been with her for a year and needed to decide if I wanted to be adopted and remain with her until I was grown. She also explained that she was now a Christian and that I had to choose a name from the Bible if I chose to be adopted – either changing my first name or adding a middle name.
So, here I was – at six years old – needing to make two life-altering decisions. I said “Yes” to adoption. I decided to keep my first name. Mom began listing Bible names; and, when she got to “Jonathan” I stopped her. Thus I became “Eric Jonathan Sheptock”. Forty years later, I still marvel at the wisdom of my choice. I suspect that there may have been some divine intervention at the moment that I was making either choice. Having been the 10th of 37 children (with one having died in 2007), my childhood as well as my continued sense of family have been much different than those of the average AmERICan. And my chosen names are quite fitting.
Eric means “All powerful; all ruler”. Jonathan means “God’s gift (to women)” or “God has given (to women)”. Let’s face it: A gift only qualifies as such if it is given by someone to someone else. So, I figure myself to be God’s gift to women. I heard of another Jonathan who used a large box and some gift wrap to dress himself up as a gift one Halloween, adding a tag that read, “From: God; To: Women”. (If I ever go out for Halloween again – trick or treating or to a costume party – I think I’ll use that idea.) In any instance, I make it a point to live up to my perceived meaning of my first AND middle names. (As for “Sheptock”, the closest I came in the name book was the Jewish name “Shepatiah” which means “GOD HAS JUDGED”. “Jonathan” is also Jewish, by the way.)
With God’s gift to women having been born right after Saint Valentine’s Day which draws its significance from a clergyman who disobeyed the orders of an emperor who decreed that men not marry and that they instead fight in his imperialist wars, it should come as no surprise that I would continue to show an interest in women even while experiencing homelessness and fighting for an end to the same.
Coincidentally, my homelessness is due, in part, to relationship issues. I began dating a woman named Joyce in May 1990, after meeting her at a co-worker’s apartment. She passed away in August 1994. During our relationship, there were times that I thought about moving on and finding someone else. I met a woman named Lynn in late 1988, months after beginning my job at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. In late 1993 and early 1994 I was strongly considering dating Lynn and leaving Joyce. My regular conversations with her led to me figuring out that she was being repeatedly raped by her stepfather – whom she was still living with, out of necessity – at age 24. I sought to assist her at getting out of that situation. I was rather insistent. She got cold feet about letting me help her. She told people, including my supervisor, that I was bothering her. My supervisor spoke to me about it, though he didn’t appear to be upset or accusatory. I, on the other hand, was so upset that anyone would even suspect me of being a harasser that I walked off of my job of six years on Valentine’s Day 1994. I got my last check, went back to New Jersey and got a motel room. I began a job search. When my money ran out just days later, I became homeless (around February, 20th).
For at least the next couple of years, I had “friends with benefits” and would engage in casual sex without commitment. However, I longed for committed relationships the whole while; they just didn’t happen. It was largely my fault that they didn’t happen; as, I had become accustomed to holding my own and providing for the woman. It took some time for me to develop a “homeless mentality” wherein I realized that I was going to be in this state for a while and began to seek my happiness in spite of being homeless. I relate it to how the Carthaginian (Phoenician/Tunisian) general Hannibal Barca conducted a 20-year campaign against Rome and is often credited with being the reason for many Italians having a natural tan. After all, 100,000 African men are not likely to go 20 (or even two) years without sex. That said, I realized that I wasn’t going to get out of homelessness all that quickly and decided that I should try to establish a long-term relationship in spite of not having a home.
When I was in my early 20’s and working the midnight shift, there were days that Joyce and I would have sex for as many as “sex” (6) hours. When I decided to quit at 2 PM and get some sleep before leaving for work around 10 PM, she would sometimes get upset that I was done. Other times she would encourage me to find other women sometimes due to me wearing her out. When I became homeless in February 1994, all of this changed. She died on August 11th, 1994. I went from having “sex” hours of love on some days to being lucky if I had “sex” hours of love in “sex” weeks.
I’ve gotten out of homelessness several times in the past 21 years. Most times have been in connection to a relationship – with a woman, of course. If one wasn’t, then you can believe that a woman came into the picture soon after I got my new place. I recall that, right after I first became homeless, I asked myself why bad things happen to good people. Then I breathed a sigh of relief after realizing that I was out of the “fast pace rat race”. Then I tried hard to find work. Then I accepted homelessness as my lot in life – for a while anyway. Then I began to ask myself what I really want out of life so that, if and when I got back into the rat race, I could more intentionally work toward having what’s most important to me. I decided that I wanted a job, a home and at least one woman and that, if I can’t guarantee permanent relationship, then it wasn’t worth having the other two items.
In 1996 I met Arnette in Orlando, Florida. We got a room at a rooming house. When that ended, she kept the room and I became homeless again. In October 1997 I landed one of several “permanent” jobs that I’ve had since becoming homeless. I rented a 400 square foot home on a 2,500 square lot for $325 per month and stayed there for about eight months. I had a girlfriend named Nikki for the first two or three of those months. In June 2002 I was part of a migrant farm worker crew that traveled from Florida to North Carolina. In Morehead City, NC I met Angie. When the crew left, I stayed. She and I dated for “sex” weeks and were married for five weeks. I’d found a job doing demolition work; but, when our short marriage ended, I became depressed and walked away from the job. With me having moved into her place for three months, I left after our marriage was annulled and became homeless again. I would end up having a number of sex partners over the next 11 years, with most of them not being in any sort of serious relationship with me.
In June 2013 I met Shacona, my present girlfriend (as of April 2015). I’d gone with other homeless advocates to the women’s shelter where she was staying so as to tell them about a public hearing at City Hall in which we’d be discussing the fate of the shelter. After hearing Shacona testify at the hearing the next day, I approached her in order to see if I could keep her involved in advocacy. Our conversation transitioned into a discussion of relationship. We’ve now been together for almost two years.
Shortly after we met, I helped her move from a shelter with very restrictive rules to one where she could go in at 2 AM, leave two nights per week and even take Friday through Monday to travel while having her bed reserved. She and I have flown from Washington, DC to Florida to visit my mother and a few more of my family members. She now attends community college where she’s taking a course in journalism and I lend my support, namely in the form of transit fare.
Though DC was the home of the Blackbyrds who sang “Rock Creek Park” (better known as “Doing IT In The Park”), she – unlike Joyce – has never done “IT” in the park with me. A cheap hotel in DC will set you back at least $80 per night. That comes out to $2,400 per month, with the average DC rent being around $1,500 per month. That said, homeless people have to pay more per night than housed people if they want to “get busy”. This adds stress to a relationship if and when they get to the hotel and the woman decides that she just wants to sleep – which has been the case with Shacona and me. I now make it a point to ensure her that we’re not going JUST so that she can catch up on her sleep. With both of us being homeless and neither of us having any immediate housing options, this relationship has not led to me exiting homelessness. We’ll see what the future hold.
Now you can see how my homelessness and my chances of exiting homelessness correspond directly with my heterosexual relationships. Though American women are bound to hate me for saying this, it is true that being in relationship with at least one woman greatly increases my chances of exiting homelessness. I’ve met American women who get upset when an experiment concludes that sex and/or heterosexual relationship improve a man’s physical and/or mental well-being. But, if I didn’t do the experiment, I don’t have standing to contest the results. Science and feeling are two completely different things. In any instance, I live for love. That’s just the way it is. I live for love.