INTON FALLS — "If it weren’t for life’s built-in distractions, David Goldman would have been consumed by his sadness long ago. Without the blessed distractions, he would be reliving his ordeal every minute of every day.
He carried the bags into the terminal. They were going to Brazil for two weeks. He hugged them. He kissed them. After she passed through security, his wife turned and mouthed the words “I love you” to her husband. She pointed to her eye, then to her heart, then to him. It was a little thing they did.
"I can still see her doing that," Goldman says now.
That was the last time he ever saw her.
She called the next day from Brazil and told him she was never coming back. If he ever wanted to see his son again, she added, he would have to come down and sign some papers and agree to a series of demands.
If not for the distractions, Goldman might be stuck in this moment forever, dwelling on what happened the day he drove them to the airport, the tiniest details replayed over and over in his head, a continuous loop. He would be grasping for meaning, trying to make sense of something that seems to make no sense at all. His sadness would be too much to bear.
"When I’m not distracted," he says, "it takes over."
So he keeps himself busy, as distracted as possible, working, taking tourists out fishing in the boat he named after his son. That’s his day job. The rest of his waking hours he spends trying to figure out how to get his son back.
David Goldman, 42, lives in a lonely house on a hill overlooking the Swimming River. The house used to be full of life, full of joy. He once lived there with his wife and his son. Now he lives there with his cat.
In almost every room there are pictures of his son. Sean is 4 years old in most of them. This is how his father remembers him, the only way he can remember him, as a happy little 4-year-old boy.
Sean is 8 now. He lives in Brazil, with a man who married his mother. Bruna Bianchi Goldman was still legally married in the United States, but her new husband was a lawyer from a prominent family, and apparently they were not about to let some mere formality stand in their way.
Since then, they seem to have hurdled other obstacles as well, disregarding international law concerning the abduction of children, among other things.
This might help explain why Goldman hasn’t seen his son in over four years, and why he rarely gets the opportunity to talk to him on the phone.
The last time he spoke with his son, Goldman was at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, visiting his mother, Sean’s grandmother. Her cell phone rang. Goldman answered it. It was Sean. They hadn’t spoken in months.
It was a brief conversation, awkward.
"He was reserved," Goldman says, adding that someone took the phone away from Sean as soon as they realized he was talking to his father.
Bruna Bianchi Goldman married Joao Paulo Lins e Silva in 2007. They had a baby in August, a little girl. Bruna died eight hours after she gave birth, cardiac arrest. She was 34. This became a big story in Rio de Janeiro. The family is pressing charges against the doctor and the hospital.
This struck Goldman as odd. The family was quick to go to the press with the story of Bruna’s death, he thought, yet the news of his fight to get his son back never surfaced in any Brazilian media outlets.
That story has been suppressed. Bruna’s husband got a court order. Bruna’s parents signed on, as plaintiffs.
Bruna’s parents are also plaintiffs in the custody case, which makes Goldman wonder what he was thinking back on June 16, 2004, driving them to the airport, helping them with their bags, being a dutiful son-in-law.
Meanwhile, Goldman’s lawyer in Brazil has repeatedly brought the freedom of the press issue to the attention of the American Embassy. On Friday he sent an e-mail suggesting that the ambassador could force the issue by calling a news conference. The media would have to cover such an event, he reasoned, and those seeking to suppress the story would be powerless.
What could they do, sue the United States government?
An embassy official responded promptly.
"I think the pressure needs to come directly from Brazilians," she wrote. "It has to be Brazilians saying this is wrong for the Brazilian public to take notice." She went on to say that "the ambassador has taken an active role . . ." Blah, blah, blah. Then she mentioned parenthetically that the ambassador does not speak Portuguese.
Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?
David Goldman grew up in Wayside, the son of a charter boat captain. He went to Ocean Township High School. He graduated from Virginia Wesleyan in 1988. He was thinking about going to law school. Then he got sidetracked.
He was working as a lifeguard in Belmar. Someone asked if he’d be interested in doing some modeling. Next thing he knew he was traveling the world, making good money, doing television commercials with Heidi Klum.
In 1997 he met Bruna Bianchi in Italy. Her grandfather once owned a factory in Italy. Her mother inherited a lot of money.
Bruna and David fell in love. They got married in 1999. They had a baby boy. They bought the house on the hill overlooking the Swimming River.
Life just kept getting better as David saw it.
Only he couldn’t see everything.
If Bruna was unhappy in New Jersey, it was news to her friends.
Sissy Starr, now Sissy Norman, taught with Bruna at St. John Vianney. They were best of friends. "We did everything together," she says.
In 2004 they went to Brazil over spring break. While they were on vacation, her friend saw another side of Bruna.
"She was a princess in Brazil," Sissy says. "One of the girls we hung out with was in the soaps. Her brother was in the soaps. Another one was a TV reporter. Bruna hung around with an elite crowd. She would say things like "Here I can do what I always dreamed of doing."
"Her mother used to say Bruna was like a slave here (in New Jersey). It didn’t seem that way to me, but that’s what her mother said."
About a month after that, Bruna left and took Sean. Four years later, Goldman is still fighting the fight. It has taken its toll.
"If you knew Dave four years ago, he was a different person," says Karen Bott, a close friend of both David and Bruna. "He was funny, full of life. He’s a shell of a man now, and has been since she left. You look at him and he’s just blank. The sadness that emanates from him now is overwhelming. It absolutely breaks your heart."
Little by little, the picture comes into sharper focus.
Life was good for David Goldman, or so he thought. Then his wife pulled the rug out from under him.
Four years later she was dead. But before she died she broke his heart and stole his son. So he sits in this lonely house and wonders what hit him. "I never saw it coming," he says. "I feel like such a fool. What an actress she was. How could I have loved this person?"
"Now she’s dead and he’s with a stranger."
The stranger, Lins e Silva, is trying to have David Goldman’s name taken off his son’s birth certificate, as if he never existed.
Goldman has not lost hope. He has taken his story to the media.
First ABC aired it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, he went on the Today Show. He got over 1,000 e-mails. Visitors flocked to his Web site, www.bringseanhome.org. Now both NBC and CBS are working on big investigative pieces.
"People are always saying there are two sides to every story," Goldman says. "If this was the case, it would have been on Page 1 of Bruna’s court filing. If there had been any abuse or neglect or drugs, anything . . . she could’ve alleged all sorts of stuff. But she didn’t. There’s no skeleton that’s falling out of any of my closets."
Meanwhile, the media strategy may be working. Goldman is scheduled to fly to Brazil tomorrow. This will be the fifth time he has been down there. Only this time there’s actually a chance he might get to see his son — assuming Lins e Silva doesn’t get a friendly judge to keep him away from Sean yet again.
If it works out, he could be knocking on Mr. Lins e Silva’s door Friday. He can see it now: "Hi Mr. Kidnapper. Can I see my son?"
He says this as he shows you around his house. Here’s Sean’s room. As you can see, all his toys are still where they were four years ago. His clothes are hanging in the closet. His little shoes are lined up, nice and neat.
"They want to remove my name from the birth certificate," Goldman says. "They want to eradicate my existence. They chose the judge in Rio. This guy broke all the rules. They are thumbing their nose at our laws.
"It’s obscene, to say the least."
He moves into the master bedroom. He pauses. Sean used to come in every morning and raise the blinds and look outside. The river, the pond, the trees, it was a source of great wonder, no matter the time of year.
"Holy Mackerel!" the little boy would exclaim, like clockwork.
This they can’t take away from David Goldman.