Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island

Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island

4.6 195
by Regina Calcaterra

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Regina’s Calcaterra memoir, Etched in Sand, is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and hope.
Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find


Regina’s Calcaterra memoir, Etched in Sand, is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and hope.
Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
A true-life rags-to-riches story, Etched in Sand chronicles Regina’s rising above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.
Beautifully written, with heartbreaking honesty, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This true story of a woman surviving domestic abuse as a child, emancipating herself as a teenager, and then becoming a successful attorney is courageous and fascinating, written with a descriptive restraint that recalls moments of tragedy and perseverance with simplicity and subtlety. Her story begins with an account of life among “a scrappy pack of homeless siblings” and narrows to Calcaterra’s rise to executive director of the New York State Moreland Commission on Utility Preparation and Response. Woven into the narrative is Calcaterra’s search to discover the identity of her birth father, a man who resisted acknowledging that he is her parent; this conflict led to a landmark court decision in the state of Washington over an adult child’s right to an accurate determination of paternity; it also led to a touching reunion with other members of her birth father’s family. Written as a “story of the hope it took a community to raise a child,” Calcaterra concludes her story with the genuine sentiment that “we all have to believe.” At the end of this unforgettable book, readers will. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
A prominent New York attorney's unsparing account of how she and her four siblings survived extreme abuse and neglect at the hands of their mentally ill mother. Cookie was a woman who "left behind scorched earth" wherever she went. Unstable, promiscuous and violently abusive, she had five children by five different men. Chaos and instability reigned throughout Calcaterra's childhood. Early on, Cookie left the children with relatives or took them to live with new boyfriends. But as her alcoholism and mental illness worsened, she left them in homeless shelters, trailers, parking lots, run-down apartments or houses and then vanished, often for weeks or months at a time. When Calcaterra was 8, she and her siblings made a pact to stay together, no matter what; it was better than being separated and losing all control over their lives in the impersonal, sometimes-frightening world of foster care. To survive, they stole food and clothes. They lied about their mother's whereabouts, as well as the burns, bruises and scratches that appeared on their bodies when she was home. Calcaterra emancipated herself at age 14 and reluctantly went to live with foster parents she did not want; they nonetheless helped her succeed. Seeking a way to empower herself so that she could "impact the lives of others," she attended college and law school, then pursued a career as a New York state public official. Despite her many professional triumphs, she hasn't overcome her guilt about the fate of her siblings. Calcaterra narrates her story in the present tense, which adds a painful immediacy and urgency to an already gut-wrenching account. Yet never once does she flinch from the terrible truths with which she has lived and so courageously reveals here. Riveting reading from start to finish.

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Etched in Sand

By Regina Calcaterra

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Regina Calcaterra
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-221883-4

Bitten Bones
Suffolk County, Long Island, New York
Summer 1980
THE AREA WHERE we live sits between the shadows of the
cocaine-fueled, glitzy Hamptons estates and New York City's
gritty, disco party culture. Songs like Devo's “Whip It” and
Donna Summer's “Bad Girls” blast through the car courtesy
of WABC Musicradio 77, AM. Gas is leaded and the air is
Long Island lacks a decent public transportation system—
to get anywhere, you need either a car or a good pair of shoes.
Our shoes aren't the best.
Our car is worse.
My mother's thick arm rests on the driver's-side window
ledge of her rusty, gas-guzzling Impala—the kind you buy

6 ?o Etched in Sand
for seventy-five dollars out of a junkyard. Her wild hair blows
around the car as she flicks her cigarette into the sticky July
morning. The ashes boomerang back in through my window,
threatening to fly into my eyes and mouth in frantic gusts.
Squinting tightly and pursing my lips hard, I know better
than to mention it.
My seven-year-old baby sister, Rosie; our brother, Norman,
who's twelve but still passes for an eight-year-old when we
sneak into movie theaters; and me—Regina Marie Calcaterra,
age thirteen (personal facts I'm well accustomed to giving
strangers, like social workers and the police)—are smooshed
into the backseat. Like most of our rides, the car suffers from
bald tires, broken mirrors, and oil dripping from the motor. If
I lift up the mats, I can see the broken pavement move beneath
us through the holes in the rear floor.
We rarely travel the main roads like the Southern State,
Sunrise Highway, or the Long Island Expressway. For
Cookie—that's what we call my mom—the scenic route is the
safest because she's always avoiding the cops. Cookie has more
warrants out on her than she has kids. And there are five of us.
Her offenses? Where to start? She's wanted for drunk
driving; driving with a suspended license and an unregis-
tered vehicle; stolen license plates; bounced checks to the
landlord, utility company, and liquor store totaling hundreds
of dollars; stealing from her bosses (on the rare occasion she
gets work as a barmaid); and for our truancy. And if there
were such a thing as a warrant for sending her kids to school
with their heads full of lice, we could add that to the list, too!
In the car, we don't speak. It's not by choice—it's actually
impossible to hear one another above the loud grunting of
the Impala and its broken muffler. Embarrassed by the car's

Bitten Bones ?o 7
belches, I slump down in my seat. In the front seat next to
Cookie, my older sister Camille's doing pretty much the same
thing . . . but if our mother detects our attitude, we'll find our-
selves suffering nasty bruises. The only comfort is the physi-
cal space we now have to actually fit in the car without piling
on top of one another as we had to for years. That's thanks
to the fact that, at age seventeen, our oldest sister, Cherie, has
finagled an escape by moving in with her new husband and
his parents, since she's expecting a baby soon.
In the backseat, Rosie, Norman, and I stay occupied,
scratching our bony, bug-bitten legs and comparing who has
the most bites and biggest scabs. We take turns pointing to
them as Rosie uses her fingers as scorecards to rate them on
a scale of one to ten. There's never really a winner . . . we're
all pretty itchy.
None of us bothers hollering to ask where we're going.
With all our belongings packed in garbage bags in the trunk,
we know we're headed to a new home. Our short-term
future could take many forms—a trailer, a homeless shelter,
the back parking lot of a supermarket, in the car for a few
weeks, in Cookie's next boyfriend's basement or attic, or dare
we dream: an apartment or house. We know better than to
expect much—to us, running water and a few old mattresses
is good living. We've managed with a lot less.
Most girls my age idolize their sixteen-year-old sisters, but
Camille is my cocaptain in our family's survival. She's the
only person in my life who's totally transparent, and we need
each other too much for any sisterly mystique to exist. For
years, the two of us have worked to set up each new place so
that it feels at least something like a home, even though we
never know how long we might stay there. We just rest easier

8 ?o Etched in Sand
knowing, at nightfall, that the younger ones have a safe spot
to rest their heads. Together. Without Cookie. If we can con-
trol that.
Cookie puts the brakes on our wordless games when she
pulls into a semicircular driveway, gravel crunching under
the tires. We're met by the image of a gray, severely ne-
glected two-story shingled house surrounded by dirt, dust,
and weeds. There are no bushes, no flowers, no greenery at
all; but the lack of landscaping draws a squeal from me. “No
Rosie and Norman smile and nod in agreement, under-
standing this means we won't be taking shifts to accomplish
Cookie's definition of “mowing the lawn”—using an old pair
of hedge clippers to cut the grass on our hands and knees.
Camille and I usually cut the bulk of the lawn to protect the
little ones from the blisters and achy wrists.
Cookie turns off the ignition and coughs her dry, scratchy
smoker's cough. “This is it,” she announces. “Sluts and
whores unpack the car.” Then she emits a loud, sputtering,
hillbilly roar that never fails to remind me of a malfunction-
ing machine gun. As usual, she's the only one who finds
any humor in the degrading nicknames she's pinned on her
I gaze calmly at the facade before me. It's a house . . . our
house. Even if it

Excerpted from Etched in Sand by Regina Calcaterra. Copyright © 2013 Regina Calcaterra. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Meet the Author

Regina Calcaterra, Esq. is the bestselling author of Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island, which has been integrated into academic curriculums nationwide. She is a partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz and is a passionate advocate for children in foster care.

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Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 195 reviews.
AprilGobbLR More than 1 year ago
This is a stunning depiction of the Foster Care system from the view of someone who witnessed it first hand. This is a stunning book of survival.
VladamirR More than 1 year ago
Regina Calcaterra's Etched in Sand is quite the memoir. It recounts Regina's life in foster care and homelessness. It is a brave story told in an easy to understand manner. I applaud Regina for sharing her story.
AuntMay More than 1 year ago
Imagine struggling to survive in a broken foster care system. Imagine that you end up homeless and alone. How would you survive? Regina Calcaterra tells exactly that story in Etched in Sand. I found the writing to be hypnotically good. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I was reading this book, I was frequently reminded of Jeannette Wall's memoir, The Glass Castle. Though Walls did not suffer any mental or physical abuse from her parents, they did share the same nomadic, unstable childhood of extreme poverty and hunger. The scene in Walls' book when, driven by hunger, she ate a cheese sandwich from the school garbage can is similar to Regina Calcaterra's dumpster diving and shoplifting in desperation to feed her four siblings. Knowing that if child protective services became aware of the neglect and abuse, and consequently separated into different foster homes, the children learned how to hide the bruises and effectively lie to teachers or social workers about their obviously absent mother. The foster system thirty years ago was inefficiently managed and the social workers were unbelievably incompetent. There were times Regina endured beatings, even sexual abuse, from some of the foster families. And when the children are finally taken away from Cookie and separated into different homes, Regina is able to become an emancipated minor at age fourteen. But then she learns the heartbreaking truth she no longer has any say as to what happens with her younger brother and sister. Etched in Sand is written from the heart. It is disturbing, but uplifting, and it is a story about survivors of abuse, neglect, hunger, ineffective social work programs and the foster system in America. How these five children survived and eventually thrived is a story that must be told.This is a heart rendering true story of today's youth with parents who refuse to parent. It is also a true story of the fight to survive and the strong bond of siblings knowing they are on their own. A marvelous read that you will not want to put down. i highly recommend the read.      
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down. No child should go through what these children did. Again, CPS did not do there job. The children had to grow up and fend for themselves way before they had to. Their mother deserved how she ended up. And those children deserve all the credit for how they turned out. Which was good, caring and wonderful adults.
1-4-2 More than 1 year ago
omg!!!! Highly recommend this book. those poor children went through a horror for all of their young lives. Its amazing that they survived!!!!!!! Please read this book. Its absolutely awesome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book! The story is gripping, intense, personal. If you ever feel like your life is difficult, pick up this book for inspiration. Regina and her siblings demonstrate resiliency, determination and love in a very unkind world. Etched in Sand is written clearly and simply and keeps the reader engaged and interested in reading more in its entirety.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The raw honesty of this book touched my heart.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Incredible I don’t even know where to start. This book is just that powerful. I’ve been putting off writing this review because I was trying to figure out how to put into words the impact it had on me and I’ve finally realized that I’m speechless. Absolutely speechless. And we all know that never happens. I read this book from cover to cover (until 4 am) and cried for the Calcaterra kids on numerous occasions. I’m getting my Master’s in Public Policy, so this book impacted me on two levels. The first was the heartbreaking story of the Calcaterra siblings, whose childhoods are demonstrative of what is wrong with our child welfare system. There were times that I wanted to scream because I was so frustrated with the protocols. The second impact has to do with Regina Calcaterra –  public policy expert. She is an incredible woman who has made her way in a man’s world, not to mention everything she had to overcome to get there. She had to conquer both the gender gap and her past. She successfully completed college and her law degree, which is no easy feat for a foster child who’s told to marry well. I can safely say that she has secured her spot on my most-admired women list (next to Hillary Clinton). I can only hope that I can enact the kind of positive change that she has. But back to the book. Etched in Sand is the true story of Regina Calcaterra and her four siblings who were forced to endure a horrific and abusive childhood. Separated and bounced around from foster home to foster home, the close-knit siblings suffered the abuse of not only their mother (when she didn’t disappear for weeks on end), but also their foster parents. When they were placed back with with their mother, Regina had to steal food to provide for her younger siblings. It’s all heart-wrenching, but perhaps the most tragic part about their story is that they were failed by social services, whose bureaucratic red tape left them fighting for themselves. Far from being a woe-is-me tale, this is one of perseverance and redemption. Despite the odds, all of the children survived and thrived later in life, especially Regina. Having experienced firsthand the failures of our public policies regarding aging-out foster kids, she is a strong advocate and board member for You Gotta Believe, which focuses on placing older children in foster homes. She has also put her public policy expertise to good use as the Executive Director to NYS Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparedness and Response. I could go on about her various accomplishments, but instead I’ll direct you to the author box or her website. The point is – you must read this book. Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, into public policy, or experienced with the foster care system, this book WILL have an impact on you. And thanks to TLC Book Tours, I have the opportunity to send one lucky winner a copy of this book. But if you don’t win, I politely demand that you purchase it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read!! Cookie was something else. No kids deserves to go through what though kids had to endure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riveting book. You appreciate how wonderful your own parents are/were. Eye opening that this goes on in a VERY populated area. All the best to Regina, her sisters and her brother.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
amazing story.  very well written.  couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i bought this book i thought it would be basically the same type of book i have read a million times before. It turned out to be something totally different. The story was told through the childs eye and to believe all the things that happened to these kids was heartbreaking. Where their mother was so neglectful and abusive, the state was right behind her on neglect. For these children to stick together like they did was unbelieveable. To find food and shelter for each other, take beatings for each other and to give each other moral support eas way beyond their years. To become the adults they became, and mothers they became was refreshing. They didnt let their childhoods hold them back, only made them determined. I loved this book!
BevCos More than 1 year ago
What a heartbreaking story! It's hard to imagine how she survived these experiences and amazing that she's made such great contributions to everything she's involved in. Gods blessings to Regina!
GSmomLD More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Very easy to read but very sad with a great outcome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book that really captured the ever plight of foster children living in a world without natural and community resources that should be a basic human right.
CathiMD More than 1 year ago
Powerful and heartbreaking read, I could not put it down when I started reading it. This book should be required reading for anyone working with children especially social workers, teachers, clergy, police, etc. I really thought our system was much better than this, it seems to have gotten much worse for children in recent times. Makes me wonder what exactly is happening to the money and resources that many, cities, states and counties receive. This is very well written and so honest, thank you Regina for baring your heart and soul.
Ann89 More than 1 year ago
Exceptional amazing book. Regina and her siblings suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of their own mother. I cried when I read it. I so wish parents would just love their children and no one would be put in foster care. Children need love and care and nurturing. Kudos to you Regina for writing this powerful story of your life. You are a true survivor. Forgive your mother no matter what and you will be free.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An rexcelent book of how the childrec of an exxtremely tragic physical, emotionally, and neglicted siblings pull together to break this terrrible cycle of abuse.
KP07 More than 1 year ago
A journey of strength found in the children to protect each other when parents are useless is overwhelming. A well written book with proof that under any circumstance some are still strong to stand up and become successful. an amazing story of the power of belief.
Lynda166 More than 1 year ago
Children being raised by an abusive mother.  How these children survived is amazing.  This book tugged at my heart.  Thank you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a sad but wonderful book. The children have been through a lot and end up breaking the cycle. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took guts for this woman to write this book of her and her siblings most trecherous lives that they somehow endured via a most ruthless, selfabsorbed cruel mother. Reginas fortiude and determination and love for her siblings blew me away under such horrific circumstancs. It truly touched my soul. God bless this family. I feel if they made this ino a movie it would bring a lot of awareness to everyone to look at our foster system and could save a lot of innocent lives. No child should ever have to endure this. Best read ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It sickens me that no one ever steps in to protect innocent children from monster parents. Fantastic that Regina never gave up on anything: her siblings, college, becoming a lawyer, nailing down her father, and being a survivor. The middle child is so often the black sheep. Impressive that the other kids never blamed Regina for setting off their mother's abuse. Way too many alcoholic families have the "Golden Child" and the "Black Sheep" and once those roles are cast there is no escape. I admire the way all the kids stuck it out together and relied on each other. It does not surprise me that all the children don't have the same memories especially the youngest.