Huddled together in their stolen jackets, the five siblings – Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norm, and Rosie – tried to keep warm in the middle of a Long Island winter. Left alone in a decrepit rental house with no heat, no food, and no idea when their mother might return, the five children could only rely on their wits, and each other, in order to survive. The eldest, thirteen-year-old Cherie, tutored her sisters and brother in survival methods: dumpster-diving, shoplifting, skipping school so someone could watch four-year-old Rosie, and above all pretending to any authority figure that everything was just fine, thank you.
As horrible as the situation was, or any other of their living arrangements – a horse trailer, a car, a homeless shelter – it was still preferable to living with their mother, the incongruously named Cookie. A mentally ill alcoholic, Cookie took any opportunity to beat the hell out of them for perceived transgressions. Calling the girls “whores” she would whip them, throw boiling hot oil on them, tie them up and throw them in the closet, and let it be known that she deeply regretted their very existence.
Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island is middle child Regina Calcaterra’s powerful memoir of growing up victimized by an abusive, neglectful mother. But this memoir is not just a litany of the terrible things she and her siblings endured, it is also about resourcefulness, and loyalty, and the deep and abiding love of siblings determined to survive.