Title: Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island
Author: Regina Calcaterra
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 2013)
Length: 320 pages
(KINDLE VERSION ONLY $1.99) Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island
While many people flip (and now scroll) right to Chapter One, I’ve always been too curious about what an author’s chosen to share before a story unfolds to skip the prologue. Never have I been more grateful for that curiosity than when reading Regina Calcaterra’s Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island.
This memoir prologue is powerful – literally describing the once-homeless author flying above Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Long Island as one of the leaders charged with helping it recover. Beginning with this full-circle flash forward was a beacon for me as I read the often gut-wrenching chapters that followed.
“For years, Suffolk County transported me back to the pain and darkness my four siblings and I endured throughout our fatherless childhoods with a profoundly troubled mother. Now, as I examined it from the sky, my emotions swelled with a love for this place – how the experiences of growing up here made me who I am. Hovering above as a leader in the aftermath of Sandy struck me deeply. Aside from the love I shared with my siblings, this county was our only sense of home – a place that did its best to protect us from the unpredictable. I never could have imagined that one day I’d be called on to return the same security.”
Prologue passages like this one showed that the child who endured horrendous situations had not only survived but also flourished, using her experiences to make a difference in the lives of others.
Calcaterra’s words from the birds-eye view of her childhood home were more than just an indicator of the gratitude-infused perspective she’d use to frame her memoir. The resilience she conveyed moved me through the often cringe-worthy, up-close and personal look at Calcaterra’s childhood years when she bounced between foster homes, being homeless and living with a mother she calls “profoundly troubled.”
‘Living with’ would be better described as ‘surviving with’ since Calcaterra and her siblings were either being abused by their mentally ill mother who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol or being forced to fend for themselves when she’d abandon them, sometimes for weeks at a time.
As a present-tense narrator, Calcaterra’s voice is magnetic, telling a story so visual and evoking emotions so visceral that the reader is transformed into a real-time eavesdropper. She depicts the landscape of her childhood with fierce honesty–shoplifting, bruise hiding, vinegar drinking/pill-popping to assuage hunger, cardboard-box sleeping and the emotional walls she put up and tore down to survive.
Calcaterra believes her accomplishments are anchored in the power of family, the one she was born into and the one created by the community. She writes about how the system that sometimes betrayed her also provided the teachers, librarians and other beacons who lighted stretches of her path with encouragement and gave her glimpses of the life she could create for herself — from becoming emancipated at age 14 in an effort to keep her family together to navigating her way to a college education to tracking down the identity of her birth father.
Chapter 2 Building Sand Castles
Chapter 3 And Then There Were Three
Chapter 6 Houses of Sand
Chapter 8 Empty Emancipation
Chapter 9 Out of Idaho
Chapter 10 Aging Out
Chapter 11 The Happy House
Chapter 12 A Child at Any Age