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.
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About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Etched in Sand
By Regina Calcaterra
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Regina Calcaterra
All rights reserved.
Suffolk County, Long Island, New York
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-
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.
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Table of Contents
Author's Note ix
1 Bitten Bones 5
2 Building Sand Castles 17
3 And Then There Were Three 28
4 Breaking Pact 59
5 Failure to Thrive 66
6 Houses of Sand 98
7 Keeping Pact 125
8 Empty Emancipation 153
9 Out of Idaho 192
10 Aging Out 221
11 The Happy House 231
12 A Child at Any Age 254
13 Beacons of Light 285