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.