Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Girl, Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra

Girl UnbrokenGirl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read ETCHED IN SAND and knew I had to work myself up to read this book. Anxious as I was to know Rosie’s story, I knew it would be a difficult book. It was. While Regina suffered through her mother’s neglect then horrific abuse, her story also highlights the foster care system then continues as she works with her sisters to try to rescue Rosie from their abusive mother.

Rosie’s story is different, although her time in foster care is appalling. Rosie and her brother, Norm, are returned to their mother and the buffer Rosie enjoyed with her sisters has been removed. I can’t even begin to describe Rosie’s childhood. My imagination isn’t even that vivid.

Instead I will wander a little off the path and share a small story. I grew up in a small Utah town. So small that it was not on any maps until about 25 years ago. My life consisted of school in another town on a school bus, playing, fighting, and working with my three sisters, brother, and parents, and attending every church activity because that was so much of my social life. I grew up with the same group of girls, played competitive church sports with them, worshipped with them, and had long, deep, teenage philosophical talks for hours at sleepovers or just in our long, hot, summer days.

The years have passed and I’ve learned snippets about the lives of these girls that I thought I knew so well. Recently, we got together for dinner. One friend turned to the one I was closest with as a child and began asking her the taboo questions that we had finally pieced together as we matured after we had grown and moved away.

This woman, who I will call Jane, answered all of the questions honestly and frankly. Right up the street from me, where I had spent many hours with Jane and her sister, listening to her soft spoken but sad mother, watching her charismatic and larger than life father, Jane and her 4 siblings had endured the kind of abuse that Rosie endured. Jane stated the facts without emotion and admitted it had taken years and years of therapy in order to face the horrors of her childhood. She admitted she had probably disassociated in order to endure but she survived with the three oldest children, and left as quickly as she could. The younger two children were then left with their father’s rage and perversion and their mother who quietly slipped out the back door.

There is a much deeper and complicated story under this synopsis but the point of revisiting this friendship is that, although both of the older sisters hinted at the violence to which they were subjected, until Jane clearly stated the specifics (and I suspect she sanitized it a bit for our own sakes), I had no reference point to comprehend what they endured. All I knew was that, as a counselor, I had become accustomed to hearing about abuse yet it never ceased it surprise me. This time, however, it was much more personal. This was my dear friend that I knew so well. Or so I thought.

I never felt threatened by her father. He was always so happy to see me and said the nicest things. Jane and her siblings faithfully attended every church activity, every school day, and participated in extracurricular activities. Now I know why.

I cried every day for 3 weeks after that dinner with my friends. There was so much shame, blame, and grief heaped onto their little shoulders. I cried for the children they were. They suffered at the hands of the ones that were supposed to protect them. But there were few who knew and none who knew how bad.

Rosie’s story reminds me, in painful detail, that sometimes adults are good actors and the children who are threatened are terrified to tell. It also reminds me that, with a lot support, love, and therapy, these children, like my friends, will thrive and emerge from the chaos of their childhood, amazing, empathetic, and strong adults; scarred yet unbroken.

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