Plan B

Recap: Dina has run away from home, flying from Boston to San Francisco, hoping to find love and peace and somewhere to crash in Haight Ashbury.  But on the day she arrives, she finds that not only is San Francisco enveloped by a freezing cold fog, but the whole city is enveloped in a riot: America has bombed Cambodia, igniting protests that erupted into violence across the country.  Haight Ashbury was not an option.

It was time for Plan B: Call Stephanie.

I had met her at a summer arts camp the year before, and fell head over heels in love.  She was my first female crush.  5 foot 8, long blonde hair, fascinating hazel eyes that were set slightly asymmetrically, enough to fascinate and still be beautiful.  She had luscious breasts and showed them off in black lacy pushup bras, which nobody got to see except me, because we spent hours in her dorm room talking, and it was hot….very hot.  We had stayed in touch through the following school year and vowed to see each other again.  And it was happening!

Stephanie lived in Santa Cruz, which was farther from San Francisco than I had thought.  Somehow I had envisioned California being about the size of Rhode Island, with everything being within easy bus riding or thumbing distance from everything else.  Instead, it turned out to be this huge, long drawn out state where things were hours from each other, and where, I was to learn, things were either blistering hot or freezing cold and not much in between.

I went to the pay phone and dialed the number I had written in my little spiral notebook.  It turned out to be long distance, so I had to ask to reverse the charges, and hoped like hell that Stephanie would answer and accept the call.  She did.

She was delighted to hear that I was here, and marveled at my resourcefulness at managing to get to San Francisco on my own.  I minimized it, and said that I had just come for a visit and to see the place, since I had heard so much about it.  Neither of us mentioned the fact that the school year was not yet over.

She told me the number of the bus to catch to Santa Cruz, and that either her mother or her father would bring her to pick me up at the bus station.  I was to call when I arrived.  They lived up in the mountains, and it would take them half an hour to drive to the bus station, which was actually just a stop in front of a cluster of shops.  I could go in and look around the shops while I waited for them.

The bus ride to Santa Cruz from San Francisco is Highway One all the way.  I had never seen such dazzling vistas!  Once we were well out of San Francisco, we drove out of the fog that sat upon it like a big fat toad, and all was blue sky and sunshine, just as I had imagined.

What I had never imagined was the incredible Northern California coastline, with its dramatic cliffs draped with succulent plants bearing beautiful pink flowers, and poppies lining the roadsides, and the breathtaking beaches spreading out mile after mile, ever changing and ever more majestically beautiful.  Tears of joy and gratitude filled my eyes.  I was here!  I was in California!  This was it!

Finally the bus rolled into a quaint little town.  The bus driver called out “Santa Cruz!” and I got off, shouldering my leather bag.  The sunshine was deceiving:  it was still chilly, and there was a biting wind.

As Stephanie had said, there was a cluster of little shops: boutiques, really, full of all sorts of hand made items.  It all looked very familiar, since I had been raised with only handmade items.  We never had a thing in the house that was manufactured, except things like toilet paper and maybe some pots and pans.  Even the silverware was hand made by a friend.

So I went in and browsed around, looking for a warm wrap.  I found a beautiful Peruvian ruanna.  I knew it was a ruanna because just the year before there had been a visiting potter from Peru, and she wore a ruanna.  My father had been enamored of the word “ruanna” and liked to pronounce it, rolling the “r” dramatically.  A runanna is a poncho with a split front, so you can throw one side over a shoulder.  It’s warmer than a poncho or serape, being made for Andean winters.

This ruanna was made of alpaca wool, woven in a unique way so that there were two layers of wool woven together.  I mean the wool itself was woven two layers thick.  The outer layer had a simple pattern of stripes, using the natural color of the alpaca wool, light gray and dark gray.  The inner layer was a flat weave of solid light gray.  It smelled of alpaca.  I fell in love with it.  It did not cover my head, this is true, but it was warm and cozy and beautiful, and it had its own kind of mystique.

How much was it?  I asked the woman who kept the shop.   Thirty five dollars, she said.  I looked rueful, as I had just spent five dollars on the bus ride and another ten cents calling Stephanie from the phone booth outside.  I didn’t have enough.

How much do you have, asked the woman crossly.  I have twenty five dollars, I said conservatively, not wanting to risk absolutely everything.  OK, I’ll take it.  She took my money, wrapped up the ruanna in tissue paper, and stuffed it in a brown paper bag with handles.  I stepped outside the shop, took out the ruanna and put it on, threw out the tissue paper, and folded up the shopping bag and stuck it in my leather bag.  It would come in handy later.

Stephanie and her parents arrived in an old red pickup truck.  Steph jumped out and grabbed me.  We stood there hugging for a long time.  Her father finally came over and said jovially,

“OK girls, you have all day to catch up.  We need to get up the mountain before it gets dark.”


Head In The Clouds

My stomach was all in butterflies.  I looked out the window:  we were deep inside a cloud, and all you could see was white.  You could tell how fast we were going by the shreds of cloud within the cloud, whipping by the window so fast they blew into sight and blew right back out again before you could get a good look at them.

Finally the huge machine started making groaning and scraping sounds, which I knew to be the beginnings of the lowering of the landing gear, which finished with a bump.  The craft itself was doing some bumping around, apparently due to some turbulence within the cloud as we got to the lower elevations.  All of the stuff within the plane started shuddering and shaking as if it would all be shaken to pieces.  I was very glad I had not had more wine.  I tried wrestled my fear to the ground.  It was a skill I had learned, that served me well in many situations.

I kept my eyes on the clouds outside, expecting them to clear at last as we descended, but the atmosphere out the window stayed pure white, even as the pilot threw the engines into reverse and the rear wheels touched down, bouncing once, and the plane was on the ground.  We were in a pea soup fog.

HaightThe plane taxied around, and I wondered how the pilot knew where he was going in that impenetrable sea of white.  At last the plane came to a halt, the lights went on, and the male attendant started talking over the intercom about Welcome to San Francisco, be careful to look around your seat to make sure you weren’t forgetting things, overhead luggage, and that the temperature outside was 48 degrees and raining.

48 degrees!  I had left the East Coast on a May morning in short sleeve weather, and had not thought to bring anything warm.  California is the place of sunshine, isn’t it?  It is in all the pictures.  You never see anything but sunshine in California pictures.  I did not know what to do.  I thought about it for a minute, and decided that I would go straight to Haight Ashbury and buy a cloak with a hood.  I had $35 left after paying for my ticket.  That should be enough to buy a warm cloak.

I had no luggage to get, so I asked the agent at the gate where I could get the bus to Haight Ashbury.  He looked at me strangely, and I hardened my gaze, looking him right in the eyes, and he gave me directions to the bus.  I went off in that direction, leaving him looking after my receding figure with that same strange look.

I found the bus stop OK.  I stood outside in the cold in the bus stop shelter with my teeth chattering for a good hour until somebody asked me which bus I was waiting for, and I told them Haight Ashbury.  Oh, they told me, that bus service has been suspended for today.  Haven’t you heard?  We’ve invaded Cambodia, and there’s a huge demonstration.  The whole City is in an uproar.  You can’t get anywhere on public transportation today.

Oh great.  I’ve come all the way across the country, pulled an enormous horror show, spent nearly all my money, and I can’t even get into the City.  What will I do now?  I went back into the airline terminal to get warm and think.

It didn’t take me much thinking, because there were not many choices.  I really wanted to see Haight Ashbury.  I didn’t really care about the rest of the City because Haight Ashbury was where the Hippy scene was, and that was what I was after.  It was what I was all about.

Problem was, I couldn’t get there.  I did not have money for both a cab and a cloak, and it was obvious that I would need some warmth and waterproofness, and soon, if I were not to become ill from exposure.  So a cab was out.  I could hitchhike, if I knew where I was going, which I did not;  and the fog was rather off-putting, since I could not even make out the overhead traffic signs above the road in front of the airport.  Even though I had taken the huge risk of getting on a cross-country flight without knowing exactly where I would go or what I would do, I did not want to put myself so directly in harm’s way right off the bat.

And I  really had not bargained for this cold rain and fog.  And if all of Haight Ashbury was one huge riot right now, how could I count on somebody with love and peace in their eyes coming up to me and inviting me to crash at their place, as I had envisioned in my fantasies?  Now that wasn’t likely to happen.

Breakfast At Jane’s

Runaway_seatedDina waited for Joe outside the coffee shop.  She felt too shy to go in by herself.  She spotted Joe’s car as he found a parking spot half a block away.  She felt a flood of relief, watching him saunter up the sidewalk grinning at her,

“Hi, little girl, how come you didn’t go in?”

“Um, I just, like, wanted to wait for you.”  She studied the cracks in the sidewalk.

“OK, whatever, come on in.  I’ll introduce you to Jane.  She always takes good care of my friends.” Joe lead the way into the coffee shop, ducking to avoid bumping his head against the low doorway.

“Hiya, Joe!  Whatcha bring me?” sang out a cheerful soul with a tie dye kechief  tied Indian style over her brow.  A box of Marlboros were rolled up in the left sleeve of her blue tee shirt.  A cigarette burned itself up in an ashtray.

“Whoa, Jane, what kind of speed are you on today?” joked Joe.

“Don’t need no speed, Mr. Big Shot Social Worker Pot-head,” Jane chortled.  “I’m high on life.”

“Right on,” said Joe.  “Jane, I want you to meet my friend Dina.  She hails from the East Coast.  She’s doing some traveling.”

“Oh, taking a vacation, are we?” said Jane, knowingly, throwing Dina a wink.  Dina was not so sure she liked this whole scene.  But she was game to stay on board with it for a while, to see how it played out.

“Come on, Dina, let’s not waste any more time with yon rascally woman,”  Joe quipped, guiding Dina to a booth and easing his bulk into one side.  Dina slid in the other side.

Suddenly Jane was all professional, cruising up to their booth with a waitress pad and a tray.  She slid an ash tray onto their table and got herself a new page in her order book. “What’ll it be, guys?”

Joe had been perusing the menu while Dina closely examined a sugar packet.

“Well, Jane, I’m mighty hungry this morning.  Let’s have the Big Hungry Breakfast, eggs over easy, sausage, home fries, whole wheat toast–Dina, all the bread here is home made and super yummy–orange juice, and coffee.”

Jane scribbled the order into her book.  She looked up at Dina.

“And for you, miss?”

“She’ll have the same,” said Joe, before Dina could open her mouth.  She slumped back in the booth, half relieved and half ashamed.

Jane brought them each a steaming diner mug of coffee, and set the stainless steel pitcher of half-and-half on the table.

Pouring cream into his coffee, Joe began, “Dina, little girl, I know you want to be independent.”  Dina waited for him to go on.  She wasn’t sure where he was going with this.  Her head felt hollow, and everything sounded far away.  She stared at the table.

“OK, let me be straight up about this,” Joe said.  “You can’t stay on the streets.  They’ll chew you up and spit you out out there.  You had a taste of it last night.  Is that how you want it to be?”  Dina shook her head slowly.

“Well, what are your ideas?” Joe asked.  Dina stayed quiet, trying to shrink even smaller than she already was.

“Look, do you think your parents would send you some money so you could get an apartment?  It’s summer break, and there are hundeds of apartments open.  You could get one, or share one anyway, for fifty bucks a month, I bet.”

“Really?” Dina sat up straight.  “Do you think I could get my own apartment for fifty bucks?”

“Well, you’d probably have to have a roommate.  Why don’t we go down to the campus housing bullletin board after breakfast and have a look?  If we find anything, we can call up about it.  I can give you a reference.  Everybody knows me!”  He gave a deep belly laugh.  Dina’s tension evaporated and she found herself smiling.

Jane returned with a tray laden with breakfast.  The toothsome aromas nearly knocked Dina over.  She hadn’t realized how hungry she was.  The two of them set to work eating, and nothing was heard from either of them until the last of the egg was sopped up with the last of the toast.

Joe paid the check, and the two of them slid out of the booth and thanked Jane for the magnificent breakfast.  She beamed, and they trooped out into the California morning.

Chapter 5: So Close I Can Taste It

Dina couldn’t justify staying in the shower a minute longer, so she turned the water off and stepped out of the stall.  Steve was waiting for her with a towel in his hands.

“Let me dry you, Lady.” There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that caught at Dina’s heart and struck her cold with fear.  She walked shivering into his waiting arms and he wrapped her in the warm towel. He grabbed another one for her dripping hair, whch nearly reached her hips; and expertly wrapped it onto the top of her head, as if he had done this many times before.

Then slowly, tenderly, he dried every part of her: hands, the webs between her fingers, face, neck: every single part of her, as if she were a newborn baby.

She stood still and let him do it, unable to move or speak because of the catch in her chest and throat.  She thought she would die of love and pain.

After he’d dried each part, he kissed it, brushing it with his lips like the kiss of a bee gathering nectar.  She shuddered at these kisses, somehow familiar, as if she’d dreamed them long ago.  Slowly she slipped from the reality of it, as if from a cast-off garment, and pushed it far from her.  It wasn’t real.  She knew it wasn’t for her.  His love was not for her.  She wished in her agony that she could just relax and revel in this lovely dream; but something in her could not accept a gift meant for another.

“What’s the matter, Lady?” Steve looked up, concerned.  “You’re crying again.  Come.  Come here to me.” And he gathered her in.  She sobbed on his shoulder, pouring snot on the soft white towel.  “It’s OK, Lady, you just cry.  You’ve been through a lot, I know.”  This made her cry harder.

Steve took her hand and led her out of the bathroom, wrapped in a dry towel.  “Breakfast is almost ready,” he said brightly, changing the subject.  “How do you like your eggs?”

Dina got herself together and sniffled through a wan smile, “Over medium, please.”  Steve grinned broadly and said, “Coming right up!  How about pouring us some coffee?  I take mine black and sweet: three sugars.”

“Holy mackerel!” cried Dina.  “I’m surprised you have a tooth left in your head!”  Then she felt stupid, because he actually did have quite a few gaps in his mouth.  He grinned, showing a couple of those gaps and sticking his tongue out.  He turned his back to her and flipped the eggs.

She brought the steaming mugs of coffee out to the dining room and saw the table, set with fine silver plate and English bone china.  Bacon heaped a serving dish, and Steve brought out a hot plate full of hash brown potatos in one hand and Dina’s eggs in the other.  He returned to the kitchen and retrieved a dish piled with toast and his own eggs.  He pulled his chair up to the table, spreading the damask napkin in his lap.

“Dig in,” he said, “let’s not be formal around here.”

Dina needed no urging: she helped herself to some of everything and as soon as Steve had done the same, she pitched into her breakfast as if it was the last food on earth.

After the initial frenzied breakfasting had died down to grazing on the remains and sipping the second cup of coffee, Steve cleared his throat. “Uh, Dina.”

She snapped on guard, her senses suddenly laser-sharp. “What is it?” she whispered.

“Um, Dina, like, my old lady’s coming back.  You remember I told you she was home on summer vacation?”  Dina nodded slowly.  Everything felt suddenly hollow and distant.

“OK, well, it’s like, she decided to come back early.  Like, today.  She’ll be back this afternoon.”  He flushed deeply, which accentuated the pockmarks on his face, making them look , Dina thought, even more like the craters of the moon.

“Yeah, OK, I understand.” Dina shifted her gaze to the fine china plate in front of her.  “I’ll get my stuff and go.”  She stood up, pushing her chair in carefully.  She struggled to keep her breathing slow and even, her face a blank mask.

Her thoughts were racing. Yes: this is why we made love on the floor and not in their bed.  I’m nothing to him.  I’m just a summer fling with an underage chick, a thrill.  It was all a joke.  And I’m the sucker.

“Please, Lady, don’t take it so hard.”  Steve stood up from the table, rattling the china, bumping into the chairs trying to reach her.  But she had her bags packed, and was at the door, silent and already gone.



Dina Leah: Survivor of Human Trafficking | Stop Traffick FashionStop Traffick Fashion

Stop Traffick Fashion is a woman-owned business that helps survivors of human trafficking to rebuild their lives by giving them meaningful employment.  In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month (January 2013), they have printed this interview that Ruth Jacobs did with me.

Dina Leah: Survivor of Human Trafficking | Stop Traffick FashionStop Traffick Fashion.

Human Trafficking Month: Dina Leah, Survivor of Sexual Exploitation Speaks Out – Thoughtful Women

I am interviewed by Ruth Jacobs on Thoughtful Women!

Human Trafficking Month: Dina Leah, Survivor of Sexual Exploitation Speaks Out – Thoughtful Women.

In the Booth with Ruth – Dina Leah

Interview with Ruth Jacobs…you can see I was scared to open up…

Ruth Jacobs

Dina Leah

What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?

I started writing soon after I learned how to walk. Since I was very small, I began with short stories. 

How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?

I write for two hours every day. I consider writing to be my first priority. Everything else takes a back seat. 

In which genre do you most enjoy writing?

Short stories still ring my chimes. At the moment I’m wrenching a memoir out of my memory, which stubbornly refuses to open itself most of the time. Since my life has been much stranger than fiction, I hope to sell the memoir as a novel, since no one would believe that it is true. 

What draws you to write in that genre?

I am compelled to try to…

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Chapter Four: Horror Show



Jesse lived in a little house in Swansea with a couple of other guys.


“Staging a horror show, eh?” asked one of them sympathetically.  “Far out.” He had heard about my plan and Jesse’s complicity.  None of them knew why I was leaving, but they all went by the Freak Code of Conduct:  just be cool and take care of each other, that’s all.  Don’t ask questions.  If somebody wants you to know something they’ll tell you up front.  Otherwise, don’t go poking into other people’s business.


That night we all slept in Jesse’s van, crammed together on the floor.  I cried all night.  Jesse tried and tried to get me to talk to him, to tell him all about it, but I wouldn’t.  I wanted him to take me like the other boy had, just for comfort, and told him so in broken language, but he recoiled from that in horror, so I just cried in his arms all night until it came time for me to go into the airport and get on the 6 o’clock plane from Boston to San Francisco.


When the time came, I marched right into the airport and found my boarding area.  I gave the gate attendant my ticket and she tore off the front copy and gave me the rest.


“This flight is overbooked,” she told me.  “Would you mind being seated in First Class instead of Coach?  It’s the only seat we have open.  Otherwise you’ll have to stand by for the next flight.”


Somehow, being seated in First Class did not sound like a bad deal.  I had heard about flying standby, and I knew that could be a bummer.  So I volunteered to go First Class, what the heck.  The gate attendant crossed something out on my ticket and wrote something in instead.


I climbed the steps up to the airplane and handed my ticket to the stewardess, who was dressed in a smart white and blue uniform with a miniskirt and high heels.  She looked maybe eighteen to me.  She smiled at me and ushered me to the left, to the very front of the plane.  I had the seat in the first row on the right hand side just behind the cockpit.  I could see the pilot but not the copilot because there was a partition right in front of me.  This turned out to be the bathroom, which was very convenient.


Soon the plane started up its engine.  I had been on a plane once before, in fact it had been almost exactly a year before, when my dad decided it was time for a family vacation.  We had been on family vacations when I was a young child, but those were always by car.  And they always involved traveling to visit relatives, which was usually pleasant especially when it was the ones who lived in Florida and took me to see alligators and parrots.


So when my dad decided that we should go to an island in the Caribbean, it was an exciting idea, or would have been if it were not for the fact that I would be cooped up with my mother and her inevitable temper tantrums.  But I was not given the choice whether or not to go, so I went.  We flew on a jet from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen, before or since.  It was in the bathroom of the airport, in the stall where I was going pee.  I did not scream.


Then we took a propeller plane from San Juan to the island, and that plane seemed to barely skim the Caribbean waves.  You could see the white caps on the startlingly blue water.  I thought I saw sharks.


The stewardess brought us Mateus Rose wine, and I forgot about sharks and everything.  I got good and tipsy and before I sobered up we were there. 


It turned out to be a desert island.  Very boring, nothing whatsoever to do or see.  You could look out over the ocean and see the neighboring island, which was a lush jungle.  I wanted to be on that one, but of course that was not possible.  So I just tagged around with my parents, because they would not let me go anywhere by myself.


They had rented a golf cart, and that was how we got around the island.  We went to the market in the only town and got soggy rolls and cold cuts.  It was disgusting. 


The beaches were beautiful.  They were pristine white sand with nobody on them.  We were staying in a nice bungalow right on the beach. 


About the third or fourth day we were there I broke out in a rash from head to toe and a fever.  My head ached something fierce.  My whole body itched like fire.  My father found out who the doctor was on the island, and he came to the house.


“Sun poisoning,” he pronounced.  What to do for it?  Benadryl is all, he said.  So my parents got me some Benadryl.  It didn’t do squat.  I was going berserk.


The person who owned the bungalow came to see how we were doing.  I was miserably sacked out in a hammock in the shade.  “I know something that will make you feel better,”  he proclaimed.  He mixed me a Planter’s Punch:  dark rum, light rum, and orange juice.


I spent the rest of the two-week vacation in that hammock, smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punches and wishing I was dead, or at least somewhere out of the sun.


Finally the day came when we could go home.  They packed me up and we puttered back over the Caribbean waves in the propeller plane,  This time I did not care about waves or sharks or anything, because I was still smashed on Benadryl and Planter’s Punch.


We ran into a small problem in San Juan when we went to board our flight back to Boston.  It had to do with my rash.  They sent me to the Health Department, where they declared me infectious, they didn’t know with what.  I had a big old scar on my left arm where I had had my smallpox vaccination, so they were pretty sure it wasn’t that.  Measles was the next thing on their list.  They wouldn’t take our word for it when we described how I nearly died of measles when I was eight, had a 106 degree temperature and had to stay in a darkened room for two weeks.  And that I had had German Measles twice, but they wouldn’t believe that either.


They drew my blood, and we had to stay in a rickety old hotel room with cockroaches almost as big as the one I had seen in the airport bathroom, until they got the results back that I did not have any infectious disease, which I could have told them and in fact had.


For years after that I broke out in the same horrible rash every time I went out in the sun in the summertime.  It definitely killed any aspirations of getting a tan.


The fall after that, when I was about turning sixteen, my mother got it into her head that the reason I was getting these rashes must be that I was taking birth control pills.  Never mind the fact that I was a virgin and in fact did not yet have a clear idea yet of how the sex act was done.  Once she got something into her head it was in there permanently.  Now in addition to the rest of her abusive vocabulary was “whore,” “slut,” and the like. 


What that did, really, was to pave the way to my eventual downfall.  What was the point of trying so hard to stay sexually pure, if I was going to be called these awful names anyway?  I did not go out and try to find someone to have sex with.  The only people I knew who “did it” were disgusting louts that I wouldn’t have anything to do with anyway.  But I told myself that if the right person came along, I would be open to the idea.


As it turned out, the right person did not come along.  The wrong person came along, and I was not a willing participant.  But it happened to me anyway, and there was no going back.  All there was, was this jet plane that I had boarded, and I was going to San Francisco, first class.  Far fucking out.


#A Runaway Life

teenage-runaway1  Writing my memoir is hard.  Really, really hard.  I’m working on a book proposal, which involves doing synopses of all of the chapters.  Well, I hadn’t really thought too much about chapters, so here I go making chapters, seeing where the scenes naturally divide themselves, start and end.  And they do, you know, the scenes of our lives just naturally divide themselves up:  now we are cooking, now we are eating, now we are making love.  And it all just flows.  There might be some awkward scenes, but that’s natural too.

Mainly, my jaw is dragging around on the floor that there are so many, so so many, scenes in my life. So many just trying to keep alive, trading some kind of commodity for some other, just to get a place to spend the night out of the elements, or a hamburger.  Jeez, most of them are pretty gritty.  Heh, she thinks cynically, maybe that’ll sell more copies.  Ugh.

Chapter 3: Samantha

Dina carefully stacked three apple boxes one atop the other.  Tilting her face toward the barn roof gutter, she could hear the “chirrr, chirrr” of the baby starlings in their nest.  The mother starling fluttered in with a fat worm in her beak; pandemonium broke out in the nest as the youngsters vied for succulent bites.

As the mother bird flew away on a mission for more worms, Dina grabbed her opportunity.  Perilously balancing a rickety apple picking ladder on the topmost box, she held her breath as she eased herself up the ladder to the barn eaves–and the nest.

Dina thought her heart would pound its way out of her chest as she cautiously reached in and gently scooped up one of the baby starlings.  She ignored both its furious pecks with its soft beak and the instant stream of bird lice that swarmed up her arm as she gingerly groped her way back down the ladder, dropping to the ground from the top of the third apple box.

Only then did she risk taking a look at her prisoner.

It was a “she,” Dina decided, whether it was or not.  She did not know how to tell the sex of birds.  But it did not matter, because it was a “she.”  And her name was Samantha.  She was just beautiful.  She had black and tawny speckles all over her, a beak and legs of bright yellow, and the inside of her throat was bright yellow too.  Dina knew this because Samantha was straining her neck toward Dina, beak as widely open as it could go, and chirring insistently.

“Oh my,” said Dina softly.  “Looks like you’re hungry.  What shall we feed you?  I don’t have any worms just now.”

So Dina took Samantha home and made her very comfortable in a shoebox lined with cotton wool.  She went downstairs and made her way into the kitchen.  She did not have to tiptoe because no one else was home.

In the fridge she found what she was looking for: a partially used can of dog food with a plastic lid on it.  Using an old butter knife she scooped some of the evil-smelling dog food into a tiny bowl (normally used for dipping sauces), found some toothpicks, and ran upstairs to her room under the eaves of the ancient house.

Samantha was still chirring away, more insistently than ever, mouth stretched wide open, eyes bugging out of her head.  Dina carefully gathered a small ball of dog food on the toothpick (she had previously learned by means of tragedy not to give too much at one time) and popped it into the little bird’s mouth.

The birdie gobbled it greedily and opened its mouth for more.  

“Just one more bite for now, little Samantha,” whispered Dina.  “We don’t want to overfeed you.”  The bird swallowed the bolus of food and screamed for more, but Dina put the lid of the shoebox on, already bored with plenty of air holes. “You take a nap now.  I’ll be back later with more food, just like your real mommy.”  Dina stashed the dog food under her book shelf and left in search of supplies.

Her first stop was the Portuguese chicken farm down the road, for some lice powder.  She hurried back with it and dusted the poor little bird well.  It coughed and spluttered, and there was an exodus as the lice jumped ship, and much slapping and squishing of bird lice for a good ten minutes until they were all gone.  This exhausted Samantha’s energy supplies and she required another feeding.

The next day was a school day.  Dina carefully slid the shoe box containing Samantha into her school bag, walked to the bus stop, and went to her seventh grade home room.  She hid her satchel under her seat.  Her seventh grade class changed classes every forty-five minutes, so she had about five minutes each time to rush to the bathroom and feed Samantha before she got hungry and started yelling for food.

By some miracle, she was able to pull this off for some weeks.  By some other miracle, she managed to hide Samantha from her mother, that is, until Samantha fledged and started fluttering around Dina’s room, pooping wherever she went.  There was a moment of truth, where Dina’s mother found the shoe box nest, and feathers everywhere, and bird poop everywhere, and there was yelling and tears.

But luckily Dina’s mom had a soft spot for animals, and agreed to allow Dina to keep Samantha as long as she cleaned up after her.  Dina was so relieved that she instantly agreed, even though cleaning was all the way at the end of her list of fun things to do.

So it was that Dina and Samantha were out in the open now, and could do things together and not always  have to keep secrets.  In fact, Dina’s mother agreed to feed Samantha while Dina was in school, so Dina wouldn’t have to risk getting in trouble.

Dina played the flute.  Samantha loved to hear Dina play.  In fact, she loved to sing along.  So it was that one day Samantha flew up and lit on the end of Dina’s flute, accompanying her with starling trills and twitters, and getting her toes caught in the keys.

The two of them also loved to take long walks in the woods together.  Samantha would perch on Dina’s shoulder (or head), and Dina would walk along the path in the woods behind the house.  Then, if Samantha saw something interesting to her, she would fly off to investigate.  Dina never got worried, because Samantha always came back, to perch once again on her hand or her head.

There were always cats around the house, either the ones that belonged to Dina’s mother or the ones that just lived at the farm.  And dogs too:  Dina’s yellow dog, and the big brown dog next door.  All of them seemed to know that Samantha was part of the family and not “fair game.”  Often when Dina wasn’t home, Samantha stayed in the screened-in porch, and she was always there waiting when Dina came home, and greeted her by lighting on her head and pulling on her hair, as if looking for lice!

Summer came, and it was time for Dina to make her annual pilgrimage to visit her cousins in New York.  She had done this since she was a young child, and it was a yearly ritual.  But this year was different.  Who would take care of Samantha?  She certainly could not go to New York!

Dina’s mother volunteered to care for Samantha in Dina’s absence.  Dina felt secure because her mother had taken care of the little starling when Dina was at school, and she knew what the bird ate, and her schedule.  So off she went to New York, feeling confident that everything would be fine.

She had a great time with her cousins in New York.  They had a lot more money than Dina’s parents.  They went to Broadway shows.  They went to Times Square, and Madison Square Garden where they saw the Rockettes.  They ate food from vendors on the street and got awfully sick, and then the next week they did it again and didn’t get sick.  They watched Howdy Doody on the gigantic color TV (Dina’s parents had a black-and-white TV, and it was tiny).

Soon it was time to go home.  Dina had been thinking about Samantha on and off, but had been distracted by all the fun things there were to do in New York, so when she spoke to her mother on the phone she never even asked about Samantha, and her mother never mentioned the little bird.

After a long bus ride Dina was home.  Her parents picked her up at the bus station.  It was about an hour’s drive from the bus station to home.  Now there was plenty of time to talk about what Dina had done in New York, what adventures she had had, and how much she had grown, and how becoming her new haircut looked.

They drove into the dirt lot that served as a driveway, and Dina jumped out.  She couldn’t wait to see Samantha.  She opened the screen door to the porch and looked around.  No Samantha.  She rushed upstairs to her room.  Samantha’s shoebox-nest was empty.  It looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time.  She tore apart her room, calling the starling’s name:  “Samantha!  Sam!  Where are you?”

At last she raced down the steep and narrow stairway that connected her attic bedroom to the rest of the house.  “Mom!  Mom!  I can’t find Samantha!” She panted.

“Oh, honey,” her mother said nonchalantly, drawing on a Marlboro, “Samantha flew away while you were gone.”

“Flew away?  What do you mean? Samantha would NEVER fly away.”

“Oh, I guess when she realized you weren’t here, she went to find her family.”

Twenty years later, Dina learned the truth.  Her mother had left Samantha in the screen-porch with one of the cats, and when she next looked, there was only a pile of black and yellow feathers where once her Samantha had lived and breathed.