Tanya Nicole Kach had the rap song "Drop the World" cranked up as she pulled her car into a Downtown parking garage in advance of her first local interview since the release of the book "Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid" written by her attorney, Lawrence H. Fisher.
Her choice of song. Her car. Her story.
It's been more than five years since Ms. Kach, now days shy of her 30th birthday, left the McKeesport home of Thomas John Hose, now 53. For much of the decade detailed in Mr. Fisher's book, Ms. Kach wasn't allowed to leave Mr. Hose's house, was forbidden from making a sound for most of each day, and was invisible to the world except for the grainy shot on cartons of milk.
Tables have turned.
Mr. Hose now sits in the State Correctional Institution Camp Hill, serving five to 15 years on charges including interfering with the custody of children and indecent assault.
Ms. Kach, meanwhile, drives a car with "TANYA N" on the license plate. She is engaged to be married. "I own my own house now," she said, asking that its location in the Pittsburgh area not be revealed. "It was so wonderful, to have something in my name."
The book is written in her voice, with the exception of one chapter in Mr. Fisher's. Of the cast of characters that came into the public eye upon Ms. Kach's emergence in March 2006 -- her sundered parents, Mr. Hose and his family and friends, the shopkeeper who facilitated her emancipation, the police and prosecutors involved in her case -- none come out looking like angels. There is no sugarcoating in the 213 pages released by Tate Publishing, a Christian-themed house based in Oklahoma.
When Mr. Fisher shared the manuscript with Ms. Kach, she said, "Certain parts of it I would break down, just break down at my computer and cry." When she read a late draft in his office, she said, "I even leaned over to him and said, 'This is really, really hard.' "
The toughest pages to read? Those dealing with the holiday seasons spent hiding in Mr. Hose's room, she said. "Who sits in a closet on Christmas Eve?"
Ms. Kach dropped out of the world on Feb. 10, 1996, at age 14, when she ran away from home and to Mr. Hose. He was a security guard at McKeesport's Cornell Middle School, and they had a relationship built on love notes and "make-out sessions" under a stairwell near the gymnasium, the book said. She fled to his Soles Street house, was secreted to his room and didn't leave those walls for four years.
Her account of those four years is the book's page-turning centerpiece.
By day, she remained silent in Mr. Hose's bedroom, which locked from the inside. She was careful not to step on the creaky boards in the floor so she wouldn't alert his parents below.
Her bathroom was a bucket, her diet atrocious, her health care nonexistent, her personal space shared with the son of her lover and captor who slept in the same room. Her connections to the outside world were a window, a television and Cat Fancy magazine.
The book takes a number of runs at the complicated question that still divides McKeesport residents today: Why didn't she just leave?
She was threatened with death and told that nobody else cared about her, it notes. She dreaded returning to either of her parents. "My misguided love for [Mr. Hose] only grew as did my belief that, without him, I would be out on the street, homeless or dead," the book said. Even in 2004, she would have married him if he asked, it said.
"I was very vulnerable and brainwashed at that time," she said in an interview. "I was a kid. He got me while I was 14."
Reported as missing, Ms. Kach was the subject of a search that was both sporadic and ineffectual, including two police visits to Mr. Hose's house that did not result in searches. "Arrogance and idiocy really joined forces," Mr. Fisher said.
As he did in a failed civil lawsuit, Mr. Fisher in the book and in an interview blamed untrained police and inattentive school personnel, all butting heads with child welfare professionals and parents.
After she turned 18, and Mr. Hose allowed her to take carefully planned trips to stores, she was at first "relieved to be back in the locked bedroom," the book said. "I almost felt safe."
Gradually, though, her horizons broadened, her involvement with a church inspired feelings of independence, and she began to realize that her relationship was far from normal. That led to her March 21, 2006, emergence, facilitated by grocer Joseph Sparico's call to McKeesport police.
Returned to her father's home, she compulsively asked for permission before opening the refrigerator, leaving the house, using the bathroom or making a phone call. A long road of faith, therapy and time brought her to a place in which she can have a healthy relationship, and engage in a book release press blitz that includes an appearance on the "Dr. Phil" TV show.
Within "minutes" of becoming her lawyer and spokesman in 2006, Mr. Fisher got a call from "a big-time agent," he said. He declined then to get involved in any talks about Ms. Kach's story rights, but he kept depositions, notes and documents.
So far, her story has brought fame, but not fortune.
Her lawsuit began while the criminal case against Mr. Hose was proceeding. At her deposition, the defense attorneys arrayed against her "burst into laughter when she told a painful part of her story," Mr. Fisher said. "It was a joke to them."
Those attorneys got the last laugh, too, with U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster's 2008 decision dismissing the lawsuit. He ruled that the statute of limitations expired two years after Ms. Kach's 18th birthday -- rather than two years after her emancipation from Mr. Hose -- noting that "insanity or imprisonment does not extend the time limited" to file a civil suit.
One defendant, St. Moritz Security Services Inc., settled with Ms. Kach for a confidential sum, said Mr. Fisher. His appeal of the case's dismissal failed.
The litigation, and disappointed expectations of a windfall, warped and destroyed some of the relationships that Ms. Kach had built amidst the media maelstrom following her emergence. When it was over, Mr. Fisher said, "Tanya said, 'I've had enough of this litigation. I want you to go ahead and write my book.'"
People think that "she's sitting back and she's rich," Ms. Kach said, incredulously. "Trust me, I'm poor. I've got a dollar in my bank account" and debts and car problems she can't address.
"I just want to be able to pay my bills on time and not be in debt," she said. She also intends to make a repeat stab at college, with the aim of selling real estate someday, she said.
Mr. Fisher said he and Ms. Kach have a contract governing the distribution of book sales revenue, and one of his goals is to help his former client to financial independence. Another is "exposing the way in which a terrible tragedy occurs so hopefully it won't occur in the future," he said. A third is launching a sideline to his law practice. "I have at least three more books in me," said the first-time author.
Ms. Kach said she has gotten some kind comments about the book since its release electronically last month. One grandmother who is caring for a sexually abused child wrote that she derived hope from the book, and asked if Ms. Kach could meet with the child, which she agreed to do.
"There are some nasty comments" about the book on online forums, Mr. Fisher said. "There is a segment of the community that is bitter about [Ms. Kach's fame]."
In McKeesport, there are still mixed feelings about Ms. Kach, said some of the people who were caught up in the story.
Ms. Kach "had a mind of her own," said Judith Sokol, 62, a former friend of Mr. Hose. Ms. Sokol spent seven months in jail after pleading no contest to helping Mr. Hose hide Ms. Kach in the early days after her disappearance.
Ms. Sokol said she was still bewildered about the matter. She played no role in concealing Ms. Kach, and even suggested that police look for her in Mr. Hose's house, she said, but pleaded no contest to avoid what could have been a long sentence.
"I lost everything," she said. "I didn't even have an apartment to go back to."
Mr. Hose did not respond to a letter seeking comment.
For Ms. Kach, the days of subsisting on peanut butter and jelly are over. "I tried escargot" on a trip to do a television interview, she said. "It was really good! I was so surprised."
And whether the book is a success or not, she seems likely to maintain an irrepressible optimism that seems like it was somehow flash-frozen in her distant youth, only to emerge fresh upon thawing.
"Every day," she said, "I'm very grateful that I'm still alive."
"Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid" is available through Tate Publishing at www.tatepublishing.com or at Barnes & Noble bookstores.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.