RECENT WORKS

I Am Learning Czech
Published in Southern Review
 
Czechs should do away with diacritics, or maybe only use them sparingly like the French. It is a perfectly rational though unnecessary system invented by Jan Hus and enshrined by later academicians. Any non-Czech who has written about things Czech must face the decision to use those tricky little marks, or not, in place names and in the occasional italicized Czech word or phrase. No one but a Czech will know if they are correct, and they usually won’t be. Still, including them is very cool; they make you look smart. I refuse to use them because I feel that they’re pretentious when the person applying them doesn’t speak, read or write Czech. What Czech will read about things Czech in English, and so be offended by erroneous or missing diacritics?
 
I have been on Chapter Six for twelve years; that is, no matter which textbook I use, I can’t get beyond LEKCE SEST (little “v” over the first “s”) no matter its content. In some texts, Chapter Six is quite advanced. In others, it takes one no farther than To je hezka kniha. But whatever its content, Chapter Six is my Rubicon; if I get past it I’ll be fully committed to a minimal competence that for reasons I can’t fathom, something having to do with botched potty training or a cankerous character flaw too hideous to pluck at, I’ve been unable, or unwilling, to achieve.
 
In Chapter Six of Communicative Czech by Ivana Bednarova and Magdalena Pintarova (in Bednarova there are accents over both “a”’s and a little “v” over the “r”; there is an accent over the second “a” in Pintarova), we meet Kristyna:
 
Jmenuju se Kristyna. Jsem z Bulharska. Ziju v Praze uz skoro mesic. Bydlim na koleji. Mam maly pokoj bez koupelny, ale jsem rada, ze bydlim sama. Kazdy den chodim do skoly a studuju cestinu. Skola je blizko krasneho parku.
 
In copying this, I left out twenty diacritics, marks signifying that the y in her name is long, that three of the z’s should be pronounced as soft g’s, two of the s’s like sh, one of the c’s like ch, two of the e’s rather like the y in “yellow.” And of course in addition to her name, several words contain long vowels that should be marked by accents. She tells me her name is Kristyna. She is from someplace I’ll assume, for now, is Bulgaria because of course “Bulharska” is not listed in the Glossary. She lives in Prague now almost a month, though I wonder if there is a way to say it in the present perfect that she’s simply sparing me until, say, Chapter Eleven. She resides at a student dorm—probably Kajetonka, a wretched facility where many foreign students are stashed—in a small room that doesn’t have a private toilet or shower, but even given this inconvenience she is happy because she lives alone, “sama,” more “by myself” than “alone”; it was Annie’s favorite word when she was two and wanted to do everything “sama.” Everyday (kazdy den) Kristyna goes to school and studies Czech. The school is near a lovely park.
 
I can understand her being happy that she doesn’t share her room with anyone, and accepting unfazed that she must share a toilet and shower probably with a dozen other young women. Czecho(slovakia) is much better off than Bulgaria, was much better off before 1989. The textbook was published in 1995, so Kristyna would be a decade older now, probably pushing thirty. I imagine that she met a nice Czech boy her third day in the country, and that her proficiency in Czech, as a consequence, improved rapidly, until he lied to her. Heartbroken, she sits an hour in that lovely little park near the school, that “krasneho parku,” and weeps, muttering curses in Bulgarian, which is a Slavic language and therefore quite close to Czech, though curses are unique in any language, and are tender strings on the soul, strings that, plucked, sting sweetly. Dominika can curse in English like a landlocked sailor and think nothing of it, but when certain Czech curse words are uttered in certain contexts, she can be deeply and immediately affected. As Kristyna sits muttering curses in her mother tongue, tears welling her eyes, she wishes she did not have to return to that cramped, cheesy dorm room in Kajetanka, where young men’s body odor tinges the air, and where she cannot pee in private.
 
 
Vyucovani zacina v 8,30 a konci ve 12,45. Vcera jsem mela hezky den. Rano jsem vstavala jako obvykle v 6,30. Snidala jsem kavu a rohliky. V 8 hodin jsem sla do skoly. Psali jsme test a divali se na dokument “Praha-srdce Evropy”.
 
Her lessons begin at eight thirty and end at quarter to one, so I imagine she attended classes, then met him for lunch at the kavarna across the street from the school. He told her he couldn’t take her to the family’s chata over the weekend because his brother and sister-in-law would be using it, and, besides, his father is having heart surgery on Sunday so he, Petr, a student in the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, must keep his mother and youngest sister company. When Kristyna asked why Petr’s older brother and sister-in-law would be staying in the chata, and not in Prague to help Petr take care of his mother and sister during this family ordeal, his slow response was the classic befuddlement of a poor liar, and Kristyna knew immediately that Petr was getting back together with that horse’s prdelka Olga, who’d stomped his heart innumerable times but obviously enjoyed the absolute control she exerted over his ptak: bird, which is one of the Czech euphemisms for penis, though surely Kristyna muttered its Bulgarian name.
 
Every school day I hear Dominika call, “Vstavat,” to the girls, telling them to get up, rise from bed. Kristyna rose from bed at 6:30 AM as she usually does, jako obvykle. But she is young and needs more sleep; surely she is irritable and tired, muttering and tearing up on that bench in the little park, where there is a sandbox and a bevy of young mothers and perhaps a babicka or two, and small children squirming in the damp sand. This is not, not really, “Den Kristyny,” Kristyna’s day, but I doubt that the phrase can resonate that way in Czech, as in, “This is just not my day.” For breakfast she had only a roll and coffee, and her lunch had not arrived by the time she stormed out of the kavarna, so her stomach is growling and she’s a little dizzy. No, this will not be a “hezky den,” a pretty day, or a nice day; it will be a lonely day, for after her fights with Petr her homesickness swells, and her head fills with the folk music her uncles used to pluck and scrape and squeeze from their horrible instruments at holidays, when she and her cousins romped around the groaning boards of their prolific mothers.
 
Now, in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, Kristyna is thirtyish, wise to the ways of the world, wise especially to the lying ways of men; she lives with her Austrian lover in Naples, where he attends medical school and she is buying and selling cheap stuff on the internet to make a decent living, but in 1995 she was too young to understand a fellow like Petr, a handsome, good-hearted kid but vacuous as a puppy, easy prey for that bitch Olga, who lived three years in Chicago so, now, in 1995, knows things. In less than a month Kristyna’s romance with Petr has cycled through initial bliss to learning that he was on the rebound to learning that he was not at all over his previous girlfriend. They had one incredible week before the sour news of Olga, before the unraveling began.
Today, in 1995, after a test, she saw in school a documentary film titled, Prague: The Heart of Europe. She smiles bitterly; she lost her heart in the heart of Europe. She is young enough to find the irony significant.
 
I don’t want my Czech-American daughters to go through what I imagine Kristyna suffering, but how does a monolingual father help prepare daughters for heartbreak in two languages? Perhaps he begins by getting past Chapter Six.
 
Czech men, generally, are more decent than American men. They are chronically unfaithful, even more so than Americans, and I suppose in this they are not unlike most continental Europeans, especially the French. But they like women, seem able to form authentic friendships with women to a greater extent than can American males. There seem to be fewer gender pathologies in Czech culture generally, certainly fewer instances of violence. One advantage of my daughters hooking up eventually with Czech males will be that I won’t have to talk with those young guys much. Unless my girls hook up with English-speaking Czechs, it is doubtful that the minimal Czech-language competence I aspire to will enable many soulful conversations with young Czech guys my daughters present to me. The fact that I am large and look mean without trying will speak volumes, though.
 
If my girls connect with American men, I will unfortunately have to talk to those guys a lot. If they connect with white men from the suburbs, conservative types, I will weep privately but eventually buck up and try my best to be decent. If they connect with black men from the suburbs, I will be happy if those young guys are in medical school or are seeking some other post-graduate education. I’ll do all I can to discourage my daughters from hooking up with working-class guys of any flavor who can’t see beyond monthly paychecks, though I will embrace any males who love them and will not impede their progress toward whatever life goals my daughters set for themselves.
 
Regarding my teenager, Ema, I realize that these musings are near-future concerns, yet I’m not worried too much about her connecting with someone I won’t like; I’m more worried simply that the first time her heart is broken she will be more deeply devastated than most young females, more susceptible to the transformative pain of heartbreak because she is more poised, tender, dreamy, and decent than most.
 
I don’t want to imagine her teary on a park bench, devastated, homesick, cursing a young man by turns in Czech and English, feeling insufficient. My deepest wish regarding my daughters’ hearts is that they never feel insufficient for being rejected in love.
And to this end I’ll seek the proper distance each one requires of me, the proper degree of proximity, the appropriate degree of absence. I’ll communicate in every way I can that until they fall in love with a task or idea, until they have wedded their fortunes to something larger than any man, father or lover, their hearts will be exposed to the vagaries of mere romance.
 
I met Dominika in the summer of 1989 on the Chatham College campus in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Fulbright organization had decided I should learn some Serbo-Croatian before traveling to Ljubljana, Slovenia where I would be a writer in residence at the university there; that the Slovenes considered Serbo-Croatian the language of their historical oppressors didn’t seem to matter much. The Fulbright folks were willing to fork over a relatively hefty sum for me to study Serbo-Croatian in the Eastern and Central European Summer Language Institute on the Chatham campus, including meals, board and travel, so I was game. I had no dog in the internecine conflict between the Serbs and the Slovenes, and arrived in Pittsburgh cheerfully ignorant of languages, history, and politics of the region.
 
Dominika, a twenty-six-year-old who’d just finished her Ph.D. in Comparative Linguistics and Literature at Charles University’s Philosophical Faculty, was brought over to teach the Czech course. The classes were five days a week, three hours a day over six weeks. Most of the program participants were graduate students or faculty from good institutions, and many were scheduled, like myself, to hold Fulbright positions. A significant number arrived with some knowledge of the languages they were to study, or already had facility with a Slavic language. A perky young woman in my class of eight was fluent in Russian, and complained that Serbo-Croatian’s similarity to Russian was sometimes confusing. She was chatting in Serbo-Croatian with the two instructors by the third week. One of my other classmates had spoken Macedonian as a child, and another had spoken Serbo-Croatian as a child; their Slavic souls flooded back over the weeks and they, too, were conversing by the third or fourth week of the program. The others in my class were bilingual or multi-lingual, and though they had no Slavic languages were tuned to the language-learning process. I’d been allowed to fulfill my college language requirements by taking a semester each of French, Spanish, Italian and Latin, so of course knew very little of any of them.
 
I was the class idiot, especially given that I’d struck up a torrid affair with the gorgeous Czech instructor and was not conjugating and declining, except perhaps figuratively, deep into the nights, as were my classmates.
 
I was married, so I was cheating. I was indeed happily married, which is to say my wife was a good friend, so I was cheating not only in an institutional sense, which is almost meaningless, but fundamentally, which is to say my actions were a betrayal. I betrayed my best friend.
My first marriage was a joke. I mean literally. My first wife and I got married on a whim in New Orleans on St. Patrick’s Day in 1980. We were drunk and on drugs, and I cannot say precisely why we did it. I loved my first wife, in a manner of speaking, but more importantly I liked and respected her. She is decent, bright and funny. She is beautiful, too.
 
As a young man, I was good looking and must have had some kind of appeal, because I was intimate with numerous beautiful, truly beautiful, women. In fact, I have much more experience interacting with the psychologies of beautiful and attractive females than I do with the psychologies of females who are plain.
 
Beautiful women must learn not only to negotiate the attention of males, but also the envy and complex affections of women who are not beautiful. There are women who are comfortable with their beauty and those who are not; there are women, beautiful and not, who are comfortable with other women’s beauty and those who are not. My first wife was comfortable with her own beauty and with the beauty of other women; perhaps more importantly she was a lover of women generally, which means that she sought and usually found the beauty in all women. Dominika is similarly democratic in her relations to other women. My first wife, Elizabeth, and Dominika share this advantage of being beautiful women in whom most other women, beautiful and not, sense this democratic impulse.
 
The value of Czech female beauty, considered as an indicator of national character, is best represented by the anecdote, perhaps apocryphal but saliently so, that in the midst of the Soviet invasion some young women would strike provocative poses in front of invading tanks then dash away. The purpose of this behavior was to set the horny young soldiers within ablaze. Allure used in such public service is poor fodder for martial ends, and yet it is quintessentially Czech, and illustrates both the matriarchal spirit of the culture and its indomitable passive-aggressive nature. Those daughters of Svejk, hiking their skirts, dropping their straps, focusing come-hither gazes, were the frontline of a culture that had been defending itself against invaders for a thousand years by the only means available other than violent insurgency: irony.
 
The Czechs are the most ironic people on earth. A hundred thousand or more of them stood in Wenceslas Square giving the Nazi salute but singing their national anthem, “Where Is My Homeland?” Their history is rife with religious conflict, and yet theirs is the least faith-determined society anywhere. The national demeanor is a reversal of an old adage: “Light laughter on the face, deep sorrow in the heart.” The Czechs do not guffaw, American and German style, in public; but there seems, despite deprivations and humiliations they have suffered, a well of hilarity at which all Czechs form a fire line, passing buckets. The conflagration of Czech history, including the charred corpses of Jan Hus and Jan Palach, smolders at the other end.
 
When my daughters’ hearts are broken, will they despair in Czech or in English? Will they lock themselves away and listen to sad Czech songs or English? Will they place their faith in men such as I, and be cheated as I cheated the good woman I deserted to be with their mother?
 
They are the perfect fruit of my deception. They are the blessings of my life, and though I have honored them I have been an asshole to their mother tongue, condescending to it, ignoring it, abusing it.
 
Kristyna fantasizes confronting Olga, telling her to stop manipulating Petr; he is good and doesn’t deserve what Olga is doing to him. Kristyna actually believes it is Olga’s fault, that Olga is the whole problem. If it were not for her, Petr would see how good Kristyna is for him, how decent she is, how caring. He would take her on the weekends to the chata in Slapy, and his family would treat her as one of its own; and that’s really what Kristyna wants more than anything, to be a part of Petr’s family, to feel part of a group bound by blood even though she is not related to it by blood, because it is the loneliness that makes her ache all over, the disconnection from familial intimacy. She spent one Sunday at the chata with Petr and everyone had been there, his mother and father, sister and brother and brother’s wife who had been particularly nice to Kristyna; Milena had treated Kristyna as a sister. They chatted for hours while scouring the forest floor for mushrooms, houby, and Kristyna had filled her basket with more than anyone as she had always done when her own family had hunted the fungi of her oldest uncle’s woods, or the woods that had belonged to him before the war.
 
At thirty, living abroad, Kristyna feels herself more European than Bulgarian; she speaks good Italian, fair English, and her best friend Olga jokes that she has become more Czech than Bulgarian, that her Czech is that good, and Olga’s family, even her country-bumpkin cousins who live in the lower regions of the “Giant Mountains”—that are anything but--think of her as Olga’s sister. Indeed, if her Austrian soon-to-be-doctor dumps her, as she realizes he likely will, it is to Olga and her family that Kristyna will retreat.
 
But now, on that bench in 1995, all she can think of is how terrible is that girl, tahle holka, that Olga she has only seen from afar, walking away from Petr’s moped, or from his apartment in Prague 6, how manipulative, perhaps even evil, yes, evil. Petr is Olga’s victim, and by extension so is Kristyna because she loves Petr, yes, she must now admit to herself on that bench, weeping quietly, hiding her face as best she can from the women on the benches around the sandbox twenty meters away, that she loves that boy, that kind and decent, tender and funny boy, Petr Hasek, who once told her that he was indeed related to the great writer of the Good Soldier Svejk.
The patron saint of the Czech people is that ironic, bumbling soldier, whose moral lesson is corrosive submission, which is to say his strategy is to submit to oppression then vex its agents with incompetence. Svejk and his progeny vexed three empires, but now are in danger of irrelevance as more or less unfettered markets render incompetence itself the oppressor.
 
My eight-year-old, Annie, and I went shopping one day last summer at the Tesco department store, whose proximity to Narodni Divadlo, the National Theater, seems fortuitous given the latter’s prominence in the Velvet Revolution and the former’s role as a kind of center stage for post-89 market relations. We sought a new pair of shoes for her, but didn’t beeline to footwear, assuming rather a circuitous route, Annie dragging me through toys.
 
My second daughter is a tall, stunningly beautiful, blond blue-eyed child; she is in fact beautiful like her mother and willful as I. She’s a good kid, but has a mean streak in which I secretly rejoice, for I know it will serve her well if I’m successful in training her to manage it, to be mean at appropriate moments without being mean-spirited, to have a nose for the kill but no malice. Because it’s likely she’ll be a beautiful woman, or even if she grows out of her beauty certainly no less a woman, she must learn not to be mystified by the brute strength of men, and to form strategies for counter-balancing the innate disadvantage of relative physical weakness. To this end, I don’t bridle too much against her pushy nature, allowing her to delight often in overcoming my will, though asserting enough resistance from time to time to challenge and thereby strengthen her resolve. Sometimes I’m intransigent and her responses are fits of rage that are wonders to behold; her mother and I on those occasions gnash our teeth and wring our hands, but inwardly I feel triumph, for I know that person howling against the tethers of our authority will never be cowed, will never be oppressed, will never be struck more than once by a man she loves, Czech, American or other. If I am a successful American father, there will be a strong consensus among those who cross her that she is a certifiable American Bitch, a type that is anomalous to the Czech ideal of womanhood even more so than it is to the American ideal.
 
The Czechs have fashioned a matriarchal culture, and perhaps this is because they simply couldn’t out-German the Austrians, or out-Russian the Russians, being themselves mostly failed Germans. Nineteenth Century Czech nationalism was a matter of hauling a tiny Slavic dialect, one replete with so many diminutives Poles call it baby Polish, and its quaint folkish culture out of the mouths of Bohemian and Moravian grandmothers and into big-city opposition to German-language hegemony. Czech national identity wasn’t an organic product of cultural accretion so much as an identity by committee; artists, statesmen and intellectuals huddled, planned, divvied responsibilities, assigned duties.
 
But the folkish Czech heart is the same as every folkish heart; its deepest inclination is to hunker down, dodge conflict, tend the garden, avoid eye-contact with authority, though this feature is magnified in people with no martial past to glorify, whose martial past indeed is embodied by a beer-swilling fatso whose primary attribute, whose stellar quality, is incompetence. The Czech hearth is a place of primary power if only because it was never, to any significant extent, a place where women stoked home fires while menfolk battled Huns; it was rather almost always the place to which men stumbled blear-eyed after long evenings of griping in pubs, the place to which they returned to be nurtured, cared for, attended to. Czech men generally don’t oppress women by turning them into slaves, but by turning them into mothers, caretakers with all the responsibility but also all the authority. Czech culture, beneath the patriarchal veneer of Nineteenth Century nationalism, is a world of powerful mothers burdened by their interminable duties to prodigal, beer-pickled boys.
 
No American Bitch will put up with such a circumstance, for she won’t have power on such terms. She asks only for a fair fight, a fair shot, a proverbial level playing field. The American Bitch is an advocate for gender fairness, and will recognize the paradox of Czech matriarchy for the dubious structure it is.
 
Communism accommodated Czech matriarchy fabulously; by driving private lives into the countryside, by flinging sex and fellowship, all things non-ideological, which is to say all things private and therefore humanly important, at the chata, the summer cottage, communism simply reinforced, and deepened the paradox, of Czech matriarchy. Under communism, women were installed in the workforce as never before, which meant simply that they were charged with maintaining the daily functioning of not only the workplace but both hearths, in the city flat and the country cottage. Men continued their Svejkish behavior unabated, remained coddled sons kvetching in pubs, shuffling from the care of women in the workplace into pubs, and then stumbling from pubs into the care of women at home, often with side-trips to their mistresses, who of course were themselves but doubly-surrogate mommies. So much of modern Czech literature, especially the novels of Kundera, is a clear, though seemingly unconscious, documentation of this circumstance.
 
So the Czech Mother, unlike the American Bitch, is classically conservative. She is in a traditional, if dubious, position of power; she is cheated on, condescended to, even slapped around from time to time, but she’s in charge, whether she’s checking out groceries or toys, serving food or flowers, administering pedicures or spooning cough medicine.
 
And I am constantly in conflict with these women in the Czech marketplace, especially given that I’ve been conditioned to receive service with a smile, to believe that I, the customer, am always right. I am infuriated when a cheerless country mouse acts as though she can’t understand my tiny, grotesque Czech, tells me what a dolt I am in Czech she must know I will not comprehend unless she decelerates and mouths the words as to an addled one-year-old or genius dog.
 
Dominika, my beautiful and brilliant wife, sometimes wishes she’d married someone handy, a man’s man who can fix things. I can see in her eyes sometimes that she wishes she could simply be a Czech Mother, run everything and be exploited by a man who spends most of his time with other men in pubs and with a mistress. Sometimes, I think, she is nostalgic for that life she could have had. However, she is exploited by an American who would rather be at home than anywhere else, who does not seek the company of other men, but rather stays at home to read, write, and spend time with children. She married an American who happily cedes all authority to her, especially when we are in Prague, an American who--though I cheerfully pull my domestic weight--is not only unhandy but militantly so. More often than not, she is happy to be my partner, particularly because I am a good father for our females and because I have been a good and faithful friend. She appreciates that I have trusted her implicitly, and passionately supported her career as a freelance interpreter. She realizes that our time in Prague is my time to read and write, though she wishes that I would not recede so deeply into myself when I read and write, when I work. Of course she wishes that I were not such an idiot regarding her language, but is beyond trying to shame me into learning Czech, for she knows that one of my meager, very American gifts is that I can’t be shamed.
 
I think Dominika has weighed the pros and cons of having an unshamable American husband who in fifteen years has not learned her language. One advantage is privacy; she can talk on the phone to any Czech and know that I may get the gist of her conversation, but not many particulars. Another advantage is that our household is one in which our children must speak English and so our girls speak perfect Czech and English. A third advantage has been that over our fifteen years together her English has become spectacular, better than that of any of her colleagues.
 
Chief among the disadvantages has been simply that she must handle all significant transactions. I am not able to talk to my daughters’ teachers, or to auto mechanics, or bank managers, or to the workmen she must hire to compensate for my militant unhandiness. She admires my work ethic, celebrates my career successes, but wishes that when we are in Prague I would not always collapse so deeply into my memories and imagination, cocooned in English; she wishes I would engage her world directly, open up to it and not filter it through her and our children. She wishes I could love her world as much as I love our children.
 
It is quite likely that Kristyna will never “find a man,” will never marry. She is thirty and lovely, capable, resourceful. She wants children, and is even considering getting pregnant by her soon-to-be-doctor, though she has no delusions as to what would be his response to the news that she is pregnant. He would fly into one of his rages in which he abuses her verbally right up to the cusp of striking her; she has seen that sort of thing in men before. The American with whom she lived in Prague in the late 90s, an Air Force major and attaché at the U.S. Embassy, raged once a week, struck her twice, though otherwise was gentle. The Czech men, too numerous to count quickly, had never struck her, had rarely raged, though they left her, always left her, and always for women Kristyna knew, and Olga insisted passionately, were not a fraction as beautiful and decent as Kristyna.
 
After a protracted scene in the toy section where Annie wore me down expertly and so acquired the object of her capricious affection, her shoes and toy now on the counter being rung up, I gave my AmEx card to the checkout woman who glanced at it and said in rapid Czech that it was no good because the black ink had rubbed off the numbers; I insisted that the black ink did not matter, that I’d never heard of such a problem. I had a Visa, but didn’t wish to let that woman so arbitrarily, so ridiculously, determine the manner of my payment. I insisted, first in Czech (This good. This very good. This not bad. What you say? Why you say this bad? You are very big idiot), but then noticed how embarrassed Annie was, not by the conflict but by how poorly I was conducting my end of it, so explained in English that the card was perfectly fine, that black ink on the raised numbers had no bearing on the card’s efficacy as an instrument of procurement. She smiled, fleetingly, the smile of a mother in charge, stood silent, passively fixed to her absurd position.
 
I wanted Annie to see me neither give in nor continue in my running role as American Asshole Abroad. A line was forming behind us; people’s arms were full of stuff they wanted to place as soon as they could on the counter. The Czech Mother pinched my AmEx, stared at it. I reached over the counter and plucked it from her fingers, a provocative gesture in any culture. Then I slapped down my Visa. She processed it quickly. I signed and stormed away with my bag in one hand, the hand of my Czech-American beauty in the other.
 
Outside, I explained that the woman had been wrong, that she had been silly, but that sometimes, when we are right, insisting so is simply not worth the effort. The lesson was that we must learn to pick our righteous battles, and I went on to point out that by insisting upon my purchasing her bauble, Annie had spent influence capital, that I would not likely relent to her next fixation.
 
Of course she wasn’t buying it. I watched her profile as I made my argument, threading through the crowd along Narodni trida, amidst the Czech chatter which to her ears was a swirl of fully comprehensible conversations and to mine but a familiar babble of which I understood many words and almost no sentences, toward the tram stop where we would catch the 18 back to our home in Prague 4. I could see a kindred spirit shining from her eyes, the spirit of another being who like myself thrives on righteous conflict, my daughter, my bifurcated darling, my fellow American whom my American ex-wife, a good woman who chose to be childless for good reasons, would like and recognize as every inch my girl.
 
On that bench in 1995 a young woman, a girl becoming a woman in the crucible of heartbreak, is gathering courage to confront the cause of her sorrow, and she rises, rubs her wrists into her eyes, straightens her back, lifts her book bag to her shoulder, and strides out of the little park to search for Olga.
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