--May, 2003: I haven't done much writing this year, but I did recently participate in an informal, little contest where the goal was to write stories of exactly 100 words. I penned this handful about life in Prague. The first three are about teaching English (and one of them is 144 words, for anyone out there who uses a base-12 counting system). The fifth one has nothing to do with Prague, as you'll see. Enjoy.--
--February, 2004: I've added two more at the bottom.--
--August, 2004: Gotten back into this recently, and have added a few more.
At the sudden, single-word command of their moderator (“FIGHT!”), the pair lunged with determination, weapons slashing.
“Fought”, their teacher said, reading the word each of them had written on the white board. “You’re both right, but Marketa was faster. Team B gets the point. It’s a tie.”
As he collected the markers from the two girls, he added, “Don’t forget the homework for next week”.
I’m used to a barrier between these young adults and me. Listed “pre-intermediate”, most are more like “pre-beginner”, and I know they get little benefit from their “native speaker hours” with me each week. Blank stares and “to nevím”* are commonplace, and we’ve learned to laugh about it together.
But today, I feel a chasm between us. Pavlina—my favorite, most-dedicated student—is clearly hurting. I see her fighting back tears. I’m sure my desire to take her aside and talk to her is motivated by good intentions like compassion, and not just because she’s a vibrant, stunning 22-year-old.
My inadequate “are you okay?” is answered with a perfunctory “yes”. Even if language didn’t devide us, I have no idea if it’s “appropriate” for a teacher to get involved like that here. It’s worse than the day no one knew what “out loud” meant.
Today, we read an article about cultural taboos. They exchanged puzzled looks when they saw: “don’t blow your nose in public in Japan.”
But they’re not really stupid, I know…it’s just another step in the never-ending dance of mass transportation. For those waiting to board, the equation is this: the more crowded the bus, the closer in I must press to make sure I get on.
Of course, I never will again.
Almost seven years after your death—on the twenty-eigth anniversary of your birth—and I still miss you every day, consciously grapple with the fact that you’re gone. But today, I force myself to remember only the good…the happy. Birthday.
Ok, I’ll admit it: I didn’t really want kids. Your mother did, though, and I loved her. I came to love you, even if I didn’t know how to show it. Men don’t say “I love you” to each other. That’s what I thought.
In you I saw myself, both the good and the bad.
Now, even after seven years, she can’t look me in the face, and I know it’s because she sees you there.
I’d yell it from a thousand rooftops, if it could only bring you back. When you died, I lost my son and my wife.
There’s something not right about that guy sitting across from me. He’s scrawny. He’s effeminate. He’s…cute. He must be a fag. Damn it, we made eye contact again. If we weren’t in this crowded metro car, I’d kick his ass.
God, this fat chick next to me smells like an Arab. What’s wrong with people in this country, anyway? Haven’t they heard of soap?
Don’t look at me again, Gaywad. That’s right…keep looking at your phone. Probably sending an SMS to your boyfriend.
Jesus, I can’t wait to get back home, have my car again.
I need to get laid.
On one street corner, I watched as a little girl in a blue dress, holding her father’s hand, squinted up at us on our metal monsters. She smiled and waived, and I smiled back. Her father yanked her violently back and scolded her angrily before looking at me with a gaze of defiant rage.
They hated us. They jeered and made obscene gestures, but it was their eyes that really got the message across. I was shocked, then hurt. I’d believed our pre-insertion briefings: we were coming in to liberate them, set them free.
I learned to hate them back.
One coworker taught his son to shoot animals when he was only eight. Another teaches his children that the holocaust is a leftist, Zionist lie. I know several children who honestly believe they’ll burn eternally if they do this or that…I can’t imagine the damage that must do to a five-year-old’s psyche.
But I’m the one in front of a judge, the possibility of losing my child looming before me. Why? Because I taught him not to be ashamed of himself, that the human body is a beautiful, natural thing.
“Land of the free?” I think not.
“Unfit Parent?” No.
Damn, this feels good.
I look into your eyes, smell the fear, the knowledge of what’s to come and the sheer terror that brings you. I revel in it.
Then, for a moment, I falter. Is this what you felt…am I becoming the beast I seek to destroy?
But it’s a fleeting moment, and I steel my resolve quickly and easily. Glaring into your frightened eyes, I know the true meaning of power for the first time.
“Say you want it, bitch,” I hiss, repeating your mantra. But I don’t await a response; I stab, and you’ll never rape again.
Oh Jesus, help me. It’s been four months now; I thought the feeling would go away with time, but it’s only increasing.
What’s wrong with me? I know I’m supposed to feel love, but I don’t…can’t. At best I feel a vague detachment, at worst…loathing, malice.
“Post-pardum depression”, the literature says, but that’s not right. I don’t want him back inside me, to be reconnected…I just want him to go away. I want my life back.
Who can I talk to about this? Everyone loves their baby…even animals do. But I have these visions.
Why am I like this…abnormal, evil?
Bobby was about my age, and was always included in the neighborhood games. He was one of those eternally-happy ones.
God, we were so cruel. He thought we were his friends; we didn’t call him “retard”.
“Bobby, I dare you… Bobby, I bet you can’t…” Always that eager smile, tongue lolling around his mouth, nose running.
I’d forgotten, shut it out for more than twenty years. We just thought gasoline would taste awful. He’d spit and sputter, we’d laugh, he’d smile.
Now, looking down at my newborn son—pug nose and oblong eyes, tell-tale signs—I know it’s my penance.