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(Excerpt)I Never Wanted to Hang Myself+ Desperate Women Do Desperate Things by Halina Pawlowská

(Excerpt)I Never Wanted to Hang Myself

I never wanted to hang myself. I find it unappealing. I had seen films that showed purple tongues hanging out of mouths, rope marks on necks, and hanging victims who, once the rope is cut, fall to the ground to spend eternity as a pile of nothing. Revolting. I wanted to drown myself!

I wanted to drown myself, letting the current of the river carry me downstream. I might even reach the sea. I wanted to disappear in an elegant fashion, while at the same time hoping the gentle waves would rock me after I died.

At the root of my troubles was (understandably) love! I loved Jenik. He loved me. He had never seen a girl more beautiful than me. He looked at me with eyes filled with admiration for my perfection as well as disbelief that so priceless a treasure had fallen into his lap. We loved each other until the wedding, after the wedding; we loved each other a good eight years. Then Jenik met Love of His Life Number Two. At the time I was thirty-two. I had circles under my eyes, had two children and weighed twenty pounds more than before the wedding. SHE was twenty-one. No circles, no children, and she weighed the same as I did when I was fourteen. Jenik’s eyes were filled with disbelief that such a treasure let him kiss her and came out with statements like: “I like older boys (Jenik was thirty-three) and… I feel safe with you.” Well I didn’t feel safe. I met them by chance. I’d never felt such pain before. The way he looked at this young beauty. He was so in love. It broke my heart. 

So I walked to the river. (We always lived nearby.) I looked at the water. It was murky, grey and undoubtedly chilly. I stood at the very edge, tears streaming down my face. I wanted to jump in the river, jump in the river along with my hopelessness. I felt sad for my parents, my children, for Jenik, for myself. At that very moment about a hundred swans swam right up to the shore. They were dirty and grey like the river. The biggest male landed on the riverbank and stared at me. The swans were extremely aggressive. They blocked the embankment so that there was no way to jump in. I angrily shooed them away. I may have even kicked a gentle creature that was tugging at the leg of my pants. And my sorrow became anger. I left. I bought myself a pastry at the bakery, I bought chocolates for the children, and I told Jenik firmly, “Look! Pack your bags and go see that beauty of yours!” He packed his things and left. He stayed at his beauty’s place for three days…  Today I’m forty. Jenik looks at me with love and disbelief that such a treasure (me) fell into his arms. We never feed the swans. And meanwhile… they sure would deserve it. 

Take care and don’t hang yourself. No one and nothing is worth it!

P.     S. Otherwise I quite like animals.


(Excerpt)Desperate Women Do Desperate Things

Desperate Women Do Desperate Things


Chapter One


I Loved Hippos. There Were Two. (Prehistory)


I’ve suffered from inferiority complexes my whole life. When I was about thirteen the bottom half of my body got fat. My thighs swelled to shocking proportions. Cellulite covered my perky backside and within two years my breasts got so big that I needed a size 4D (US 38D) bra (the “D” cup was significant: my narrow back made my long pear-shaped breasts jut out in an odd way.) I had a relatively (!) thin waist. I had small feet, plump forearms and petite hands. I weighed over 70 kilos (154 lbs.) with a face like the Virgin Mary (of course that’s what my three aunts from the countryside and very old men – friends of my father – told me). My peers called me “Bruise” because every time I played sports, which I was, understandably, terrible at, I ended up with bruises. I was also nicknamed “Tomato” because when I made even the slightest effort, and to me absolutely everything seemed to require effort, I turned purple and it would take hours for the color to fade, one spot at a time.

Martin was the first boy I fell in love with at trade school. He was extremely intelligent. He had piercing eyes and his last name was Kuna (Marten).

Instead of eating lunch, my girlfriends and I would go to the Milk Bar for milkshakes. One day Kuna was there with a dark-haired girl with from his own (higher) grade. He bought her a shake and she kissed him. Slowly. He turned red and started talking really fast. Evidently out of sheer bliss. I choked out of grief. “Hi,” Martin hollered at me like we were old pals (I have never wanted to be anyone’s “old pal”!), and he put his arm around the dark-haired girl. The milk in the shake went sour. I threw up on myself.

Jachym, who was two years older, stood about two meters (six foot five) tall. I thought that if he put his arm around me (unfortunately because of Kuna I had developed an obsession: I kept imagining being hugged overprotectively and how small and diminutive and helpless I am in his arms…) that his stature would overshadow me and I could look up to him devotedly with deferential love.  Jachym had light blue eyes that made every girl hope she was the girl he would marry. Jachym was willing to listen and willing to laugh. He was devoid of hate. Unfortunately he was devoid of love.  All he had was a certain eagerness, thanks to which I lost my virginity to him. At the time Jachym lay down on top of me. Somehow it wasn’t working. I didn’t want to draw attention to my inexperience.

“Jachym, how many girls have you slept with?,” I asked subtly.

“Seven,” he groaned, and kept on trying.

In the end I got on top of him. It hurt a little. He smiled. “So… how many girls have you slept with now?!,” I asked in an artificially cheerful way.

“Now eight,” Jachym said, and I found out that was IT!



My childhood was over. Thank God. My childhood was awful. My parents didn’t divorce, they didn’t hit each other; they didn’t let me roam the streets. They didn’t hit me. They didn’t even starve me. My parents loved me. Living with them was miserable!

My Dad was always a bit odd. He was always in trouble with the political regime. He always wrote poems that no one would publish, and he always suspected all his friends of turning him in to the Secret Police.  (Only recently did we learn that he had been right.) My Dad also yelled a lot. He yelled for no reason. He spent money that was always in short supply, and he had unreasonable expectations of me. He wanted me to be an outstanding tennis player. He made me sway from side to side on the court and pretend to be at the ready. He wanted me to do somersaults on skis and to swim underwater. He wanted me to be fearless and to go on hikes more than 50 km (30 miles) long. I never did any of these things, nor did I want to.

(Once I played in a tennis match. I was awful, but there were other daughters of similarly overenthusiastic fathers who played even worse. I won maybe three matches and my father began proudly looking at the other dads. Then he forced me to play at the net. Of course I missed the ball right away. It was a lob. I backed up. My eyes were popping out of my head and then… I fell. There was nothing dramatic about it. I fell flat on my bottom. It was humiliating. I began to chuckle. Loudly. My father never let me forget it. “Like an idiot!,” he whispered glumly. “You laughed like an idiot.”)

My father wanted me to be ambitious. I wasn’t. I barely had any ambition for anything. All I wanted was to be beautiful and have a boyfriend!



My brother Evzen was older than me. He was tactful and sophisticated and it seemed as if he came from a different family.

(When Evzen was five he and my father took a long cross-country skiing tour. At the time my father stopped on a hill and began lecturing Evzen how to position his skis for an impressive jump. Our father was just standing there and suddenly he lost his balance. His skis flew way up in the air and he fell flat on his back. Getting up took great effort. He glared at Evzen suspiciously. “Are you laughing?” “Not at all,” Evzen said calmly. “It’s just that you kicked me in the forehead,” he said and then fell unconscious. He remained unconscious for three days.)

Evzen was incredibly bright. Mom always made an example out of him because my intelligence was just average. Evzen studied architecture and everyone believed he showed great promise. I, however, already knew that promises were meaningless because Evzen was going to live life on his own terms. Not that he didn’t love his family, but we all tortured him with our free spiritedness and lack of order and Evzen in his secrecy needed order and he worked inconspicuously to create order for himself.

When I gained the most weight and obsessed most about myself because I didn’t have a boyfriend and never would, because I would end up an old maid like Aunt Klara who wore unconventional clothes and was so tightly wound that it seemed like her face was pulled taught with rubber bands, because I would never marry and I would look at all men askance like Aunt Vlasta, and because they were going talk about me like they did about Aunt Jana, saying I would always vacation abroad, where I would sleep with all the Bulgarians (“to sleep with Bulgarians” was a phrase that terrified me throughout puberty, and when I went to Bulgaria on a trip with the Communist Youth Organization I did not utter a word to any Bulgarian men; I would turn away in such disgust and horror that some sweet Italians nearly raped me…), – during the period when I obsessed most about myself and I needed my pragmatic mother’s strong support, my mother gave birth to my sister Romana. Overnight Romana grew into a tall blonde with long legs and long hair down to her bottom. This is how Romana was born, grew and lived. She had perfect grades, she had admirers, she didn’t have trouble with Mom because, unlike me, no one used her as an example, and she didn’t talk to father because he was too old for her. All three of us children loved our parents and they loved us, which made zero difference in my love life.




We lived in Pecka. Pecka was a picturesque little town in the foothills. It featured castle ruins, a pond and a swimming area with a cigar-shaped piece of wood that had been polished smooth by the water for fifty years. In the town square there was a hotel where about 150 members of the Prochazek family would gather for Easter.

(My mom’s maiden name was also Prochazek. Every year at Easter she would leave our house to go stay with her relatives who travelled to the hotel from afar – from Jicin, Mlazovice, Olomouc and even Germany and Norway. For those two days she wouldn’t even stop by our house for an instant and our father was beside himself. Evidently he envied the whole clan its strong ties. But he had too much pride to check on Mom. Instead he would spend the following weeks pressing her for information. Later we learned that Aunt Vera from Manetin had a bone spur on her heel, that Aunt Anca’s husband had failed to tell her where he had buried the gold bars before he died, and that Jaruska from Chrudim had picked up a burly married man who had two children. One time Mom mentioned that she had won a contest that the Prochazek clan held in a nearby sports complex. She won by doing a backflip into the water. Dad wouldn’t talk to her for about a month. He considered what Mother had done to be worse than if she had been unfaithful to him. For more than twenty years Dad had believed that Mom didn’t know how to swim. Mom barely defended herself. The only thing she said was that she couldn’t swim, but she could jump and that Dad had never asked her to do a backflip. Perhaps Dad wasn’t the only oddball in our family. Perhaps my “ordinary” Mom was peculiar too.

When I was twenty-two I wanted a change so I moved to the grey city. I became a shop attendant at the biggest department store in town.

Every day I got up at seven, I started work at eight, at ten I went on break, I had lunch at noon, and at two-thirty I went home. To a dormitory. Every two weeks I went home to see my parents. I shared a room with Adriana. I had a cassette player and a ball made of dried strawflowers. I had twenty-six books and a diary that I wrote in every day about where I had been and who with. (Even back then that seemed odd to me.) I usually went to the cinema with Adriana, sometimes to the theater. Sometimes I went to a wine bar called U Kafka and sometimes I wrote about something especially meaningful that I noticed on the faces of the approximately hundred and fifty women I saw every day. Yes. The faces of one hundred and fifty women! I was a shop assistant at Kotva! I sold fabric! Have you ever seen a man looking for three and a half meters of crease-resistant wool?! Evidently my obsession with becoming an old maid WAS completely logical!

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