I WISH I HAD BIG BREASTS AND WORE HIGH HEELS August 21, 1968 Czechoslovakia


It is the twenty-first day of August 1968, late at night. The Russians just invaded Czechoslovakia.


I am five and excited to be woken up at two AM because it is an unexpected promise of a great adventure.

My mother is quickly helping me dress, tacking my yellow shirt with an embroidered bee on the right shoulder into my shorts. She allows me to wear flip flops even though we do not go swimming, the only time I can usually wear them. And off she drags me out. I wonder what is going on, but I say nothing and listen to the fun echo sound of my rubbery flip flops hitting hard the shiny concrete steps. I hold on tight to my mom’s hand not to fly away as she is hurriedly catching up with my father already waiting outside.


The sidewalk in front of our house is crowded. My father is standing in a circle of our neighbors, a small radio in a brown leather case by his ear.

We never take our small radio outside. We never go outside in the middle of night unless we are catching a train.


Something must be up.


We join the crowd and walk towards the village plaza by the church.


I notice that the yellow apartment building on my right has many windows lit and opened, and as we are passing the maroon building of the coal warehouse, I am startled by the noise of the heavy gate gliding noisily on the rail to be wide open so the night-shift workers can join us.

One more turn by the bus stop and here we are at the plaza. I love this part of my village. I am often allowed to bike here to meet my friends.


The plaza is surrounded by beautiful old buildings all shining with red bricks made and baked in our local ceramic factory. The red buildings are similar looking: beautiful and fancy, some with slim spiral towers, tall round-arched windows, some with wrought iron decorations, heavy doors and funny and really scary gutters: here is the library, the beautiful building of the doctors’ offices and a town hall, next is a post office and on the left my favorite of all: my school cafeteria!!! It has a fenced wrought iron bridge between the two spiral towers and we were once allowed to cross the bridge up there!! But the most beautiful buildings that complete the square of the plaza are a big elementary school nicknamed Red, after the red bricks, my mom teaches there, and a huge round gorgeous red church sitting in the middle of a large spooky garden where we play a lot.


Everyone I know is here in the plaza: like our cook from a school cafeteria paní Kuriálová, our postman pan Bartoš, our nurse, the cashier from the grocery store, Miss Bumbálková from after school, and all of my parents’ friends. People carry Czech flags, others have them pinned on their clothes, everyone is loudly greeting everyone, shaking hands, gesturing wildly; small groups are formed, people mingle around. By now my father puts me on his shoulders and I crane my neck to spot my classmates and friends and if I do I wave at them.

Suddenly the sound from the tall red brick belfry startles the plaza as it almost visibly swells with the sudden frantic tolling of the bells. I am scared, it is so loud and all people look up as if something should come down from the heavens. What is up? My parents talk to everyone left and right, I keep asking why the church tolls its bells in the middle of night for so long and what are we doing out, but they brush me away with a loving but quick pad on my cheek with “wait a minute” and “ it’s nothing” and they keep talking.


My mom’s friend Věra starts stroking my head and keeps saying “do not worry, my little doll.” That is how she always calls me, my little doll. Then she says she took Radek, my neighbor and my best friend, to his grandma when I ask where he is. She took him to his grandma in the middle of night? Strange.





Then I hear an incredible, unfamiliar rumbling noise that makes the ground shake, and at the same time I hear three geese shrieking sharply above our heads as they are finally disturbed from their nap on a garden lagoon. I cling to my parents and I hear loud shouting: “Oh, no!” and “Jesus Maria” and “This is it”, and “My God” and “What will happen now”.

Tanks roll into the church plaza and everyone in the village stands still. Dark bulky clouds are passing over the night clear sky. All of a sudden, as if someone gives a signal, the entire plaza starts moving, almost dancing. Some people are angrily shouting, others are piercing the air with their fists, some people are crying, others burst into our national anthem and I am afraid. My parents look serious as they join the singing.


I am all over my dad, squeezing him tight. He takes me down and holds me, but my mom grabs my hand and drags me away the back way through the church park. Out of the corner of my eye I see my friend Zdena still sitting on her father’s shoulders, her eyes round and big as she stares into the night.


We are back at home. My parents’ friends and neighbors come to our large kitchen. The phone is ringing, the radio is on, my mom is pulling out rolls to make little sandwiches with liver pate and pickles. The kitchen is loud and cozy to me. “Russians”, “Moscow”, “Breznev”, Invasion”, Contra Revolution”, “Dubček” —these words are said with so much tension and drama that I watch with an open mouth out of a corner where I quietly sit on our green couch. I feel a part of everything. I start here and there nodding my head to some of the comments, as if I understood.


My parents never let me stay up after 7 PM and it is almost dawn! I know that something big is going on and I am forgotten. I sit in the corner, legs pulled up, I listen, I watch, I try to understand. In a while I even get up and make myself a drink with raspberry syrup. I sit down again and wait for my opportunity. Being already a part of this exciting strange night I have so much confidence that when there is the smallest gap in between the everlasting talk, I jump in and say loudly: ”The Russians went too far this time and the Communists will pay big time”. I have overheard this sentence from my father’s colleague who was standing next to me at the plaza.


I do not understand why everyone is suddenly staring at me and why my mom springs to her feet and rushes me to bed, not even commanding me to say a proper “good night” to our guests. When the door closes I hear a subtle laughter spilling from the kitchen into the hall. I do not understand! Why do I fall again into the stuffy realm of the undesired when I, too, want to be a part of today’s happening! I only wanted to show them I do understand! I liked to listen and watch and I was enjoying myself so much.


Under the covers I feel betrayed and alone. I am so sad. I wish I already had big breasts and I could wear high heels. Then nobody would rush me off to bed.


But before I fall asleep I come up with something that excites me after all. I cannot wait to go to school in the morning. There is something I want to tell my teacher.



In the morning my mom is preoccupied. I have to go with her to school and we are taking the back way by the fields. It is August and I smell cherries from the nearby gardens we are passing. I notice how everyone is warm-hearted today. Several people stop for a second to speak to my mom and they all agree how horrible the situation is. I notice a tricolor ribbon, blue, red, white, on everyone's clothes. My mother tells me it stands for our flag and people wear it to let each other know we are a nation that is proud to be Czech. I am proud to be Czech, I say. I love to sing our national anthem even when I cannot sing it solo in front of everyone.

I wish I had a tricolor ribbon right now. My mom promises we will get one later.


Finally! I am allowed to go alone on the last block from my mom’s Red school to my Yellow school. I run as fast as I can, my bag on my back jumping up and down in a wild staccato. I storm into my room and scream at my teacher: “Mrs. Kučerová, Mrs. Kučerová, the Russians went too far this time and the Communist will pay big time, BIG TIME!”


My calm, kind, neat old kindergarten teacher jumps out from her desk, swiftly comes to me, her finger erected right in front of my face. “Markétka, do not ever repeat this. It is an adult talk you do not understand.” And she glances at me but in a second hugs me gently, gives me a short pad on my back and quickly pushes me toward my desk.


I am so hurt! What is wrong with the world! I just want to be a part of their gang, I want to let them know that I understand and instead I feel betrayed again. I even wish the tanks would go by the school, I want something big to happen. So alone I feel.


I wish I were grown and I could tease my hair the way my mom and Vera do. No one would hush me down.


I see a bee trapped in between the screen and the window. I see a blue sky with fluffs of white clouds passing by. I am squirming my eyes as I look out and I am craving an apple sorbet. The one that comes in a square box with a wooden stick. The kind you can only scrape as it is as hard as a rock, but dissolves in your mouth. Then, when it melts a bit, you start licking on it, and finally you take a bite and your teeth are set on edge, but you keep biting piece by piece until the sorbet is smaller and smaller until it is completely gone.