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During the forty months I lived in Prague, I was nearly arrested twice, I was trapped in my job by an evil and manipulative boss, I accidentally ingested crystal meth, I was roofied in a disco, and I was bitchslapped during an altercation with seven or eight Pakistani men. I was at the mercy of a bureaucracy whose organizational skills and knowledge matched those of a soap dispenser. I was cheated out of hundreds of dollars by deadbeat flatmates. Over three long winters, I came to understand that seasonal depression is a very real thing, as I spent several weeks at a time under clouds, never seeing or feeling any direct sunlight. The cold, damp climate ensured I was sick for seven months out of the year. I was constantly stepping around coiled piles of dog shit, and I encountered every surly son (and daughter) of a bitch in the former Soviet Bloc, it seemed. I experienced a brief stretch of poverty which reduced my frame by twenty pounds, and I became well-acquainted with loneliness. I had more than a couple sexual misadventures, and I learned to balance on the toilet and pee while keeping my leg outstretched towards the stall door in public restrooms, to maintain privacy against the Czech females who rarely knocked on doors before entering. I breathed enough second-hand smoke to reduce one’s lungs to the consistency of swiss cheese. On more than one occasion, presents sent from home vanished within the postal service, and postal employees went through packages containing my personal possessions before charging me a large sum of money to retrieve them from the post office. I paid far too much money for essentials like tap water and trips to the public toilet, and I saw enough nude sunbathing to gag a maggot. And over and over again, I said goodbye to a number of lovely people, good friends, and parters-in-crime– one of whom was deported back to America. Like this friend of mine, I was also living and working illegally in the Czech Republic, sans visa. Never truly safe, with no hope of becoming a naturalized citizen. There were some deeply gloomy times.

And yet, it was perhaps the most beautiful and exhilarating time of my twenties. I was truly happy. Despite the nagging threat of deportation constantly looming, despite there being too many damn dogs in the city, despite the unforgiving climate, and despite working for a shameless crook, I was having the time of my life. I spent wild evenings with good-looking and sometimes interesting men, I made a few lifelong friends, and I realized that I really like children. I learned how to flirt without completely humiliating myself, nor the object of my flirtation. I gained perspective through conversations with bizarre and unlikely sorts of people. I soaked up the freedom of living in a place where no one bothers you when you snort cocaine off a shop window sill, and I discovered what it’s like to pick up a language without formally studying it- a really difficult one, at that. Most notably, I became well-acquainted with myself, and became quite comfortable in myself. And eventually, I fell deeply in love. In love with Daniel, and later deeply in love with Prague…so much, in fact, that I let the city stand between me and my man for a lot longer than expected. Whatever was happening- terrible, outrageous, or lucky, there was always the gorgeous Baroque backdrop of the achingly beautiful, ancient city whose energy is undeniably felt. Prague was the stage of those whirlwind years of my late twenties, and I played alongside a unique cast of characters. Prague forced me to become a woman (or something like it), while allowing me the freedom to maintain the recklessly fun-loving likeness of youth. Moving to Prague was to be a life experiment, and the results were nothing short of fantastic. It will be difficult in my writing to do justice to the experiences I had in those three and-a-quarter years, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try.