Healing Ancestral Wounds: A visit with Frida Khalo visits helps me process the hell out of some ancestral trauma.
I used to think that I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same way I do. I would imagine her and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there, you read this and know that yes it’s true, I am here, and I am just as strange as you.-Frida Khalo
After the spectacle of being fired from my job, I developed a compulsion. Anytime I would leave the house, I’d have to take several selfies before heading out. It’s a little embarrassing how many selfies I actually have on my external hard drive. In addition to my selfie habit, which I ultimately turned into an art project, I also began a project to paint the interior of my home, starting with my bedroom, which, on the advice of a dead cow spirit, is now a luscious red.
One day, having nearly finished painting the bedroom, I was lounging on the couch, taking selfies with my cell phone and talking with my son’s father, who had come by to commiserate with me and probably fix my computer. Looking at the drab entry wall that was serving as the background for my current selfie, I considered the color yellow out loud.
“I keep thinking that wall should be yellow, a pale yellow, maybe something like those flowers… but not as pale yellow as the kitchen walls.”
Since I had made a decent habit of bringing home gallons of paint from the “oops rack” at Home Depot, several gallons and pints of paint in various colors occupied the entry space.
“I guess I could TRY that bright yellow that has been sitting there for the past two weeks.”
“No, that’s going to be too bright” I argued with myself.
Then, something seemed to reach into my chest, and pull me off the couch. Grabbing a small 2 inch brush from a nearby bookshelf, I moved to the gallon of yellow paint and opened it.
“Just try one small area.”
As I began the first bright yellow brush strokes…I became aware of a presence, just kind of…hanging there, floating there in the air, kind of…tapping me on the shoulder. I take a few steps back to eye my work, and the absolute perfection of the surprising color choice is immediately obvious.
And then, a woman’s voice, which at first I perceived to have a Russian accent, floats in the space around me:
“You do not worry about the colors. You just keep brushing, you use the hand. I will take care of the colors!” she said, rather sternly.
Well, alright with me!” I mentally exclaim to the space around me, “Who are you?”
“I am Freda” she says, without offering more.
Continuing to spread the paint with the small brush, I wondered if the accent was indeed Russian. Maybe it was Croatian…or Portuguese….maybe a family member had come to offer assistance. I didn’t recall any Freda in my family tree. Just then, I decided to change my pants because they were my favorite and I didn’t want to get paint on them.
“Please continue to wear the pants, I am very much enjoying them,” Freda tells me telepathically.
“Okay”, I say to her with my mind, “but I’m going to wear them inside out so we don’t get paint on them.”
Before I have the chance to ask, the air particles shift around and I understand:
“The artist?” I ask. It’s Frida Khalo who visits?
Silence. I’m familiar with the name, but not the person, and so, I make a mental note to do some biographical research.
A little over a month passed, and it was mid-December. December is a calendar month for those of you who are reading this in the post-calendar era.
I had double-coated the downstairs bathroom, the entryway, and one of the living room walls, with different, unexpected, and perfectly complimentary colors – all with that two-inch brush. I had tools that would have made swifter work of it, but I was simply overtaken, and my body seemed to relish all the movement required to paint approximately 700 square feet with such a small brush.
The red room was ready to receive the altar, the house was feeling fabulous, and despite my very sore muscles and joints, I was marvelous.
Grateful for my newfound understanding of interior color selections, I thought of Frida and found her biography on Wikipedia. The first thing I noted was that her house, the one she grew up in, had a name: “The Blue House”. “Of course”, I chuckled out loud, “it makes sense why she might think my house needed color!”
I learned about the vast and tragic physical injuries she suffered as a result of a vehicular accident. Reading the descriptions of her injuries, the intrusive and obsessive thoughts and images that had plagued me over the previous months, again presented themselves, seeming to beckon me to notice the similarities. For several months before the trauma of losing my job, I had been having very odd, graphic, and intrusive thoughts having to do with bodily injuries, amputations, impalings, and such. It was creating quite a bit of anxiety for me. But now, considering Frida, it seemed suddenly obvious that those thoughts were not mine, but someone else’s, perhaps Frida’s. Or perhaps I was simply projecting my own thoughts on to a long-dead Mexican artist as a way to rid myself of them.
Those thoughts had been scarier when I thought they were mine, but now a phrase came to mind: empathy without any context. Perhaps the intrusive thoughts were the memories of experience had by Frida. But since I was not aware of her energy, I had no context.
Fully appreciating Frida’s injurious reality, and my own good fortune, I took a deep breath, released the thoughts with my exhale, thanked Frida for her help with the house, and forgot about her again until yesterday.
It’s now early February, and yesterday, my circular thoughts were leading only to square one. In an effort to escape my mind, I decided to draw or paint rather than continue to think and write. But what should I do? What would be the subject?
“Aha!! A tribute to Frida Khalo! A portrait of course!” I thought, “I’ll hang it up as a way of thanking her for her help! What better way to spend the evening than to create art and express gratitude to my ghostly friend by drawing her portrait?”
Continuing my biographical research, I queued up a documentary about Frida on YouTube and gathered my art supplies. For the first time in over 20 years, I began to paint a portrait. When I was in high school, I was very active in community theater. As a foster kid, it was the one thread of stability I had through all of the different home placements. But when I wasn’t rehearsing for an upcoming show, I spent nearly every evening painting or drawing, but until this moment I had forgotten not only how much pleasure it gave me, but the fact that I even did it and it was actually a pretty big part of my life.
“Frida Kahlo was a Mexican woman who transformed her life by painting herself.” began the documentary. “She would take countless lovers, men and women alike”, the narrator continued, “…but the great love her life was the celebrated artist, Diego Rivera…”
The documentary discussed both Frida and Diego’s inability to remain monogamous. At the time, I could very much relate. In fact, just the weekend prior, I found myself having a rather intense and unexpected sexual experience involving my recently discarded boyfriend and the fuck boy I’d been letting in late at night. Not a typical behavior for me, though, I suppose I no longer knew what is typical. Maybe Frida made me do it.
I found myself strongly identifying with Frida as she was presented in this documentary. I also thought of my mother’s lifetime of suffering, her leg nearly amputated at 18, as the result of a motorcycle accident, but reconstructed with multiple surgeries over the course of the next 20 years; and her later fight with Hepatitis, which would ultimately require not one, but two liver transplants!
The Frida Khalo visits and my continued research into her life would also conjure long-repressed memories of sitting with my great grandmother, whom I had sat with for hours at a time after she’d had her leg amputated due to poor circulation in her early 80’s. I was very young, maybe 6 years old, when she passed and I had entirely forgotten the duty I had felt to stay near her during that time, and the sadness I experienced at her passing.
As my penciled portrait of Frida developed, I realized how much Frida was looking like my grandmother … (I would later learn that my grandmother and Frida share the same birthdate) and I could see some of my own features in the portrait as well.
“Yes, I see this too” Frida playfully chided, “You make me look like a gringa!”
“Well, Frida, you of all people should understand….I can’t help but paint myself!”
The documentary quotes Frida as saying that she looked forward to death and hoped she would never come back to this realm.
“Well, so much for that, eh Frida?!”
With a shrug and an ironic laugh she points out that it was her very own hand that inscribed the following words, like a promise, on her final painting…
“Viva la Vida”!
“Thank you for coming back to visit with me, Frida.”
Learn more about Frida here: http://www.pbs.org/weta/fridakahlo/life/