When Frida Kahlo fell in love with Diego Rivera she had already had her heart broken and had made her peace with a life full of pain awaiting her. The trolley accident she survived as a teenager left her spinal and pelvic bones in shreds that will never come together again, and herself unable to have children, something her soul will never heal from. By the age of twenty, Frida had already experienced love, the loss of a never-existent child, the cage of a body cast, the freedom of a paintbrush in her hand, and the ever-present pain.
It would be too cliché to say that the years to come were the best years of her life. But it would be a lie to say they were not. Those were the years of political activism, communist parties in both sense of the term, and the years when she was still lively and healthy enough to take it all in. She found her place within intellectuals and artists, young people full of life, in dark apartments where tequila would flow between puffs of cigarette smoke and political discussions were held long down the bottle. This is where her romance with Diego first sparked. This is where the good years began, and this is where they started to come to an end.
Frida’s and Diego’s love story is said to be the one of great passion, an artwork in itself, having inspired not only Frida, but many other artists, writers, and poets that came after her. An irony, maybe, is that Frida’s art is known for the pain it holds, for the struggle and endurance it transmits - a lifetime of suffering. The list of her heartbreaks could build rivers: the trolley accident, Diego’s numerous infidelities, countless miscarriages, the foot amputation, the needles and wires and metal rods that held her body upright – and pain. The pain she learned of too early in her life and was never allowed to forget. Still, the biggest tragedy, the biggest accident of her life - as Frida describes it - was Diego.
The pain caused by love is, more often than not, disregarded, thrown aside as irrelevant, not identified as real. You do not get sick days for divorce, for finding your lover in the bed with another, for being left or dumped or broken up with. “I have spent the night alone for the first time in fifteen years,” is not a good reason to not show up for work the next morning. A metal rod through the spine will leave you on strict bed rest and heavy drugs, while catching your husband fucking your sister will get you nothing more than a sympathetic look – although Frida would argue that the latter is by far the worst.
Love is a matter of science, not of God or destiny. You are attracted to a certain person because of biological, psychological, and sociological markers, which is when the chemistry within your brain, not your heart, gets involved. The endorphin and oxytocin, from which you get a huge rush while in love, make you experience immense happiness and pleasure. They make you addicted to that feeling of being with a certain person, the feeling of floating through the air, so deep and strong that it will make you believe in destiny, in soul mates, in any abstract idea that might explain how happy and how in love you are. Love is the greatest drug that has never been invented, giving a high that has yet not been replicated by any fluorescent-colored pill, creating an addiction that many people are all too familiar with, yet still fail to comprehend.
When that drug is gone though, when the flying-high part ends, and the downfall begins, all the good is gone not only from your life, but from your body as well. The endorphin and oxytocin levels drop suddenly and plenty, leaving you with the stress hormones, whose levels are increasing proportionally. Heartbreak, it has been proven, leads to real physical pain and withdrawal symptoms seen with drug addicts. Here come the waking nights, the gag reflex you get every time you remember the one that got away, the shivering, the crying, the praying for someone to hold you yet running away from every human touch, the seeing their face everywhere, and jumping every time you hear their name or that one song.
Heartbreak comes with symptoms, but it does not come with sick days. How convenient it would be to get a doctor’s note for the days you could not get up of the shower’s floor because it felt like spears were jabbed into your chest. How right it would be if professors extended paper deadlines based on the emails saying: “Last night my lover left me, and I have been drinking myself into stupor ever since.” How justifiable it would be if losing the one you love and a grieving week you get off work didn’t mean just death, but also losing the one you love when they stop loving you.
Frida Kahlo created non-aging pieces of art on pain, and if she knew about something, she knew about pain. She understood that a broken heart can hurt far more than a metal rod through the spine. She understood, as well, something that eludes most people – that life is a series of heartbreaks and that pain is ever-present. Hers came first in the form of a limping leg and an aching back. Later on she found her Diego, just like everyone finds their Diego, sooner or later. And sooner or later, everyone understands why Diego was by far worse than the trolley. And then you need the sick days, then when you cannot stand up in the shower, you and your tequila in your stupor. Then when you think that it would be better if you had lost the one you love to the next life, instead of to the next girl – at least then you would get a week off work to grieve.