Like Frida Kahlo

By Colin Sturdevant

Posted on

“What do you think my mother was like?” your son asks you as a woman skates by with
her family.

It’s a June day, a sweltering June day where your ice cream doesn’t have any refuge
beneath the surprisingly green leaves at the park. There you are, your adopted son and
you, he and his questions about his biological mother, and you are unsure of an answer.
You can’t tell him what you want to say, the probable and the cold, and you start to sweat
at the beat of the question he keeps pushing, questions you wish didn’t exist. No answer
is ever completely right, and you want to say what you know: she was young and still in
school, got knocked up, and put your son up for adoption, and you know it isn’t pleasant,
so you freak mentally on the inside, the way any parent does when it comes to a first
broken bone, a first epidemic such as the chicken pox, and when he asks why his dinky
gets hard when he looks at girls.

You’re sure as you watch others at the park quietly eating your Sunday ice cream he sees
normalcy, and you want to tell him: “We are alright.” And that those complete, and what
seem complete, families were just as out of place as you are.

And then it comes, the words you wish didn’t exist, again. The hot-tar-question that rubs
you the wrong way, the one that pulls tears from your eye’s ducts. You can’t find an easy
answer, nothing besides what you thought up earlier. Not a simple slip of the tongue like
when he gets a paper cut, the “you’re-too-old-to-cry-suck-it-up-solvency”, an easy
conclusion of relief like telling him to just pee in a bush when no bathroom is near.

“What do you think she was like?” he asks again.

You’ll understand how he feels. Being adopted. The fact that drops a long ‘Oh’ sound
when people find out as if you are coming out of the closet parading with rainbows,
unicorns, and clowns, along with cartoonesque dancers with a banner with SURPRISE
in bold letters. No matter what you find out about your biological family, there will
always be a hole inside, and you know this from being adopted too.

“Beautiful,” you say after an odd silence, “She was beautiful.”

“Whaddya mean?” he shoots back eagerly.

“Like Frida Kahlo,” you say.

You try to get in the right state of mind to come up with an answer, and all you can seem
to surface are those old cold words.

“Who’s Frida?” he asks, and you feel unprepared.

“She was beautiful.”

“You said that.”

“I know,” you say and hope for the conversation to end there.

“She’s like a tattoo all over her own body, and like Frida Kahlo. When you place your
ear on the bare skin of her back, behind her heart and dish-washer-sounding organs
you won’t hear a thump. You hear men crying, ‘vavavoom, vavavoom!'”

“Vavavoom?” he asks you.

“Beauty. On the inside. The sound of clean mechanics, thistles, whistles, and bells.
Orchids opening. A catholic heart. Her image in the center. In flames. A real saint.”

“Oh,” he says as if he understands what you are saying.

“What else?” he asks you.

“You know when I drive the car and you ask if the tires tickle the road?”

“Uh, huh.”

“That kinda beautiful.”

“Like eating ice cream with you,” he says, grabbing your hand.

“Yeah,” you’ll whisper, voice broken, and your tear ducts letting your stubborn nature

A woman comes to the park bench you are sitting on, you and your son, and you pray to
some external possibility that this woman in her get up of the rainbow won’t sit here.
She could breathe on you and her breath may smell of bad cheese, her clothes drenched
in “crazy-cat-ladypiss” and not to your surprise, she sits down.

Your son tugs at the side of your clothes, the vanilla ice cream squishes into the fabric,
and an irritating stickiness will sit there for the remainder of your day.

“Look at her,” he whispers to you.

“What?” you ask and look to the right of you and focus on her floppy straw hat, her wide
eight shaped pair of sunglasses, her orange lipstick and orange eye shadow that don’t
match her pale caked face, cigarette wrinkled lips, diarrhea colored purse, and loud
parrot feather clothes, and there it is-mosquito repellant like perfume.

“Her lip,” he whispers to you, pulling his face into your shallow beard.

You snarl at the volume his voice has increased to, and tell him not to point out such
things publicly, to keep such thoughts to himself.

“Like her. Is Frida like her?” he asks you.

“Oh,” you say, that dropping of the vowel as if you’ve found out something new.

You’re confused at what he means, if he knows what Frida even looks like because
this lady has a shade of grey on her upper lip as if a fragment of Frida has transcended
for just a second, or at least she reminds you of the images you’ve seen.

You get up, your son in tow, and he starts discussing beauty with you, beauty you start
to comprehend.

“Do you think,” he finishes the base of his ice cream cone, “it tickles when she kisses

“Maybe,” you say.

“I think it’d be nice,” he says with a toothless grin, “Beautiful.”

You let a slow agreeing ‘yeah’ slip out as you walk to a trash can tossing away dirtied
napkins, and you’re holding your son’s hand and won’t let go, not even to get away
from the stickiness that’s sealing your palms. You both admire a bronze statue,
female bodied without limbs or a head, age washed and marked by graffiti like
tattoos all over a body.

“Like Frida Kahlo,” you son keeps saying to you.

And he adds about the lady’s eyelids, saying to you, “That orange on her eyes. She must
give us the color to paint in art class. She must be really nice.”

And you’ll nod, moved, and walk in silence thinking of your son. He’s like you, like Frida
Kahlo, and like his mother you’ve never met. Beauty on the inside. The sound of clean
mechanics, thistles, whistles, and bells. Orchids opening to clean statue hearts, and
your images centered in flames like saints. Walking mannequins of Frida Kahlo.

Colin Sturdevant