I had been enamored with the life of Frida Kahlo ever since my parents took me to one of Kahlo’s exhibitions in Seattle when I was a kid. I remember being thrilled by her storybook paintings of monkeys and self-portraits. The way she painted her tragedies were so full of life to me. Even with the ones of her in the hospital or in the wake of Diego Rivera, she kept that air of magic in her work, all covered in blue skies and butterflies.
I’ve found that I had always seemed to keep some Kahlo trinket with me throughout young adulthood; it was never too hard to find odd Kahlo knick-knacks in corner stores or flea markets. She almost seemed like a saint, her image repeatedly decorating prayer candles and long rosary-like necklaces.
I even found her in the center of this bright purple cross that this girl with blue hair brought from Olvera Street and into one of my first creative writing classes.
Beth had been perched on her desk chair with a cigar box of Mr. Sketch markers, wearing a necklace with an image of the Grady twins dangling from its end. While we waited for our class on Antony and Cleopatra to start, she was fighting with someone about how her passion for One Direction couldn’t possibly contradict her love and appreciation of Eddie Vedder. 15-year-old me was floored that a person could be so gracefully oxymoronic.
After only a few months, she became my best friend over hiking and making lewd jokes with our Shakespeare teacher. In my eyes, she had seen so much of the world, and she saw it in the same rich colors as those Frida Kahlo paintings I’d loved.
She let me into that world she carried with her in that cigar box of markers. It was filled with bold things that I was way too timid to even dare to think of. She had run half marathons, slept with older men, even finished “War and Peace” (and enjoyed it).
This girl swept me up and gave me an identity. I was Beth’s friend. We were both under five feet three inches tall and swore like sailors. It was a camaraderie I had never experienced with anyone else. When I looked at her, I wasn’t just seeing this force of nature anymore, but a reflection of the person I was becoming.
I had known Beth’s world wasn’t always tales of the conquests of unworthy men and defeating Russian authors. She had demons, just like everyone, but in my eyes even her demons had colorful hair and good taste in memes.
Beth had constructed her life like those Frida Kahlo paintings — all her flaws and misfortunes were made into these surrealist scenes draped with blue hair and lost lovers.
But at the end of the day, it’s dangerous to paint someone else’s tragedies as anything other than tragedies. I romanticized the fact that Beth could be who she was, with all her vibrant idiosyncrasies, while battling depression. I thought that, in a way, it made who she was more alluring, because she had fought for every part of herself.
When you’re 17, there’s only so much you can do to help someone with a mental illness, but no one really tells you that. Or maybe people did tell me, and I just didn’t want to believe them. All you can really do is sit in the darkness of her room, comb through her hair with your hands and hope that the Frida Kahlo cross on her wall that’s dangling from a thumbtack doesn’t come crashing down.
But the sad ending to this story is that Beth and I don’t talk anymore. It became more and more evident that she would give up anything to save her relationship with her ex, and our friendship became collateral damage.
I think looking back on my friendship with this girl, I could say that I had fallen in love with her. What was confusing was that it wasn’t quite a romantic love, but it wasn’t just the love you have for a friend either. Regardless of whether it was from necessity or if it just happened (because I guess falling in love kind of works like that), it was consuming to me. All I could think about was Beth, and if she was going to be okay.
And it seems unfair, but even with all the loose ends and the sour tastes that came with the ending of our friendship, I still look back on the time I had with her in the same way that I look at Frida Kahlo’s paintings. I know that the pain in each of the passing frames shouldn’t have the same beauty that they did when I was a kid, but alas it’s still there. And I can’t help but feel that’s what the artist wanted me to see.
Annalise Kamegawa writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on a life of shifting artistic identities. Contact her at [email protected].