The other night I watched Salma Hayek in Frida, a biopic of the life and death of Frida Kahlo, and though the film did not cover everything about Frida’s life and infidelities; I also found it disturbing that some of the facts were altered to make Frida seem more of a nice person but that is Hollywood for you, nice people are nice, bad people are bad, and cripples mustn’t be too conflicted. You see what draws me to Kahlo (and not Salma Hayek as my wife often points out) was that she lived with spinal pain. It is often hard to get across to people what it is like to have such pain. Some days are good. Some days are bad. Some days are conflicted. All you know is that part of you that should be there is missing. You live with pain everyday, sometimes you tune it out, look for the colours in life, the distractions, the beauty and on those days you can get through.
Then there are days when the very act of standing is like digging stones from the earth with broken fingers. When you have sat for too long and all feeling has been lost beneath your pelvis, and that when you stand, when you walk, you feel like the dead are supporting you. Pins and needles becomes more like mallets and knives as nerves remind the brain that you do indeed have legs, and those legs need blood. I have often joked about not being able to feel anything below my left knee for years but once upon a time in a Creative Writing class I started to giggle, for the briefest of moments someone switched the lights on back down there and it was as if every butterfly in the world had alighted on me. Questions that are often asked when you have missing parts of your spine is, ‘Is it painful? Are you okay? Do you need help?’ They are well meaning questions but they are exhausting to answer as if those asking you want you to sprout wings and fly away. To be free. Those with missing parts in their spine have all flown too close to the sun already and we missed landing in the sea and hit the rocks that jammed into our spine, each disc, each worn lumber, broken, crumbling, piled one on top of the other in a rock slide waiting to happen. It hurts. It hurts so much that the air in your chest feels like a caged bird. It hurts so much that no words can explain or cause it to be better. Only images come at the height of such pain. You see yourself, you laugh at how you are nothing more than a turtle on its back, a beetle waggling it’s legs in the sun, a heart caught in a hard shell. No surgery. No metal fused against bone will have the suppleness and movement that should be a spine. For all the successes, there are many failures confined to wheelchairs – I have been there, I have worn it like a death mask, coiled the wheels around my hands, held walking stick after walking stick, fought for each step. I will never be okay. I will just be. There is no help, no solution that medical science has come up with, every drug kills another part of the body until all I am is a pile of rocks, beside a damaged heart worn out by the pain and painkillers. This is why I am drawn to Frida Kahlo, and her art, her life, her words because when you are confined by your body, your only subject is you. You cannot escape yourself. You can never outrun the pain, it becomes the best and worst of friends, it reminds you why you are here and why you don’t want to be. It is the hardest thing to endure. It is the hardest thing to admit. I do not yearn death. I yearn to live without pain.
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