My mother bites her lip, fishes the depth of her purse, rummages through lipsticks, combs, and compacts, to offer something, anything to sweeten the journey and soften the grief.

“People disappoint,” she says. “Best get used to it.”

Words drop. She is tired of the narrative. Her eyes fixate on the contents of a purse, scattering her lap, rolling out of reach.

“Ah- here it is.”

I watch as she lifts a tissue bundle, holds it mid air.

She regards peppermints as medicinal. A sugar salve to cover grief and sweeten the moment.

“Take one,” she says. “It helps.”

She tucks the peppermint bundle beneath a stashed scarf, clicks the clasp of her purse.

“Grief aches like a broken bone,” she says. “The good news- you learn to carry on.”

I watch as she squares her shoulders and stares down the end of the road.

“For awhile, it’s horrible. You speak it. Words pour out, ugly, pathetic. You stop speaking. People say, ‘Find peace.’ You wonder, How? There’s a hole in your heart and it won’t heal.”

She shrugs. “So- you throw yourself into charity, community, family. You summon new interests. Delight in passionate pursuits. You dare believe you can write your story.”

She turns to admire a grove of trees on a distant hillside. Their limbs seem as if adorned in scarlet ribbons, lit by ochre light.

“How beautiful,” she comments. “I used to rake the leaves of the chestnut trees lining the boulevard. Oh those leaves. Such a rich shade of green. You do recall?”

I nod. How to forget? Year after year, the trees grew taller, more abundant. Today, they form a canopy overhead. I do not tell my mother. In autumn, I return to the block. I choose one chestnut.

My mother speaks. “You’d toddle along, amusing yourself, collecting chestnuts. Only a certain few stayed in the wagon. As the pile of leaves grew higher, you grew bolder. Arms high, face first.”

She places her hand on mine.

“You learn to go on. Softly, softly. Forward.”

***

My Grandmother ends each visit with an offering of peppermints placed in tissue.

“Just a moment,” she says.

Bags rustle on a pantry shelf. Fingers fumble. She centres five peppermints, twists the tissue and presses the bundle to the palm of my hand.

“Tuck this away. Later, when you take tea, slip one. Don’t share.”

I meet her gaze.

Her eyes are oceans.

We come to understand. Life is loneliness and then it is joy. It’s sweet, tiny moments and sacred silence. We laugh and then, we’re overcome by sorrow. It’s a question without an answer. Scar tissue thickening on a soul. We seek the road home. It’s a song on the radio, a photograph that slips to the floor and then, everything collapses.

Draft Two

Tiny Struggles

Fiction

Beautiful Souls

‘Sara’

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” 
― Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a woman of staggering beauty. Read her back story. You’ll find her even more so: Mexican Indigenous Woman, a life lived in La Casa Azul, as a child, touched by Polio, a promising medical student, disabled by a bus accident. A woman left holding a shattered dream of becoming a physician, a family facing financial ruin, a daughter whose parents referred to her as, “a dove.”

“I paint because I need to.” To escape her pain, Frida Kahlo returned to a childhood love of art. Critics suggest she was a “surrealist,” others, a “magical realist.” ‘The Frame,’ a 1938, self portrait, made her the first Mexican Indigenous artist to be featured in the Louvre. As a teacher, she directed her students to form art from the street. As a woman, she painted in order to escape residual pain and a diminished sense of self- worth. She needed to find beauty amidst tatter.

https://arthive.com/fridakahlo/works/202520~Self_Portrait_The_Frame

There is much written of the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera, their marriage, sadly described by her parents, as “a union between an elephant and a dove.” It is told Diego was wealthy and could afford to pay her on- going medical expenses. It was certain, she could not. Viewed as a liability, Frida fought to assert her worth. Themes of pain and loss surface in her art. One is rarely born with such unique vision. It is often not a choice. It is a gift to find beauty in struggle.

Pictured above is my nod to fictitious ‘Sara’: gentle soul, brave woman. Her eyes. One look tells you enough. Eye wide open. Be cautious, Sara. The mind plays tricks. The world tempts dreamers into believing ideas are worthy, that we are all worthy, of more.

The other eye appears flat and holds a look of dark resignation. Who do you think you are, Sara?

I love ‘Sara’ for all that she is: loving mother, courageous woman, and gentle dove. I love that she dreams, quits, and restarts. I love that she doubts. You’re a bomb, Sarah. I whisper, Doves are beautiful. They make me cry. Stroking her feathers, I unlock her cage, allowing the breeze to kiss her. I tell her to fly.

My mother was a painter. She painted her stories to canvas. It was a way to bring beauty to her world. Art is made by ‘real’ artists and who can afford it, anyways? It’s a frivolous way to pass time. This was once the thought. Her wings were clipped.

I’m certainly not a painter. Should I write, aspiring painter ? This isn’t completely true. I’m not aspiring to be and I don’t like the term, ‘aspiring’ anything except a ‘better human’. It’s been years since I’ve considered painting beyond a classroom. I had told myself I could not paint, convincing myself to dismiss any thought of painting. Instead, I stood in the room and studied her. I forgot to dream. I forgot to play.

I do aspire to be a better writer. A writer who doesn’t waste a reader’s time, rather an author who gently gut punches for authenticity. This is why I acquiesce and use the term ‘aspiring’ on several spots. To remind myself to keep putting thoughts down, word by word, to improve my craft. To remain humble. To dream.

I am a teacher and a woman. Some days, I have no idea. Pandemic times have pushed me to evolve, reflect, to sit with stories in progress, to read the words of others. These times, touch me, too. I see images, feel pain, worry. I hold to hope. Should I dare to dream?

We should be a bit ‘Frida’. We should dream and do. Instead, we question worth. We judge the worth of others. We should stop. If you write, you’re a writer. If you paint, be a painter. If you can’t sing, hum. Do it because you need to.

The finest writers and artists, especially those who have suffered mountainous loss, have received a gift. They have an ability to touch us, to leave us speechless and frozen in our tracks. The great ones bring us to our knees. Art should elicit powerful emotion. We cry lyrics, bleed words, slip along the stroke of a brush on canvas. Later, we wonder. We relate. We atone. We are silenced by beauty in any form.

Frida Kahlo is a beautiful woman, not solely based upon her exotic looks. Rather, she was brave. A candle whose wick of pain lit up, producing epic art. A soul of self- forged steel. More than a dependant dove, she reflected back as a woman of worth, separate from cultural norms, soldiering pain. She dared to dream. A brave act during a time in history when a woman’s artistic passion was viewed as a, ‘hobby,’ supported mainly by men of financial worth. An era, whereby, a woman with physical disabilities was viewed as less attractive, even burdensome. Frida Kahlo dared to dream because life handed her a gift she didn’t ask for. She fought the establishment. This is a courageous stand to take at any time in history.

Art in any form, teaches us about the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit. It can sprout from pain with shoots of tender, fierce resolve.

She’s in us.

•https://www.fridakahlo.org

Pandemic Painting #7

folkart

‘Sara’

“Child. Never say, good bye.”

My Grandmother believed “good bye” was an uttered death knell, a cursed spell, a forgetting.

She said, “See you soon.”

I’ll never forget our last Sunday. The year was 1969. The Maple trees, with leaves the colours of sunset, fenced the property. Wind blew off the lake. I wore a leather mini skirt- the height of fashion. My younger sister wore the vest. In the morning, we’d board a flight which would vault us to the east coast and a new life. Neither of us wanted to leave what was familiar: Sunday dinners and family, friendships and home. I placed one hand upon the door handle and paused. My heart pitched.

“Good bye, Grandma.”

“Child. Never say ‘good bye.’ Say, ‘See you soon.’ ”

People give and then they take away. We live, learning to bear their fingerprints, on our hearts. The most painful good byes are the ones left unexplained.

My grandmother never spoke of ‘The Old Country’ and the home she’d left. No one dared speak of the past while in her presence. It was forbidden. She was a woman who had endured that which is unbearable. With grace, she had learned to look straight on, to not stumble.

I’ve never been too good about ‘good bye.’ Even, ‘see ya,’ sticks to my tongue. I keep those I love forever and leave in silence. I hold to hope. Somewhere down the line, we’ll meet again, we’ll be together.

“Listen, Child.

Remember who we are: daughters of strong limbed women with imperfect hearts, makers and givers of life. Suffering to our dreams. Forming circles of comfort, sweet tea and honey. We cooked because we had to. Who else fed the children? Believers on a crooked path to a better life- a place where every other step didn’t involve a battle. Give it all up, lay it all down. Sacrifice is all we knew.

Sacrifice. This is your power. You don’t have to win. You don’t have to have all the answers. Grit your teeth and bear it. Turn suffering into beauty. Be a true hero. Fight for more than just your own heart. Have the courage to let some things go. You are victorious for the decisions you have made. They can not steal memories. Brave one, this is who we are. “

~Her Truth

Spring will come. We will smile.

Wash off the day. Stand in a shower or soak in a bath. Tell yourself,

You’ll be fine. You are fine. I am fine.

This is what we do. We get up, march forth. We settle differences and solve problems. We stand our ground. We do all with grace and conviction. And when we fail ourselves or others, we pause to forgive. We right the wrong.

Strong roots do not need convincing.

I will say this: You left a bird with a broken wing.

On that day, life, as I had known it, ended. Red lights seemed eternal. Sad lyrics left me raw. This was the beginning of what you would conjure.

Silence became a lover and the ocean, his touch. I learned to feel without words. I came late to understanding: all that we take, all that we do, ebbs and flows, a Karmic cocktail, a tsunami of emotion.

Perhaps, you did not disappear in such an unholy manner. Could it be you remain, waiting to be found, amongst the stones scattered at my feet?

TBC

~ Annie

Draft