Two clocks sit side-by-side in Frida Kahlo’s dining room in Coyoacan, Mexico City. They’re not functional — there are no moving parts — but commemorative. One is inscribed with the date in which “the hours were broken,” when Kahlo decided to divorce Diego Rivera after discovering his affair with her sister Cristina. The other bears the date they remarried.
When I revisited Casa Azul, now Museo Frida Kahlo these clocks were of central interest to me. I understood the sense of the suspension of time in the face of a traumatic revelation — the clock on the left, in other words — but I absolutely do not understand the clock on the right.
In the past year, I’ve come to understand the process of divorce. What I don’t understand is how anyone marries anyone again after a divorce. (Besides the practical advantages, what’s the point of entering into a til-death-do-us-part agreement if either party can simply decide to end it at any moment?) Obviously Frida and Diego were not the only couple in history to divorce and re-marry, but my God. I have had dreams in which I am married to my ex-husband again; these are nightmares.
But marriage is not the same the second time around, especially when it’s to the same person. As Hayden Herrera writes in her essential biography, Frida was well aware of Diego’s flaws. As their family doctor wrote to her:
Diego loves you very much and you love him. It is also the case, and you know it better than I, that besides you he has two great loves –1) Painting 2) Women in general. He has never been, nor ever will be, monogamous, something that is imbecilic and anti-biological.
Reflect, Frida on this basis. What do you want to do? If you think you could accept the facts the way they are, could live with him under these conditions, and in order to live more or less peacefully, could submerge your natural jealousy in a fervor of work, painting, working as a school teacher, whatever it might be…and absorb yourself until you go to bed each night exhausted by work [then marry him]. One or the other. Reflect, dear Frida, and decide.
The decision she made was to remarry, although the terms, as Rivera later related, would not make the pages of Brides magazine:
She would provide for herself financially for the proceeds of her own work, I would pay half our household expenses, and we would have no sexual intercourse.
…She said that, with the images of all my other women flashing through her mind, she couldn’t possibly make love with me, for a psychological barrier would spring up as soon as I made advances. I was so happy to have Frida back that I assented to everything.
And so the hours that were broken for Frida and Diego did come back together, in a fashion. But they were never the same again.
Alison J. Stein
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