For Black girls who don’t tesser well
The world does not love angry Black girls who retaliate against their tormentors with a dodgeball to the face.
This essay contains spoilers for Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time
It has been four years since Meg Murry’s father went missing. Four years of uncertainty, sleepless nights, and missing him intensely as Meg and her family struggle to find a way to function without him.
When three ancient celestial beings—Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit—hear Dr. Murry calling out to his family from across the universe, they journey to Earth to help Meg and her little brother, Charles Wallace, find their missing father. Together, the group travels to worlds with magnificent sights, arcane dangers, and peculiar characters. But to get there, they must tesser.
To tesser is to wrinkle space and time, instantaneously traveling from one planet to another. The key is that a person must have light inside of them in order to tesser themselves and others across the universe, and they must tesser at the frequency of love.
Meg does not tesser well. “Why do I have to be in pain?” she asks Mrs. Which. When the others tesser, they come out on the other side unaffected, standing firmly on their feet, and “glorious,” as Mrs. Whatsit puts it.
In stark contrast, Meg always ends up on her back, sprawled out on the ground of whatever strange planet they have tessered to, groaning at the discomfort and disoriented from traveling such great distances at an unthinkable speed.
I think of tessering as akin to how we move throughout the world. Some of us move without many obstacles or much difficulty, but some of us are in pain.
Why do I have to be in pain?
A familiar question. One that I have offered to the universe many times in my life, especially as a Black girl who did not tesser well.
I was a lot like Meg—awkward, nerdy, isolated. My father was gone, too. I often told myself stories about how he was lost, trapped somewhere, hidden away by a secret agency, or imprisoned on another planet, all the while fighting to find his way back to me. But it didn’t matter how many fantasies I weaved together or how many worlds I created in my mind. My father was never coming back from the dead.
After an adventure of bounding from planet to planet, braving wild storms and painful tessers, Meg finally finds her father in a place enveloped in darkness. When they reach out to touch each other and she laces her fingers between his, she breathes as if she hasn’t felt air in her lungs during the entire four years that he’s been gone. And though their reunion is an incredibly poignant moment, it is not the most significant part of Meg’s story.
When coping with trauma, loss, anxiety, and depression, often any attempt to adapt or pushback against the world folding in around Black girls is labeled as aggressive and hostile behavior.
The world does not love angry Black girls who retaliate against their tormentors with a dodgeball to the face. Or depressed Black girls who never smile anymore because the world no longer makes sense. Or anxious Black girls who see the worst in everyone and the danger in everything. Or traumatized Black girls who lock themselves away because everything scares them.
When the world does not love insecure, self-conscious, and fearful Black girls with unsound minds, it is difficult for them to love themselves. And it’s even more difficult to see themselves as deserving of the love of others.
Finding this love is the most significant moment in Meg’s story, and it happens independently of her finding her father. He was found on the planet Camazotz where a shadowy, insidious force called “The It” dwells and threatens to spread itself across untold worlds. It is Meg who must stand and face The It after it captures Charles Wallace, and she ultimately drives out its darkness with her light.
The It is a dark mind, clouded with demoralizing thoughts confirming Meg’s own doubts about herself. It looks and sounds like my own anxiety and depression—words of discouragement lodged in my brain, stoking feelings of unworthiness and dread. It tells Meg that she is unlovable as she is, with all of her faults and shortcomings, and Meg’s instinct is to believe what it says.
But Meg’s self-actualization and self-affirmation at last drive out the dark thoughts. She acknowledges her faults, but not to reify what The It says about them and their ugliness. Instead, in this moment, Meg is able to stand up and say, despite her many faults, “I deserve to be loved.”
With The It defeated, and both her father and Charles Wallace saved, Meg can now tesser herself back to Earth. It is after she has driven out the dark thoughts of The It with her inner light, self-awareness, and self-love that she is able to tesser gloriously and without pain, unlike when she was overcome with anxiety and self-doubt in the beginning.
What once felt stifling, restricting, and uninviting now feels liberating for her, because now she can tesser with love.
This isn’t to say that self-actualization and self-affirmation are the fool-proof equation for self-love, or that self-love is a magical remedy for the mental, physical, and spiritual anguish of anxiety and depression. Not at all. These things won’t cure any of us, but I believe that these things can be especially cathartic and transformative for Black girls who don’t tesser well.
I see both my younger and current self in many aspects of Meg. All of the doubt, fear, and self-consciousness that she felt and that made her end each tesser in pain are the same things that I felt when I was a girl like her, and that I often feel even now. And these things only begin to dissipate, even if only a little bit, when I see the worth in myself and believe that I deserve to be loved.
Meg’s fantastical, interplanetary journey in A Wrinkle In Time is a reminder that I am not unworthy if I am not able to love myself today. We are always worthy and deserving of love, even when we do not love ourselves.