loving Ava’s A Wrinkle in Time

Content note: there is some discussion of passive suicide ideation (wanting to die, but having no plans to act upon those thoughts) and unhealthy parent-child relationships.

The thought of seeing A Wrinkle in Time, just like Black Panther two weeks earlier, got me through an abysmal work week. As my eczema left ruby constellations across my skin from stress, I agonized over whether I really meant it when I said to myself, Girl, it’s time to quit. So much work, a desk piled precariously high with paper, and so-busy-I-needed-a-Time-Turner, I didn’t even bother checking the movie reviews like I usually do. Come hell or high water, I was getting myself to this movie screening, 6:30pm Friday night, opening weekend.

I was supposed to go with Chelsea, but she had a last-minute work emergency. I wound up going with her boyfriend instead, and even that didn’t deter me.

So as her boyfriend furiously biked to make it in time, I bought our tickets, because I wasn’t going to miss a moment.

I almost cried at three points in the film:

  • The first shot of Mindy Kaling
  • Calvin and his father
  • Meg climbing the stairs as Sade started singing

By almost, I mean had I been alone, I would’ve bawled. But I feel vulnerable when crying, and I feel deeply unsafe doing it in public, so I didn’t wail in the movie theater for a kid’s movie.

There are some pieces of media you consume, and it just clicks with you.

I went to see it for these reasons:

  • black woman director, more specifically Ava duVernay
  • black nerdy girl heroine
  • women of color in supporting roles
  • WOC in bright and dope costuming! and their skin well-lit!
  • fantasy setting
  • a movie by a woman of color for girls of color
  • music by Sade!! I’m not even a Sade fan, but I recognize the importance of getting Sade to do a track for your movie

And yet I loved it for none of these reasons at all.

I didn’t know why, only that something had profoundly shifted in me.

The only other time I’d felt this way Nalini Singh’s “Whisper of Sin.” And it wasn’t like Singh or duVernay had lifted their stories from the diaries I’ve kept since I was 8. But still, my heart moved, settled, quiescent for both of them.

And I knew I wanted to see it again.

I went for a second time on my last day of work (yes, spoiler alert, I quit that job) with Xavier, who’d been away on business for three weeks. When I drove him home, it felt like he was still away, attending to business with his phone in hand, even though he was right there in my passenger seat. And I felt that emptiness at the seam of my rib cage.

As we talk, I’m saying to myself I feel so alone, I feel so alone, working up the nerve to speak, to ask.

“Can I hold your hand? I feel alone.”

And he says yes, like I knew he would. Laid his palm open across the center console, and I squeezed it.

I saw him into his house, and as I got in my car to go home, I started crying. It was a short cry, three minutes (I know this because it’s the length of a song).

This time, it was easy to pick up the phone and ask.

“Can I come inside?”

And he said yes, like I knew he would. Even though he’d asked me just moments ago and I’d said no.

I napped in his bed for 20 minutes, under his blankets while he worked on his laptop. I would have happily stayed the whole night, hoping when he finished, he’d nestle next to me, and I could sleep pressed against him. But a nap was less of an imposition, took up less space.

When I woke up, still sleepy, I wanted to stay, but years of Chinese etiquette told me to go.

I told him, “I was crying in the car. I feel better now.”

“I could tell in the car you were sad,” he replied. He probably looked up from his work, but I don’t know, because I wasn’t looking at him.

Then why did you wait for me to ask? but I knew it was because he wanted me to ask.

Instead I said, “The movie reminds me of what it felt like at that age.”

The sound of his typing stopped, and it was just us and the quiet of his childhood home in the dark of his room.

And because I’d told him what was beneath the white lies about my childhood, he looked at me and quietly said, “I know.”

He’d been so far away from me all night, and although he hadn’t offered the comfort of his body, he still gave me this gift of recognition and witnessing.

Yes, this is the shape of your childhood. These are the secrets you keep in your silences, and yes, they are as devastating as you thought.

The third time I watch A Wrinkle in Time is at Chabot Science Center’s First Fridays. Khutulun had mentioned the event to me, and now that I was unemployed, it seemed as good a time as any to finally go.

(Alas, Khutulun couldn’t go with me. We’d actually tried to see A Wrinkle in Time a week after I first saw it, and before I quit my job. But we had so good a time catching up over ramen, we missed the movie entirely. I don’t regret that. She’s one of my oldest friendships.)

This screening is outdoors, and although the sun is so bright I can’t even see the film until 30 minutes in, it doesn’t bother me at all. Listening to the movie while soaking in the sunshine, it’s like a small sun in my chest.

I don’t need to see the movie to know what’s happening; it’s my third time watching it after all, and it’s written in my heart.

I’ve seen Spirited Away… seven times in theater? I’ll probably watch A Wrinkle in Time just as many times.

The movie is a visceral knowing in my guts. Like resonating at the same frequency, or being rung like a bell. Like how I felt when I read Nalini Singh’s “Whisper of Sin,” a recognition beyond reason or explanation. I want to tell you, explain and enumerate every detail. But this is a thing I cannot do, because some things cannot be explained, and that’s okay.

But I’ll try anyway.

It’s awkward whenever A Wrinkle in Time comes up in conversation. No one I meet likes it, and then I’m compelled to say how much I love it.

Then the awkward silence spreads like jam on my hands when I want clean hands. So I feel obligated to say why I loved it so much.

And I don’t want to have to explain to strangers all the ways I hurt as a child and all the ways I now hunger as an adult, but I’ll try.

Calvin sitting on his couch, looking away, like he wants to disappear. His father, larger than life, taking up so much space in the house, yelling at Calvin. I know this as intimately as my body. Is this how my mother actually treated me? Memory is funny that way, so who is to say. But I can tell you, that’s how it felt.

It was the first time I saw Calvin’s father’s behavior, my mother’s behavior, framed as unequivocally not okay.

I always hear, well, be thankful your mom cared enough to be involved in your schooling. I always see, well, that’s just the way it is between Chinese mothers and daughters. Translation: it is what it is, this is how the world is, so it’s okay.

And seeing that it was not okay, that this was byproduct of fear, hate, anger, trauma, whatever you want to call it… To a girl who

  • watched What Would You Do? and wondered why it was emotional abuse for a parent to say ____ to a babysitter, but love when it was from my mother to me
  • spent years convincing myself it’s not that bad, be thankful, be grateful she’s correcting you
  • wanted to die, but still learned to say thank you each time I swallowed despair like Coca-Cola, and to ask for more still smiling

it was exhaling a secret. One more part of me unclenching, knowing this was a secret I didn’t have to keep forever, or have to share with Xavier when I needed a reminder it wasn’t something I imagined.

And while yes, it’s Calvin’s father who sends pinpricks of electricity through my body, it’s Meg who I keep returning to watch again and again and again and again.

To a girl who spent her entire childhood with bones vibrating with loathing because everything about me was bad, deviant, and irredeemable, Meg means every thing to me. Meg who

  • is looked at with blatant adoration
  • quietly clenches all her feelings
  • struggles to make sense of the world
  • steps onto that staircase, her own leap of faith
  • who cannot tesser well because she is not at home with herself

I know her. She is kin to the girl-I-was who made me a dandelion kind of survivor.

Meg strikes my childhood bones like a wind chime.

Maybe, when I watch her again, for the fourth time, I will be curled up in bed. Blankets piled high and heavy on me, my well-loved stuffed animals with me. Where I can feel all I want to and know this space will hold me and all my feelings. And this time, my bones will sound out with something else. Reverberating in all the empty spaces where I remember how it feels to be helpless, bleeding out, waiting to die; until I vibrate with something better.

And I will think

  • thank god I’m alive;
  • there’s no one else I’d rather be than me;
  • I love myself first

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