I was 12 when my mother and I had the difficult conversation about my dad’s absence. I was 26 when he confessed to me that he never desired to be my father. At 36, while standing in the parking lot of an AMC, I came to terms with it all thanks to Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time.
I knew Ava DuVernay’s reimagining of this classic childhood tale would be magical. I expected vibrant, beautiful colors and a screen filled with wonder. What I did not expect was to meet the little girl inside of me who searched hopelessly for her father and be confronted with the ways that unsuccessful quest changed me.
I read A Wrinkle in Time in middle school and, though I was fascinated by the story, I didn’t connect with its heroine, Meg Murry. She was the awkward white girl who was the protagonist in so many of the stories of my youth. Nothing about her resonated with me. We simply weren’t the same.
Interestingly enough, it was also around this age when I began coming to terms with my father’s absence. At that point, I’d only seen him once in my life. To cope, I created stories about him and why he wasn’t around: He was a soldier in Desert Storm who got hurt and was experiencing amnesia. Eventually, he would remember who he was and find his way back to me. He had been wrongly convicted and didn’t want me to see him incarcerated. We would be reunited once he was freed.
Though, when my imagination had run its course, I simply pretended he was dead. Believing that he was no longer alive was easier than facing the reality that he had chosen to be everywhere than with me. Indeed, Meg and I were not the same. She had enough of a relationship with her father to know that he was in danger and needed to be rescued. I didn’t even know my father’s birthday or where he lived. Saving him was the least of my worries; I had to convince him to love me first.
I was excited about what Ava would do with this story. To be the first Black woman to direct a $100 million budget film meant that she had an even bigger canvas to create the magic that we have come to expect from her. Each time I watch an Ava production, I walk away confident knowing that she loves us. The way Ava brings nuance to her characters and handles the complexities of their lives, with such gentleness, manifests opportunities for us to see ourselves on screen.
Such was the case with this Meg — the smart Black girl who wrestled with the weight of the world. The girl who everyone expected to be beyond her pain simply because they did. The Black girl who was labeled by school administrators as “aggressive” and “hostile” because she stood up for herself. I knew this Meg because she was me. I was hiding in books and ballet and Girl Scouts convincing myself that, if I were good enough, I would somehow earn my father’s affection. If I was perfect, he would accept me and want to be my father. I would earn his presence in my life. And when I realized that was impossible, like this fictionalized Meg, I looked at my mother and asked the same thing, “He’s not coming back, is he?”
This Meg, who had become unrecognizable to even herself, gave me a much-needed glimpse back into my adolescence. As I watched her confess, “All I do is think about him,” I wondered how my childhood became different when I realized my father was gone and what parts of me changed when I understood that wherever he was, without me, was where he wanted to stay. What dreams did I abandon because my dad abandoned me? Like this Meg, I wondered why I had to be in pain. Watching her acknowledge the fear that maybe her father didn’t want to be found, I couldn’t help but think about the many of us who longed and still long for fathers who are lost. Children are never supposed to wonder whether their parents love them.
While I saw myself in Meg Murry, I wondered how many fathers saw their reflection in Mr. Murry: The fathers who put work before family; the ones who invest more time in new relationships; the ones who are never there. How many of them would be willing to admit the ways they put their quest for importance and selfish needs before their children?
Though he was overcome by the darkness, Meg’s little brother, Charles Wallace, spoke truth to his father: their dad was “so desperate to matter to the universe” that he neglected his children. I hope fathers like him understand that no achievement in this world will matter more than being a good father and that requires sacrifice. And when fathers refuse to do that, their children pay the price many times over.
Though we were so much alike, this Meg and I are still so very different. I could not “tesser” to my father and, when I found him, he offered more excuses and no apology. Our story does not have a happy ending and, in a movie theater parking lot, I sat with that. I cried tears for the 12-year-old girl who needed a father and missed a man she never knew. Yet once those tears were gone, I said goodbye to them because I am not that little girl anymore. I am a woman who has done the work to free herself of her father’s shame.
Like Meg said in the movie, “I deserve to be loved.”
I needed A Wrinkle in Time not just because it reminded me of a childhood filled with books and wonder, but because it reminded me of a childhood filled with many questions and very few answers. And though the questions were present and some still remain, they are not the totality of me.
I am, as Mrs. Which said, the sum total of the many events that occurred since the birth of the universe, leading to the making of me just the way I am. I want to thank this Meg for helping me remember that.
And thank you, Ava, for giving this Meg to me.