It's just that sometimes bones must be broken again in order to heal correctly.

-Antoinette Gregg

by Antoinette Gregg

*This essay contains spoilers for A Wrinkle In Time*

Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’engle’s novel is a stunning cinematic experience. It’s a classic coming-of-age tale wrapped up in fantasy with moral underpinnings, and it is ultimately about believing in yourself and showing love as often as you can. This is a great feature for families, but it will be especially inspiring for young Black girls struggling to come into their own.

I left the theater feeling elated, but also very heavy, because A Wrinkle In Time made me contemplate my own trouble with love.

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Recently, a friend reminded me that I had once recommended she read All About Love by bell hooks. It explores the definition of love in the universal sense, but also grapples with how society can distort the purity of what love is about and how it should feel,especially within the Black community. When I first read this book a couple years ago, it made me realize that, due to my own experience with various relationships, I grew up believing love was oppressive in nature.

The desire to receive love from my family shackled me to an existence of pleasing them instead of myself. Those around me made me feel like I was required to live in a way that was always agreeable to others. Hearing “I love you” from anyone became a point of discomfort, and I thought that saying it back would force others into an oppressive position of having to always live up to my expectations in the same way I felt I had to live up to theirs.

As for the love of society, I don’t think I have ever felt it. Quite the opposite, actually. Nearly every depiction of people who look like me has been denigrated, bastardized, and caricatured. Seeing these unfortunate depictions during my teenage years and early adulthood, I found myself balancing on what I call the fence of Blackness: overshadowing my dark complexion and Geechee heritage with my “whiter attributes.”

I tempered the music I listened to, how I spoke, and my entertainment interests. My mind was steeped in respectability politics, as well as my hyper awareness of DuBois’ double consciousness. To be able to be loved by anyone at all meant acting one way with Black folks and another way with white folks.

I wanted people to feel like I fit them. Love, to me, was meant that I needed to fit the mold, and even now I am still weighed down by these distorted ideas. hooks writes, “Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older,” and I suppose that this is my current misery.

Contrary to my what my brain often tells me, I know that there are plenty of people in my life who love me for the person that I am, all my faults included, but just as Meg had to get to the point where she didn’t view love as this scary, bewildering, suspicious and absent notion, I am in the process of getting to that place, too.

Each time that the characters of the film “tesser” to somewhere in the universe, they must do so at the frequency of love, something discovered by Meg’s father before his disappearance. Every being has feelings filled with light as they tesser, but Meg feels only darkness and never lands on her feet like the others. She is always in a state of disorientation and despair. As she begins to feel more love for herself, her little brother, and her parents, then she is able to begin the tesser and travel across the universe with joy and light.

I have moments, sometimes days, when I feel loved in this way: with joy and light, unencumbered and unquestioned. Most of the time, it is when I am with friends. Throughout the years, they have been the ones who remind me that I am amazing and unique, that I can do everything I want, that my dreams can be actualized, that being a dark Black girl is magical, and that I am always loved just as I am.

When I hear my friends tell me that they love me, it breaks my heart. Not in a debilitating and sorrowful way. It’s just that sometimes bones must be broken again in order to heal correctly. I know that it’s hard to change the way people display and understand love, but I am trying hard to change the way I show and share mine.

Not long ago, one of my aunts told me that she loved me, and I couldn’t say anything back for a moment. She asked if I loved her and I finally said, “Yes.” When she asked me why I love her, all I could say was, “Because you’re my aunt.” There are many things about her beside our blood that make me love her, but I couldn’t utter any of those things.

This has always been my reaction to expressing my love when it comes to friends and family. I must wrench the words out of my mouth, even though I mean them absolutely.

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I rarely tell the people in my life that I love them because I still have uncertainty in my heart of whether they truly love me back. I see this as my biggest fault, that I still continue to view love as something that enslaves me to the people who receive it, and the fear of loving others without reciprocity leaves me empty and wanting.

But Black folks must love ourselves, and must not be afraid to let our kinfolk know that we love them, too. In the same way that Meg, to free her brother and herself from “the It,” had to utter the words, “I love you” with confidence, so must I.

Antoinette J. Gregg is a sociologist, activist, and organizer dedicated to empowering marginalized populations. She has experience organizing and directing in the fights for higher education affordability and access, livable wages and lives in general. She worked with NYPIRG to keep New York free from hydrofracking, she helped fast food workers in New York’s Fight For $15 campaign as an organizer, she is versed in fundraising and development both on the ground and on the screen lending a hand to organizations like NYPIRG, Justice League NYC, and Everytown for Gun Safety; and, she has been active in various organizations and actions to put an end to police brutality and the killing of Black folk.