a room of rock
Neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring.
It sounds, Meg thinks, like something out of one of the books Mother falls asleep over on the rare occasions that she’s not working in the lab until all hours, or one of the several assigned for last summer’s reading that Meg avoided even opening until school had already started. It isn’t Meg’s language, and of course it sounds nothing like the twins. And yet, the moment Charles Wallace tells Calvin that she’s neither one thing nor the other—which is just what you want your brilliant baby brother to tell the most popular boy in school—the phrase appears in her head like the after-image of a camera flash, staying with her even across a corner of the universe and back home again.
Why, Meg wonders rather crossly, slumped against her headboard that night, would anyone wish to be any of those things anyway? Or any one anything, come to that? Except beautiful like Mother, of course. But that’s an attribute, not a category, and so far out of Meg’s reach regardless of its part of speech that it might as well be stars.
Farther, in fact, as Meg now almost knows.
Even if it weren’t, though, Meg doesn’t want to be just beautiful. Maybe first that, but not only. She knows she’s nowhere near Charles Wallace’s level of brilliance, never mind what her parents say. But she has a good brain—a very good one, maybe—and she wants to use it for something. Something more than the giggling girls across the lunchroom cafeteria, acting like they have only a single brain between them and all of it focused on getting boys to notice them.
Which is another puzzle, nothing compared to what she's just been through, but it still troubles her: why so many of the girls she sees in school seem to aim everything they have, everything they are, at the boys in the class, with nothing left over for themselves or for making friends or for anything but mockery of any other girl who doesn’t do and talk and want as they do. That can’t be all there is to being a girl. It just can’t.
Anyway. Even if it is—even if that’s what a girl is supposed to be—well. Meg doesn’t care—she doesn’t—if she’s neither one thing nor the other. Limits are restrictive, expectations likewise (which sounds like something Father would say). Look at Aunt Beast, or Mrs Whatsit, or Mother: all girls once (well, maybe not Aunt Beast, but she must at least have been a teenager at some point), all far out of ordinary time and place for a girl, and all secure—so strong!—in their plans and purposes in the universe.
All leading real lives. Lives that go somewhere.
Meg’s life, too, will mean something. Something important. Like Mother, again: having a family, as girls are meant to do, but also having something that lets her be all of herself.
Whoever that turns out to be.
my heart in the breaking of a bough
Charles Wallace, breathing and not blue and better: it’s as though a piece had gone missing and then turned up miraculously somewhere already searched three frantic times.
And not a piece of sky or lawn or interchangeable flower-petal mass, either, the sort they’ve fished out of Mother’s Bunsen burner more than once over the years. But a key piece, a piece of whatever the puzzle is really about, not just according to the picture on the box’s front but according, too, to what the puzzle means to whoever’s looking at it.
A piece of that person’s heart.
Sometimes Meg feels as though Charles Wallace is her heart. She loves the twins, of course, and her parents, and maybe (perhaps, of course, ?) Calvin as well. But Charles Wallace … he makes her world—otherwise seeming, these days, as impossibly contradictory as tessering—make blessed sense to her.
Which is funny peculiar, since making sense is usually a task not so much of the heart but of the mind.
But then, the world doesn’t seem to think that Charles Wallace himself makes very much sense. As far as Meg can tell, the world doesn’t have a lot of room for people who don’t do or look or feel just the same ways others around them do. The ways people ought to do or look or feel. Like Charles Wallace—Dr Louise calls him sui generis, which Dennys says means “unique in its characteristics” in Latin.
And like Meg, too, really. Since losing the braces and gaining Calvin in public, she looks more what people expect than not: still not beautiful, but approaching a solid state of matter, becoming a recognized element on the periodic table. Underneath, though, she’s as uncertain and unusual as she’s ever been. Maybe more so, as the contrast between surface tension and the liquid’s fundamental nature increases over time.
It comes down to this: Charles Wallace helps her make sense of herself.
some gallery of the brain
Meg wonders if this is how Charles Wallace feels all the time. Or Calvin, or her parents—the family she’s chosen and to which she’s been born, precious and maddening, all of whom seem to her to have found their place in the world before she even met them—as silly as that sounds, particularly when it comes to her baby brother. But true—and one thing she’s learned from the Mrses (oh, English, what a language!) and Progo and Blajeny, from all of her true teachers up to the present time, is that what seems silly is often anything but.
Meg doesn’t feel silly at college. Quite the opposite. For the first time since she can remember, she feels … in step with herself somehow, in sync with herself. Mostly in sync, but mostly is better than it’s ever been. Even after she and Calvin … well: they were always going to be together somehow, that was clear from the moment Fortinbras barked Calvin to a stop at the edge of Mrs Whatsit’s wood. That insistence on Fort’s part—that was a sign of something, something important and defining.
A sign of belonging, like the echo of bells rung somewhere one’s always been meant to live.
Being at college—meeting new teachers, knowing new girls, making new sense of the world—strikes that same chord in Meg’s mind, but amplified, richer with overtones and harmonies. Aware of new relationships, of options and possibilities. Of touch and taste, and of the many meanings both senses may carry.
It’s the difference between 15 and 19, between being a child and becoming a woman. Meg’s felt caught in the becoming stage for what feels like her whole life so far, trapped in a tiny box without knowing which way is out. Getting glimpses of sky through darkening flaps, snatches of air past the enclosing occlusion.
Being with Calvin opened the box.
Being here, Meg feels as though she’s beginning to break down the cardboard walls and discover that she does belong—and that where she belongs, and to whom,
is the whole world.
happily conscious of roofs and skies
No one told Meg how odd it is to be pregnant.
Not just in the obvious ways, like trouble with stairs and random knocks on the abdomen wall from that new life burgeoning inside and Sandy and Dennys being uncharacteristically solicitous, though still in their amplified know-it-all fashion.
But also in the…the rootedness it gives—it insists on!—solidifying who you are and what you’re present for in a way that nothing else in Meg’s life has done. Being pregnant leaves no room for wondering or experiments or doubt, inescapably emphasizing adherence in the physical realm to the classic female roles of wife and mother, married and fertile. Emphasizing one’s location in the now.
Meg finds that comforting at both ends of that years-long evening with Charles Wallace and Mrs O’Keefe and a planet deciding which way to tip. There are so many terrible uncertainties otherwise—visible, tangible, there for the touch and feeling—through the deep kythe that links them. So many stories, branching into fruition or misdirection, into purgatory or infinity.
So many once and future mothers and wives, their choices seeming to Meg, seeing through Charles Wallace’s eyes on Gaudior’s wings, as though the men—boys!—in each story hold all the power, even if it’s one another against whom they wield it. Like those old Boys’ Own Adventure Stories the twins found when Mother had them excavate the attic last summer, all capital letters and Thrilling Adventures.
Because after all: adventure may be necessary as breathing, but it’s knowing one’s place in the world that makes that breathing possible.
love, and god, and laughter/sunlight, and work, and pain
Seven children. Seven.
At this point in her life, Meg’s met plenty of women who love the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth for themselves—the feeling of carrying a child, the feeling of bringing (forcing! requiring? strongly encouraging) that child out of the womb and into the wider world. She’s always assumed they must also have at least some affection for the process of actually begetting the children in question, though she’s never yet brought herself to make the relevant inquiries.
Although she mostly respects that passion for vessalage, she counts herself apart from it nonetheless. Realized fecundity sets enough boundaries without being invited to stay on a semi-permanent basis. The first time was revelatory, though Meg’s never been sure that didn’t have as much to do with Gaudior and those women through the years—Zyll, Zylle, Zillah, a matrilitany—and with her fear and longing for Calvin as with the process of pregnancy and its nearly inevitable ending. The second time came as a surprise to both of them, which goes some little way to explaining Charles and his gift for astonishment. Xan and Den, Peggy and Johnny, Roxy and the last one stillborn (and why, Meg wonders, do they call it either still or birth, given that losing a child too soon deafens the soul like a noisy death) … each of the children she’s borne Calvin has been unexpected in his or her own way, not least in that each time, Meg finds herself newly unused to the limitations pregnancy imposes—to the way it keeps her bound to her body in a specific, traditional way.
Unused to them—and increasingly unwelcoming of them as well.
Unsurprising, then, that though the physical knowing necessary to conceive pleases Meg as it always has—expertise carries aphrodisiacal qualities, in this as elsewhere—her own favorite part of having children has ever been the part that’s yet to come. The older her daughters and sons get, the more she truly likes them. Love, now—that’s never been an issue. But the chance to explore with them what could be ahead, once they’re old enough to think that far, the chance to help them push the boundaries of what’s possible for them … that’s what makes them family, what makes it worth going through even the restrictive psychological immobility of pregnancy and birth for.
What comes after must make now worth it.
…the wood we walk in,—ourselves,—the world?
Thirty years on, Meg still remembers that moment. A rare time alone with her mother, no experiments or twins or cats vying for attention: just Meg with her terrible haircut (proto-dyke, now-Meg thinks, amused), miserable in the kitchen, and Mother, beautiful and tired and listening to Meg’s litany of teenaged-oddball woes. And, in the end, putting her finger directly on the center of the map, as she so often did:
“You’re much too straightforward to be able to pretend to be what you aren’t.”
True then. True again now. Less true, ebbing and flowing, during those intervening three decades. Or perhaps it’s just that much of what’s been required of Meg over that time—what, if she’s as honest with herself as her mother was, she has required of herself—has been necessarily … well: not pretense so much as honoring only some aspects of who she is, and not always the strongest or best of them (though not always not those, either).
In the tide of her own affairs, that ebb and flow is pulling at her strongly these days, doing its best to tug her away from the constructed normalcy of wifedom, motherhood, PhD-less partnership and towards …
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it.
What does one do at forty-something, when life looks grand from the outside and feels good from the inside but something’s rather undeniably missing? How does one reconcile the years of being—truly—wife and mother and partner with the knowledge that great swathes of the self exist untenanted? Where does one go to assuage an ache in the bone like cold past Earth’s knowing—and how does one do so without leaving, and losing, love?
The stars call to Meg, voices like an organ with every stop out, alive with the possibilities of new music, new works, new life.
All she has to do is open her mouth and sing.