Of Names and Noses

Spirit Essence Portrait of Bink, done in watercolor by artist Melissa Harris

Of Names and Noses

I gave my daughter a blog name first and foremost to respect her privacy. Oh, I’ve told her that I write about her sometimes, because she is so awesome and amazing and interesting and people need to hear about things like that. I’ve asked her permission as well, and she has, in her way, given it. Her understanding of the implications of having her name “out there” along with some of the stories of our life…well, it’s limited. So I prefer to provide an extra little cushion between her life and my tellings about it, and thus the pseudonym.

Why Bink?

Some years ago on a pretty blue and green star in a galaxy near you, a child was born. No ordinary child, this! She came with the requisite parts, but her mind was put together ever so differently, woven in complicated abstract designs. There was no instruction manual.

This child was given a beautiful name, and she was loved very, very much. As she grew, it was pretty clear she was not a mainstream sort of child, and the collection of anxieties and oddities, interests and delays and symptoms she embodied came to be called autism. She grew some more, and some words came, but she was not able to tell the world what she felt and what she needed, at least not in the regular way.

Her anxieties were growing, too, and they were super-sized and showed up in myriad ways. One of those ways had a lot to do with touching people. Not your standard hug or shake-a- hand kind of touch, but rather little fingers ( hers) darting out to bop a baby on the head, or touch a nearby nose. That kind of touch became something like compulsion, and that need got bigger and stronger when she was anxious, and that in turn made her more anxious. So there was the urge to touch, and then the anxiety about the urge to touch, and that made the urge even bigger, and round and round it went. She passed through the bopping babies on the head phase, but the urge to touch noses never did fade.

The child’s Chief Interpreter and bodyguard ( that would be me) was always looking for ways to make lemonade of the bumper crop of lemons that grew up in and around the autism, and the anxiety, compulsions and fears. Somewhere along the way, the child and the Chief Interpreter began to assign sounds to certain touches. It was a collaborative effort, and one day the fingers touching noses elicited a “Bink!” from the child, and CI laughed and smiled and this became a good thing, a fun thing. It was also a teaching tool about whom to touch, and where, and when, and so the child began to touch noses of family members and caregivers with a definitive “Bink!”, and that was OK or even good.

The next learning was about permission, a challenging concept for a person who had little sense of others having their own preferences and feelings and thoughts. The child learned that strangers and other non-caregiving types did not make that bink sound, and in fact made scowly faces and sometimes got upset and had what she came to call a ‘dangerous” voice. She also learned when and where the binks were not OK. In the car, for example, not OK to touch the driver’s nose unless stopped at a red light. Super Guy, my husband and Bink’s stepdad, and I had the whos, whats, and whens covered.

And so, the unified gesture and sound that is a bink moved right into the child’s life and became a permanent part of the lexicon. Sometimes the touching noses came when the child was anxious. This happened especially when she was in school and with people whose nose did not make a bink sound. When she was with her Chief Interpreter, though, and other assorted family members and understanding types, the child began to seek out binks for reassurance.

There even evolved a nose-to-nose bink, whereby she would touch the tip of her nose to another understanding sort of person, and a bink would come. This happened most especially with her CI, yours truly, though she sometimes would approach a select few with a request, “ Nose to nose?” Her CI hastened to assure the chosen few that this was indeed an honor, and they’d best partake.

Next came a variation where her nose would meet CI’s cheek or vice versa, and thus a cheek bink was born. This bink is and was reserved for CI alone. There is also a specific sound that precedes a cheek bink. It sounds like an awwww one might coo at a baby human or sweet little animal that embodies cuteness.

When Super Guy and Chief Interpreter had a talk about a blog name for this child ( who is now 24), no one or two words instantly arose in their minds. As they considered, over days, this young woman’s utterly unique ways of being, her quirks and her rituals, the bink thing began to rise from the mist. It just seemed so right, especially because it has evolved into a happy, loving thing.

So there, in a nutshell, is the background of the bink. It’s grown more nuanced over time; it now sometimes paired with a need to touch CI’s hair. For the record, the hair should be symmetrical, an equal amount of the left and the right. This is known as “two sides.” and in fact the day cannot begin without this sweet ritual. But that, my friend, is a story for another time.

–Melinda Coppola

 

Cat Calls

 

for Super Guy

4 am, the favored time for felines in this house;
to dance a catty jig across my soft belly,
scale the cliff your side-sleeping body makes
as it juts, dark and warm, one shoulder
reaching towards the ceiling which,
if I squint my sleep-eyes just so, looks
quite like a February sky.

She slides—the cat who loves you most,
the one-eared gray
with a face like Mona Lisa—she slides
gracelessly into the valley where your neck
and shoulder meet, landing
with a small thump, and you half sigh,
breath paused as if considering,
in your dream state, the wisdom of rousing
to shoo away the one
who has attached herself to your heart,
whose paws and claws have daily
and nightly worn a path
through your resistance,
laying claim to the continent of your body,
staking out the exact place
where she anchors her nose to your neck.

This is the muted drama of our lives,
a home whose floors and walls have been
downright humbled by five
felicitous four-leggeds,
a house that swirls with fur,
No matter how hard I try,
I say to guests, but truly
I have given myself up to it—the wee hour wails
and squeaks and the sure way the littlest one
dashes under the bed at the slightest
nearing footstep, and the uninvited
company in the bathroom,
where sets of big eyes
green, golden, brown,
watch my ablutions
with what feels like bemused
tolerance with –perhaps – a side of love,
thought it might be anticipation too,
‘cuz it’s always
almost dinner.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

Seeing Through

I am so pleased to share that the poem below was published on the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review yesterday!  If  you want to see the actual page with the Editor’s choice of photo, and check out Song of Eretz Poetry Review in  general, click here:

 

Seeing Through

Melinda Coppola

In the summer, after rain,
over mint iced tea this time her weary
eyes, careless gray hair fell, heavy,
onto drooped shoulders. The blouse
so inappropriate, I thought, seeing
right through it. A woman should
wear a nice bra at least, I thought, seeing
right through.

I hadn’t wanted it, this awkward date.
She’d caught me off guard with her call.
These days I loathed forced smiles,
cheeriness that smothered the bare
truth of my life. Avoided Let’s have coffee
at all costs. Off guard.
I tried not to look again at her
tasteless I thought again bra
that wisp of a blouse on one her age
seeing through it. Right through.

Focused now on her thin lips, feeling
downright mean
I made to-do lists in my head
as she went on and on trying
to reach a point, perhaps, or find words
…died….I heard her say
murdered in his apartment. They think
my heart skipped a beat
it was a random burglary he
shame crept crimson into my selfish
was to be twenty the next day.
Her eyes bore holes into my skin, words
peeled away my feeble layers. Seeing right through.

-Melinda Coppola

Poets Notes: This piece sprung up from the surprisingly rich ground of mild depression, fertilized with distraction and the human tendency to make assumptions about others without actually entering their story.

In the old country

Albert Tromara,
my father
1926-2001

 

 

“In the old country….”, he began
and she thought,
he’s confused again, he wasn’t there…
and she remembered all
the stories he told of growing up in Roxbury,
only son of Albanian immigrants who worked hard
in the bakery, and he as a boy
worked alongside them.

On a rare afternoon off,
he’d join the others, first generation kids
from assorted old countries,
and they’d make do,
roll balls of twine
to play softball in the Boston streets.

“We worked hard, but life was simpler”…..
and she thought about how the contrasts were starker,
juxtapositions hard-angled and that now
the greatest discipline was to keep
from having too much, too many things,
to have just enough
in this land of cheap goods,
such irresistable colors
and ads all imploring
buy me! I alone shall
make your life complete!

And then her heart began to ache
and she was missing him, missing him,
and then she looked up
realized she was talking to her husband’s father,
not her own at all
for he was dead fifteen years now
and this one, this sweet
old man speaking in a thick accent
did hail from the old country,
or one of them, and
she took a deep breath,
fixed her eyes upon him
and began to listen.

 

Melinda Coppola