The Man in the Grocery Line

Certain special needs are invisible, or really hard to spot. This can include Autism, in some people. That isn’t Bink’s reality, though. Anyone of the neurotypical persuasion who takes more than a minute to observe my adult daughter will understand that something’s up. The way she carries herself, her frequent self-talk and singing, her hands reaching for my hair and announcing frequently, to nobody in particular, “ Brown girl. Mommy is a girl. Brown girl hair” these things are among the give-aways.

When Bink and I go out in public, people’s reactions to her difference tend to fall into three categories:
1. People are nice, they glance a few times, and then look away, feigning indifference, because staring is not what a well-mannered person does.
2. People are nice, with a curiosity that sometimes crinkles the corners of their lips upward and radiates from their eyes.
3. People are caught up in their own affairs and genuinely do not notice.

In the course of twenty five years, I can count on one hand the number of times that strangers have said or done something truly unkind in reaction to Bink’s other-ness. I attribute this to growing and widespread awareness of Autism and other special needs. I’m also a rather understanding sort. In the face of possibly mean or ignorant behavior, I prefer to assume the other person has a headache, has had a really bad day, or has to pee and has been holding it too long.

Now that you’ve got all that background, let me set the scene for what happened last Sunday. Bink and I went to the market, as we often do. We work on several things there. She looks for items from our list, puts them in the cart, and scans them at the self-checkout. I’m selective about how much she takes on in any given visit, depending on time constraints, and her mood, and mine.

We’d set out with a pretty small list that day, but we ended up with about forty things, because our four felines like their stinky food in individual little cans. We found everything successfully and we headed to one of six self-check registers. Things were going well: she was happy, I was happy, there were no lines. I prompted her through the initial steps. Choose English as the preferred Ms Register voice. Let’s type in our phone number for those valuable gas points. Then I asked her to scan, and set myself up at the end of the belt and prepared to bag.

Bink began the process, picking up each item and looking for the funny lines and numbers that make the lady inside the register talk back. One dollar and sixteen cents. Sixty four cents. Savings: ten cents. And so on. The voice is slow and deliberate, and Bink’s actions usually match the pace. If she can’t find the code, she just turns the item in all different directions until Miss Register responds. She was doing a bang-up job this particular day, adding in her own random comments. “Brown giiiirrl. Two sides?” The three of us –Ms. R, Bink, and bagging Mom, were in a nice slow sync. All was well in the world.

From my vantage point as the bagger I noticed that a man had gotten in line behind us. As Bink did her thing, he seemed more and more…ummm..interested. That’s a polite, assume-the-best word to describe his countenance and demeanor. The more items she scanned, the more man-in-line was interested. As we were getting towards the final third of our checkout experience, he began to sigh loudly and move his body in a subtle dance of impatience. A few more minutes, a few more scanned items later, man-in-line leaned way over to his left and ducked slightly around Bink, almost like she was a shopping cart or a magazine display rack. He seemed eager to catch my attention.

I admit, I almost declined to meet his eyes. It sure seemed like he was not a happy man-in-line, and we were almost finished, and things had gone so well. Bink had scanned more items than she’d ever done before, I’m pretty sure. We thrive on these little triumphs. Anyway, I did meet man’s gaze, and it was then he spoke. “Really??” he asked. I detected a really big pinch of sarcasm.

Really?

Did I mention that there were not big lines at the SIX self-checkout lanes? That means man-in-line had five other places he could have gone to ring himself out.

There were so many things I could have said. In retrospect, the possibilities were tantalizing. I was taken off guard, though, by this man’s words. I’m also, as I think I mentioned, a rather kind sort. Most of the time. To most people. So here’s what I did. Here’s what I said. I stood up a little taller, put a big, genuine smile on my face, and said, “ Yes, she’s doing a GREAT job, isn’t she? “

Man-in-line kind of screwed up his face a little. He paused, and then he muttered, to the floor,” Yeah. Yeah.” Bink completed her scanning, I put our bagged items in the cart, and we left. Two happy women, out the door and home.

Is it possible, dear reader, that man-in-line, who appeared very typical in every way, had one of those less visible special needs? Maybe he had a whopping headache. Maybe he didn’t win the lottery last night—again. Who knows, and we never really do know, do we?

I wonder if compassion can be taught, or if it is an innate thing that lives in some hearts and not others. I wonder what could change if we all went a little out of our way to notice each other with a bit more kindness, to scrape up a little more patience, and to let those words fall more readily out of our mouths,” Good job. You’re doing a really good job.”

–Melinda Coppola

Inner Child Remembers

young melinda coppola

Before The Tax

that adolescence imposes on body, mind, and spirit, probably in that order, there were hearty chunks of time that were some sort of unencumbered.

Inner Child remembers

discovering the fairies living well in tall flowers near the sandbox. How I loved to honor them, grabbing kid-sized chubby handfuls of sand and running through the tall stalks flinging the tiny granules. Oh, the sounds that Fairy Dust made! Songs in my ears and in my half-fairy heart. The magic-making kind.

The woods, the woods, the woods, acres of them, full of Brownies and Fairies and adventure. Long and free and wild days spent roaming the neighborhood, without fear or consequence.

On the first of May, I’d gather flowers from the garden and form them into weedy little bouquets. Carrying the wilting lovelies in my hands, I’d traipse ‘round to the neighbors. I’d stand on tiptoe to ring the doorbell, then place a bunch on the front steps, and dash out of sight.

One Christmas there was a little rubber duck, yellow. One of my older brothers had “wrapped” this for me by putting it into a huge box which he taped up. Made me wonder every minute until I got to open it. I loved that little duck so much, I’m quite sure it was my favorite gift that season.

Playing dress-up in the odd eaves above the stairs: I’d search the large steamer trunk housing big old velvet dresses, shapeless, and shawls. Layering myself in their heavy elegance, screwing rhinestones into my tender earlobes, shoving my small feet into pointy-toed high heels. I knew I was beautiful because nobody told me otherwise.

There was chocolate, sweet and smooth, melting in my hands, on my lips. There was the utter abandon of living well in my skin, loving having a body. No shame in me, yet. The eating for pleasure, until full, no thought of waist size or the “virtues” of making less of oneself.

Singing! Fancying myself an opera star, I’d belt out song after song, my 7 year old soprano notes echoing down the hall of that old childhood home.

After we moved from the big old white house with the gardens that housed fairies, I bonded with the small stream that ran through the new land. How I loved the deep mysterious smells of it, and the way it grew crayfish and little minnow things, and rotting leaves and mosses hugging stones.

There was the dreaming of horses, seeing myself riding them bareback and poised and strong.

Inner Child also remembers

watching poems write themselves, my hand dancing as the words flowed onto a notebook at my desk at the window.

There were the family trips to Cape Cod beaches in summer. My three siblings, my parents and I would cram into the wood-sided station wagon along with coolers and fishing poles, towels and beach toys. I rode in the way back, no such thing as seat belts then. At the end of the day, returning home, the tail lights of the other cars were Martian space ships. In fact, I was inevitably kidnapped by them, and they were forever whisking me away to an even better life.
—Melinda Coppola

Autographing Autumn

I was walking, first field–
verdant, moist , glorious
carpet of greens,

and the woods edged closer,
with a beckoning trail,
and then the floor was pine needles,
punctuated with wily
old roots in no
pattern whatsoever.

Sky was rarified blue, bluer,
an artist’s glad canvas,
background perfection to

the leaves! Yellow and orange,
rusty brown, green,
pure gold, shimmering
against that ocean of sky.

A gradual descent
along the acceptably
man-made path ,
and then a turn revealed
more signs of us:

piles of stones and bits
of writing paper, a charm,
all left like an offering
atop a stump.

How interesting, humankind.

That we feel a need to sign everything,
as if
he, she, they, we
were in any way contributing artists,

as if we are desperate
to make ourselves known,
to say, in some small or grander way,
I am here.
I was here.

How is it that the leaves of oak and maple,
the chipmunks, the needles of pine,
are so willing to be here and then go,
in their time,

but we
who fancy ourselves smarter, more capable,
have so much difficulty
letting go?

–Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

BRIDGES

We are pausing on a bridge
over the dwindling stream
that crawls through our large,
local dollop of green, Bird Park,

because we always pause, she and I,
on every little bridge
that spans any river anywhere,

so she can look down
from first one side,
then the other,
at that liquid light
which is water in the daytime,

one of many rituals
that string our days and months
together
like a prayer flag.

I watch her watching water,
wondering if she notices
how much thinner the stream
than just last week,

and my ear goes towards the toddler
just arrived and
tumbling in the grass nearby,
which calls my gaze there, too.

The child laughs and spins
as her female loving presence-
Mother, Nanny—tosses a little pink ball.

Too quickly to stop,
ball is rolling into stream.
Just as fast,
the child’s laughter turns to wails,
improbably huge, garish sounds
from such a small body,

and my gaze shifts back to daughter,
who is now squinting,
now covering her ears,
turning away from bridge and water
and back towards the safety of the path
leading away from wailing child.

Now daughter is tense,
and each person, each dog we pass
might be a reason to become undone,
an insult to the tightly wound
system of nerves and cellular memories
ticking in linear, illogical time

and I think of all of us,
everywhere,
living with and without Autism,
carrying years of triggers,
a hundred reasons to become undone,

and how we are each,
at any given hour, maybe
a few breaths away from meltdown,

and the marvel is
how we hold it together,
or pretend to,
in a time when mass shootings
are just a few more storms
punctuating the news cycle,
and everything seems cracked,
precarious.

We find the safety of the car,
she and I,
and an hour later she is
singing in the market,
luscious bluesy notes
in perfect pitch,

and my own triggers recede,
and I think yes,
yes, this is how we go on.

This is how we’ll go on.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

In Times Like These: Silver Linings of Caregiving

THANK YOU, TEDIUM

 

In the midst of the interminable news;
all-bad-all-the-time,
chaos and tragedy,
aftermath and predictions,
close ups and sound bites
that feed worry
and starve hope,
invite helplessness,

inside this swirl,
this modern quotidian,
there is something else,
not exactly calm, but steadier ground,

and I, who have recently
allowed my own heart to rent space
to darkness and fear,
I’ve watched myself mistrust
this solid ground,
guessing it to be the eye
of the larger storm
which I’ve been naming
How Things Are Now.

This morning, my daughter’s needs
rose strong and clear,
as they often do,
and I turned my intention
towards her, and them,
felt cool, hard floor beneath my feet,
and there it all was before me
spread out like a map
for my frayed, lost senses:

The morning tea and
the reading of her dream,

the string of reassurances
against her fears of the day,

the mechanics of a smoothie,
first juice then fruit,
now let’s shield our faces from the splash
of berries into liquid,
now earplugs before blender,

morning pills and
pink shirt, yes,
let’s try the pants again,
this time with the tag in the back,
and oops! Your shoes found the wrong feet,
and can we make those laces nice and tight?

Packed lunch, yes,
the soup is salty,
the pickles tart, yes, yes

yes there will be late sleep on Saturday,
yes, Mom is a girl,
yes we will go out this afternoon,
yes you will have a snack,

and in the thick of this,
our rituals,
a slow, slow dance of repetition,
naming all the parts
of the day,

I almost fell to my knees,
silently thanking
God/Goddess/ That-Which-Makes-Stuff-Happen,
for the ordinary work of caregiving,
sweet tedium
tethering me to the here and now,
almost sacred in its simplicity.

Eyes on task at hand,
heart humming
with the love that fuels
this tending,
binding me to that which is real,
and necessary,
and lifesaving
and true.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

 

 

CONSORTIUM

Superguy is a very private sort. I am too, in my way. There are times, though, when things need to be said, out loud and in public.
In a time when stress and fear seem like national pastimes, love ought to be celebrated, and shared. Happy Anniversary, Superguy. You make my heart sing.

Consortium

Up before you,
I hear your shuffle
down the morning hall,
the clearing of your throat,

and my head turns
of it’s own accord, trained
by years of practice,

and I’m looking for your face
turned towards mine,
your ruffled silver hair
catching the morning sun,

and that slight nod of your chin,
the quiet grunt
which I know is your
Good morning,
I love you,
you mean the world to me.

You’ll head towards the kitchen,
seeking hot tea, which I
will have made for you,

and on the way you’ll
greet a cat
or two, or three,

and then there will be music:
your spoon in the green mug,
the refrigerator creaking open,
the muted pop of the soy milk carton
perhaps the crinkle of wax paper,
the bowl chiming a welcome
to the shredded wheat,

and I may or may not rise
from the couch or the Yoga mat
to hug you,

and I may or may not
give voice to that
which blooms inside my heart
when you enter the day in my sight,

that which, even now,
after years, after miles,
after challenges we couldn’t have foreseen,

sings the sweetest song,
Good morning,
I love you,
You mean the world to me.

 

-Melinda Coppola

 

 

The Animist in the Basement

In the time of damp basements,
I used to talk to the walls sometimes,
quite softly,
caress them even,
my whorled fingertips
stroke-searching
for the faintest
raised evidence of mold.

On an August morning,
those netherland, concretized
holders-up-of-all things-necessary,
(like the house),
those walls were already moist.

I did my verbal massage,
my digital exam,
and I remember clear
as yesterday, sharp
as melatonin dreams,
the shape of something growing
recoiled under my touch,
and my eyes asked for more light.

I feared I’d lose the home of it,
if I left to find the slim
black bullet of modern design,
small flashlight
that lived in the junk drawer
in the kitchen above,

and so I stayed there with it,
the fuzzy seedling of something dank,
surely distasteful,
something I’d want
to poison with, say,
vinegar, or another
green killer of fungal growth.

I stayed and I leaned closer,
one hand still grazing the tips
of the tiny forest I imagined,
the other braced on smoother wall.

I stayed and I leaned in,
nostrils flaring,
prepared to test the truth of it
my cilia at attention,
brain poised
to marry what I know
of scent of mold
to this imminent olfactory immersion.

I leaned in,
I breathed in,
and it was then I heard it first—
the tiny soprano keening
of a hundred living somethings,
beseeching, imploring­­­,
and I knew
the way I often know things
that I can’t explain
that it was a village of little beings,
a country even,
and, like Horton
who heard a Who,
I also heard and knew,
I’d best leave those Tinies alone.

I learned quite young
this world will tolerate
only so much weirdness,
and I, who hear the plates
asking for rotation,
and the driveway talking to the car,
I’ve silenced myself so frequently
it feels like second nature.

There is a time, though,
to let go of such concerns,
for each of us
could be considered mad
by someone.

So here it is,
one of my truths;
I’m just learning to speak Window,
but I’m fluent in Wall,
and many of the things
you may think sense-less,
mute and dumb
are actually alive!
They feel, and talk,
and I feel and talk back

I wasn’t going to tell you,
guessing how you would react,
but the journals in my bookshelf
joined their voices
in an almost harmony
with the runner rug in the hall,
(which is strange indeed,
because they usually don’t congregate),

and they said
in their own languages
that I should try,
that this world needs more perspectives,
that none of us is wrong,
we’re all just limited,

so there, I wrote it,
I said it,
and you can take it in, or not,
but either way

please wipe your feet gently
on the doormat
it so hates when you do
all that stomping.

 

–Melinda Coppola

 

I Come from the World

Bink would say…a long haired girl day, aka a very good day!

 

I’m pleased to share that I’ve had two poems published in I Come from the World, a new literary journal.  If you’d  like to check out this brand new online journal, here’s a link:   https://icomefromtheworld.org/   The poems that are mine, both previously published on my blog, are: Between Faith and the Cable News and My Calling.

Welcome to Autismville

 

Shimmering minnow leaves

AUTISMVILLE

I can’t tell you
it is an unpleasant thing
to live in the quirky neighborhood,
on the far side of the river,
a good ways from the thickest part
of the frantic throng.

Here, we are daily looking up,
fixating and stimming
on green minnow leaves
that shimmer against the waters of the sky.

Here we have our own customs;
the daily waking song,
the recitation of dreams,
the morning questions and videotaped answer
for her to play back over and over,
the reassurances:
Yes, there will be snack. Yes, Mom is a girl.
Yes, there will be girl hair when we leave.

The life we’ve grown into,
first she and I and then he
who married into this confluence
of ordered disorder,
this life has authentic charm.

We go slow, we don’t try to measure up.
Our victories are sweeter
for how long they take to manifest
and mysterious
for how quickly they can disappear.

I can’t say it’s tragic in this virtual village,
this parallel universe
peopled with other singular folk
who understand the need for things
like space and processing time,
patience and velvet compassion,
smooth voices, soft dolls,
sweet routine and
more spice in everything.

We have magic here, I tell you.
Songs that play in color,
voices with texture,
folks who spin and swing and
hum and sing.

And the leaves! The glorious
minnow leaves,
dancing upstream,
between the clouds,
and laughing.

Melinda Coppola

 

Would you like to receive my posts by email? If so, use the sign up form to the right.

 

Self Portrait

” We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Anais Nin

AS SOUP: I am mostly hearty kitchen-sink vegetable bean. With each tasting I re-season myself; more salt, a dash of lemon juice or vinegar, a pinch of cumin, a snip of fresh mint. On occasion, I am decadence in a bowl; my inner creamy broccoli-cheddar self will show her sly smile, or my smooth and caloric parmesan-green bean let-it-all-hang-out side may bubble up to comfort and delight herself, and you if she’s in the mood.

AS STUFFED ANIMAL: I am a little ivory lamb, tucked away in a bedside drawer to avoid the cats and their greedy, nosy mouths and claws. I always know I’m in there, though, and that alone brings deep and wide delight.

AS BOOK: I am the quirky young heroine of a magical fantasy series set in a vast woodland. The plant spirits whisper and chide in a most amusing way. I slide from one adventure into another. My dear friends, the birds and the squirrels, the deer and the dark-eyed owls, are always nearby. They guide me, and sometimes I rescue them, mother them, sister them. My hair is wild as the tangled roots of the old oaks, my clothing, hand-me-downs from the brownies and fairies and fashionable mushroom elves. I sleep among the mosses and swim in the cheerful brook.

AS WEATHER: I am mercurial New England, Geminian, not content to stay the same too long. I am generous when sunny, and sullen when I rain. I pay no mind to the silly preferences of those that dwell within my borders. Why, if someone doesn’t like one of my mutable seasons, they can wait it out, or curl up in a ball and roll south to the more predictable climes.

AS POEM: I am free verse, unconventional and untethered to form. Black ink on ivory stock, predictable fonts and rectangular pages, these things bore and stifle my words and music, so I refuse to be bound by them. I am not afraid to rhyme/when the Muse tells me it’s time./ though I’ve been known to piss her off/by refusing.

I am mostly undiscovered, a written contradiction; quicksilver, slow on the uptake, a little tentative, rock n’ roll, then shy. I doubt I’ll ever be famous, but if I am an invitation to one soul to see one thing differently, then nothing is for naught.

AS HOUSE: I am old in the bones, wide-porched with the kind of lopsided charm that challenges: restore me, update me, uncover my shiplap, make me a color I’ve never been before but retain every odd angle and don’t f— with my leaded glass. I am not your flip, but oh! how I will serve and protect a family. I’ll open my doors each morning to gently push them out to work, to school, to a day of playing in the meadow. Each evening I’ll warm and welcome with my fieldstone hearth, and guard against nightmares and the cold. I’ll proudly display the children’s heights and dates penciled on the old doorframe in the pantry, and pose patiently for pictures through the lovely, languid years.

-Melinda Coppola