In my nearly 30 year journey parenting my child with special needs, I’ve had much time to reflect on the juxtaposition between How I Thought Things Would Go and How Things Have Gone. How Things Are.  I revisit memories of child-me, teen-me, very-young-adult me, and wonder—what if she knew how things would unfold? What might she have done differently?  I suppose all of us do this in some way.

This poem, published today in Willows Wept Review, reflects my 61 year old self speaking to those younger iterations of me.

POEM TO MY YOUNG SELF

1.

There will be a day trip to New Hampshire
when your family will visit people
you don’t remember knowing—
some Albanian community connection.

You’ll be standing on a dock looking out
into a moon-sized pond, water like black coffee.
You’ll be wearing your sister’s wooden Tiki necklace—
So rare she let you borrow anything.

The daughter of these people
you won’t remember knowing
will come up behind you,
push you into the obsidian chill.

You’ll be scared,
partly because you didn’t expect this
partly because you’re afraid the necklace will be ruined
and your sister will be so mad at you.

You’ll surface quickly,
look to the girl who pushed you
waiting for an apology, an explanation.

Her eyes tilt upwards,
dark almonds inside thick lids,
and her tongue
doesn’t fit in her mouth.

Don’t be frightened, Love,
be kind, be ever so kind
as she grunts,
whisked away by her mother.

Two years later when you’re ten
you’ll learn she choked to death
on a piece of meat.
She looked so young, yet you’ll never find out
how old she was when she died.

In Middle School

when you finally learn the term
Down Syndrome
you’ll think of how she pushed you,
how she died.

2.

The boy in your sophomore home room—
the one with thick glasses and a lisp
whose shirt is always untucked—
don’t be wary,
be kind, be ever so kind.

Pay attention to your peers parroting

his faltering speech,
the cruel jokes about popular Kim
wanting to be his girlfriend.

Notice the science teacher
barely biting her lip
before smirking along with it all.

You ‘ll think about him in your middle years,
when your heart is wider, wiser.
He’ll matter to you then
in a way your high-school self
can’t imagine now.

3.

You’ll realize when you’re eight,
remember when you’re twelve,
accept when you’re sixteen—
your skin
feels like it doesn’t fit

except when you’re out in the woods
with the fairies and the elves,
tending your moss garden.

In your whole long life
you will meet so many others
who also feel misfit—
that third best friend, the first long-love—

and so many more who make it a point
to mock them—
peers and parents,
siblings, magazines telling you all how to look
and speak
and live.

Listen, watch,
don’t close down.

Be kind, be ever so kind.

4.

You’ll say you don’t want kids
but someday one will arrive
and she won’t fit, won’t fit anywhere,

and when she can finally
make herself understood
with flapping hands and grimaces,
and later, with words,

you’ll learn her skin
feels all wrong on her,
and most sounds
except your voice
have always been too loud.

You’ll be her interpreter
and when people ask you
how to be with her
you’ll tell them

Don’t be scared.
Don’t look away.
Don’t talk about her
as if she isn’t there.

Be kind. Be ever so kind.

 

–Melinda Coppola

Published in Willows Wept Review, Issue 26, Fall 2022

Young Melinda Coppola

 

Melinda                                                 Bink

2 Responses

  1. Your words are very moving. Congratulations on your poem’s publication. I’m glad you could share it with others.

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