Some kids have mobiles. I’d look up at the world through bars. What Grandmother did was to find an extra refrigerator shelf from a junk shop and put it over my bed like a lid. She said she didn’t want me to fall out.
The shelf had not been well cleaned by the junk store owner. Yellow bits of dried goop dripped down toward me like so many stalactites, crusted over with ancient droppings from another place and time. It was like living in my own apartment building, above me was my Grandmother’s drawer of underwear, below me, her sweaters. From the time I was around three months old I stared at a refrigerator shelf after my mother, Hilda, had dropped me off at Grandmother’s house for good.
Once I learned how to sit up, I could see my Grandmother's bed that was without the same bars which covered my own sleeping quarters; however, a strangely shaped bag attached to a long-nosed tail was draped across her headboard.
There was nothing on her bed I could see that resembled a blanket, which next to the refrigerator shelf was the other constant in my life, a piece of green cotton hemmed in by a darker moss green satin with a coolness that I liked to rub against my gums. The room consisted primarily of her bed, a lamp table, and the chest of drawers, the floor covered in brown linoleum-looking tile that faded around the edge of the room to white.
Of course, back then I didn’t have words for these things—they were sensations and feelings, a conviction about stripes, which is how everything appeared as I lay on my back.
My vision was segmented; I reconstructed pieces—a dress hanging from the closet door looked like flagged swatches of blue and white. The goop on the shelf, probably freeze-dried orange juice, gave me something to look at, a texture that moved whenever I blinked my eyes, whereas the plaster cracks in my Grandmother’s bedroom ceiling never changed. There was also the white moon of her washbasin, always on the floor, and the lace doilies that hung over a chest of drawers. I carefully studied the crocheted pattern that wrapped itself into petals, but it was the refrigerator shelf that captured my attention mostly because it shared my existence the way nothing else in my Grandmother’s room did. I clutched the blanket to my side and reached out with my fingers, and tried to touch the bars.
I always knew that I wanted to make music--if I could find a way for the waxy orange and the brown crusts to make sounds, they would keep me company while Grandmother sat on the toilet in the bathroom until I heard the water gurgle and the lid fall down, two sounds that signaled her appearance above me. When I looked up, there she was through the grille. She bent down toward me and removed the shelf. I saw her full face now, flesh dug deep into a trench of wrinkles that moved from the corners of her hazel eyes toward her chin, the line of her lips snaked upward trying to camouflage a mouth. But nothing about the refrigerator bars had prepared me to understand how some event in my Grandmother’s life had caused those two halves of her lips to break apart.
Whenever she held me I knew it was to feed me, but the refrigerator bars gave me love. Whenever she shook the green blanket over me at night it was to keep me warm, but the refrigerator bars gave me comfort. Whenever she called my name, “Lulu, Lulu,” it was to get my attention, but she didn’t hear the sound of my name washing over itself. She was too busy covering herself with liquids and creams, tickling smells that caused my brown hairs to stand up and cast shadows along the length of my arm; her lamp table was covered with bottles, jars, tubes, and faces in photographs whose names she'd intone to herself in a quiet prayer, Moishe, Leah.
Sometimes Grandmother’d pick me up, bounce me around several times, and wait for a response that I wasn't able to give, like a doll whom you expect to cry “Mama, Mama,” when you push a button on its back. I wanted to please her and smiled. I can remember her eyes softening as she pulled me closer. Mostly all she’d say was, “I’mprotactingudarklink.” Then she’d put me down and walk away. After she left, I sucked on my hands and fingers and they tasted good.
Later I discovered my feet that propelled themselves upward from my hip sockets and lunged forward. One day as I lay on my back, my toes were wild bandits pressed against the cold metal; I couldn’t stop moving them until I actually balanced the refrigerator grille on the soles of my feet, and watched the metal shelf turn around, spin, then drop, clink on the tiled floor. I was so happy, my feet touched and rubbed against each other. I heard them squeak. I hugged their softness. I told myself, “Lulu, remember this.”
It was Chanel who remembered. She was the girl inside my head Chanel. She always knew I wanted to make music. She’s the reason I’m being interviewed today on satellite hookup. I’ve waited to tell my story because it took a lifetime to understand the shape of my desire.