The drilling and squeezing continued for weeks but there was little
result. When one boil vanished another would appear. I often stood in front
of the mirror alone, wondering how ugly a person could get. I would look at
my face in disbelief, then turn to examine all the boils on my back. I was
horrified. No wonder people stared, no wonder they said unkind things. It
was not simply a case of teen-age acne. These were inflamed, relentless,
large, swollen boils filled with pus. I felt singled out, as if I had
been selected to be this way. My parents never spoke to me about my
condition. They were still on relief. My mother left each morning to look
for work and my. father drove off as if he were working. On Saturdays people
on relief got free foodstuffs from the markets, mostly canned goods, almost always cans of hash for some reason. We ate a great deal of hash. And
bologna sandwiches. And potatoes. My mother learned to make potato pancakes. Each Saturday when my parents went for their free food they didn’t go to the nearest market because they were afraid some of the neighbors might see them and then know that they were on the dole. So they walked two miles down Washington Boulevard, to a store a couple of blocks past Crenshaw. It was a long walk. They walked the two miles back, sweating, carrying their shopping bags full of canned hash and potatoes and bologna and carrots. My father
didn’t drive because he wanted to save gas. He needed the gas to drive to
and from his invisible job. The other fathers weren’t like that. They just
sat quietly on their front porches or played horseshoes in the vacant lot.
The doctor gave me a white substance to apply to my face. It hardened
and caked on the boils, giving me a plaster-like look. The substance didn’t
seem to help. I was home alone one afternoon, applying this substance to my
face and body. I was standing in my shorts trying to reach the infected
areas of my back with my hand when I heard voices. It was Baldy and his
friend Jimmy Hatcher. Jimmy Hatcher was a good looking fellow and he was a wise-ass.
“Henry!” I heard Baldy calling. I heard him talking to Jimmy, Then he
walked up on the porch and beat on the door. “Hey, Hank, it’s Baldy! Open
You damn fool, I thought, don’t you understand that I don’t want to see
“Hank! Hank! It’s Baldy and Jim!”
He beat on the front door.
I heard him talking to Jim. “Listen, I saw him! I saw him walking
around in there!”
“He doesn’t answer.”
“We better go in. He might be in trouble.”
You fool, I thought, I befriended you. I befriended you when nobody
else could stand you. Now, look at this!
I couldn’t believe it. I ran into the hall and hid in a closet, leaving
the door slightly open. I was sure they wouldn’t come into the house. But
they did. I had left the back door open. I heard them walking around in the
“He’s got to be here,” said Baldy. “I saw something moving in here...”
Jesus Christ, I thought, can’t I move around in here? I live in this
I was crouched in the dark closet. I knew I couldn’t let them find me
in there.
I swung the closet door open and leaped out. I saw them both standing
in the front room. I ran in there.
They looked at me.
They started running toward the back porch.
I heard them run up the driveway and out onto the sidewalk. I didn’t want to watch them. I went into my bedroom and stretched out on the bed. Why did they want to see me? What could they do? There was nothing to be done. There was nothing to talk about.
A couple of days later my mother didn’t leave to go job hunting, and it
wasn’t my day to go to the L.A. County General Hospital. So we were in the house together. I didn’t like it. I liked the place to myself. I heard her
moving about the house and I stayed in my bedroom. The boils were worse than ever. I checked my airplane chart. The 1:20 p.m. flight was due. I began listening. He was late. It was 1:20 and he was still approaching. As he
passed over I timed him as being three minutes late. Then I heard the
doorbell ring. I heard my mother open the door.
“Emily, how are you?”
“Hello, Katy, how are you?”
It was my grandmother, now very old. I heard them talking but I
couldn’t make out what they were saying. I was thankful for that. They
talked for five or ten minutes and then I heard them walking down the hall
to my bedroom.
“I will bury all of you,” I heard my grandmother say. “Where is the
The door opened and my grandmother and mother stood there.
“Hello, Henry,” my grandmother said.
“Your grandmother is here to help you,” my mother said. My grandmother
had a large purse. She set it down on the dresser and pulled a huge silver crucifix out of it.
“Your grandmother is here to help you, Henry . . .”
Grandmother had more warts on her than ever before and she was fatter.
She looked invincible, she looked as if she would never die. She had gotten
so old that it was almost senseless for her to die.
“Henry,” said my mother, “turn over on your stomach.”
I turned over and my grandmother leaned over me. From the corner of my
eye I saw her dangling the huge crucifix over me. I had decided against
religion a couple of years back. If it were true, it made fools out of
people, or it drew fools. And if it weren’t true, the fools were all the
more foolish.
But it was my grandmother and my mother. I decided to let them have
their way. The crucifix swung back and forth above my back, over my boils, over me.
“God,” prayed my grandmother, “purge the devil from this poor boy’s body! Just look at all those sores! They make me sick, God! Look at
them! It’s the devil, God, dwelling in this boy’s body. Purge the devil from
his body, Lord!”
“Purge the devil from his body, Lord!” said my mother. What I need is a
good doctor, I thought. What is wrong with these women? Why don’t they leave me alone?
“God,” said my grandmother, "why do you allow the devil to dwell inside
this body’s body? Don’t you see how the devil is enjoying this? Look at
these sores, 0 Lord, I am about to vomit just looking at them! They are red
and big and full!”
“Purge the devil from my boy’s body!” screamed my mother.
“May God save us from this evil!” screamed my grandmother. She took the crucifix and poked it into the center of my back, dug it in. The blood
spurted out, I could feel it, at first warm, then suddenly cold. I turned
over and sat up in the bed.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I am making a hole for the devil to be pushed out by God!” said my grandmother.
“All right,” I said, “I want you both to get out of here, and fast! Do
you understand me?”
“He is still possessed!” said my grandmother.
They left, shocked and disappointed, closing the door behind them.
I went into the bathroom, wadded up some toilet paper and tried to stop
the bleeding. I pulled the toilet paper away and looked at it. It was
soaked. I got a new batch of toilet paper and held it to my back awhile.
Then I got the iodine. I made passes at my back, trying to reach the wound with the iodine. It was difficult. I finally gave up. Who ever heard of an infected back, anyhow? You either lived or died. The back was something the assholes had never figured out how to amputate.
I walked back into the bedroom and got into bed and pulled the covers
to my throat. I looked up at the ceiling as I talked to myself.
All right, God, say that You are really there. You have put me in this
fix. You want to test me. Suppose I test You? Suppose I say that You are not there? You’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils. I think that I have passed Your test. I am tougher than You. If You will
come down here right now, I will spit into Your face, if You have a face.
And do You shit? The priest never answered that question. He told us not to doubt. Doubt what? I think that You have been picking on me too much sol am asking You to come down here so I can put You to the test!
I waited. Nothing. I waited for God. I waited and waited. I believe I
I never slept on my back. But when I awakened I was on my back and it surprised me. My legs were bent at the knees in front of me, making a mountain-like effect with the blankets. And as I looked at the blanket– mountain before me I saw two eyes staring at me. Only the eyes were dark, black, blank . . . looking at me from underneath a hood, a black hood with a sharp tall peak, like a ku-klux-klansman. They kept staring at me, dark blank eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was truly
terrified. I thought, it’s God but God isn’t supposed to look like that.
I couldn’t stare it down. I couldn’t move. It just stayed there looking
at me over the mound of my knees and the blanket. I wanted to get away. I wanted it to leave. It was powerful and black and threatening.
It seemed to remain there for hours, just staring at me. Then it was
gone . . . I stayed in bed thinking about it.
I couldn’t believe that it had been God. Dressed like that. That would
be a cheap trick. It had been an illusion, of course.
I thought about it for ten or fifteen minutes, then I got up and went
to get the little brown box my grandmother had given me many years ago. Inside of it were tiny rolls of paper with quotations from the Bible. Each
tiny roll was held in a cubicle of its own. One was supposed to ask a
question and the little roll of paper one pulled out was supposed to answer that question. I had tried it before and found it useless. Now I tried it
again. I asked the brown box, “What did that mean? What did those eyes mean?”
I pulled out a paper and unrolled it. It was a tiny stiff white piece
of paper. I unrolled and read it. GOD HAS FORSAKEN YOU.
I rolled the paper up and stuck it back into its cubicle in the brown
box. I didn’t believe it. I went back to bed and thought about it. It was
too simple, too direct. I didn’t believe it. I considered masturbating to
bring me back to reality. I still didn’t believe it. I got back up and
started unrolling all the little papers inside the brown box. I was looking
for the one that said, GOD HAS FORSAKEN YOU. I unrolled them all. None of them said that. I read them all and none of them said that. I rolled them up
and put them carefully back into their cubicles in the little brown box.
Meanwhile, the boils got worse. I kept getting onto streetcar #7 and going to L. A. County General Hospital and I began to fall in love with Miss Ackerman, my nurse of the squeezings. She would never know how each stab of pain caused courage to well up in me. Despite the horror of the blood and
the pus, she was always humane and kind. My love-feeling for her wasn’t sexual. I just wished that she would enfold me in her starched whiteness and that together we could vanish forever from the world. But she never did
that. She was too practical. She would only remind me of my next

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