The smell of burning grass memorably brought me back to a moment when I insanely ran and joked around with my friends until dawn. I could still picture the dazzling silhouette of Areca-nut trees in the evening that I used to enjoy viewing. I didn’t know why the burning smoke helped me to recall my countless memories after 12 years of childhood. But, I surely remembered the chirping harmony from birds and the smell of tropical rain during Cambodia’s rainy season. It was usually a terrific time for me to ski on the dirt with my barefoot out in the cold rain with my neighbors. At this mid-year, Areca-nut trees would blossom and offer their first fruits. Another flashy memory I remembered was attending my sister’s wedding day with many red bumps that nobody could simply notice. Since that blissful moment, I turned seventh grade. I was old enough to be recognized as a teen, but perhaps more like a man. A teen or a man like me back then, my neighbors would call “Pehn Komlos,” “A grown man.” Particularly, my skin condition seemed to notify my mother that I was matured, and neither did others. If she knew I was being reluctant and lazy to lift my hand to work, she would definitely pick on my acne.
“You are a grown-up, look at your face!” she continued without letting me respond to earlier statements.
“Behave maturely! Aren’t you a seventh-grader?” She mixed her speech into questioning advice.
God! Can you let me talk? And, what’s wrong with my playful personality? Why does she always refer to my skin as a subject matter? Just let me be me…
My parents had me when my sister was about 10 years old, and my brother was a running kid. My sister Siguek, wasn’t really into playing around with me, neither was my brother Tek.
“You are annoying! Get out!” they would say, then I cursed them like a fool.
One day we were out in the warm sun, my brother was picking up the nuts with my sister holding the bucket ready to collect them. But, I stood in an annoying posture apart from them waiting to collect it once it fell. After collecting a few buckets of nuts, I breathed heavily without sensing my mother was intensely staring at my moody face. She wore her usual sarong (skirt) with a light pink t-shirt and kroma (khmer scarf) wrapped around her head. As I let out a sign for the second time, she busted out of temper and cursed me wildly even before I could begin to unfold my excuse.
“If you don’t want to work, piss off!” she shouted aloud.
My sweat was dripping down my bitter face when I decided to quit work and let my mother talk to herself.
Under the steamy weather, I still wanted to join a marble game with my friends. So, I did. As the dark fuggy sheet appeared to cover the entire bright sky, we would walk back home with satisfaction after a tireless game. As my sweat poured out, I impatiently scratched my forehead thinking it could reduce the itchiness. I accidentally scratched over my acne. “Ooy!” I shrieked. The sound of me grazing my acne was like I was killing a bug against the floor. I wish these bumps disappeared already. Isn’t this weather that caused these bumps to pop all over my entire forehead? Owww! How can I cure this, if I don’t have any facial cream?
I rushed into a shower before making myself appear in front of a glossy mirror. I exhaled deeply before leaning my face directly into the glass. As my eyes captured the details, my tears dramatically creeped out, the glass turned blurry as my mind sank into unsolvable anxiety. My left hand firmly held a flashlight, while I couldn’t resist my other hand from touching the bumps. How much more time do I have to carry these all around? The silence during which I couldn’t stop glaring at my reflection would present how depressed I was inside. It gradually destroyed my internal confidence, then cemented the outside with shyness and insecurity. I was slowly afraid to walk into my friends during the conversation, I couldn’t fit in. Heart pounding, I fearfully quitted my worst reality each minute passed and daily activities: biking and chatting with my neighbors. I don’t need any investigation on my face if I were to walk into them. Their opinions affected me more than I expected.
I was raised by my Khmer traditional parents, so it wasn’t a surprise that natural treatment is for everything. I once heard about natural healing by masking the banana and turmeric. If there are any other methods, I will try them with no doubts. I just want to get rid of this as soon as I can. If it was gone, maybe my mind would uncage my security, if so I would walk like a flawless supermodel. I tried to mask my face with a banana before applying turmeric watery cream. I chilled on a hammock watching my parent’s old Sony television since I just placed a banana in the fridge a minute ago. 10 minutes went by, I took it out, I commenced to peel the crust and gently chopped it into thinner slices. After another long wait, I rinsed off the banana mask. As I lifted my hand to pick up the turmeric watery cream, I could hear my mother insulting me about what I was doing.
“It’ll be gone once you are 18 years old! Don’t pop it! Just leave it there!” she shouted from the kitchen.
A patient week has passed, it didn’t result in a huge difference instead of the redness even brighter up my face. I couldn’t calm myself from cursing out loud to the mirror because it didn’t improve my skin even a bit. I didn’t trust any other treatment or product until…
After a break from school, I finally got home. I loved to sit alone and let my imagination rule my soul. My mind just floated in the air as I stared at the moving clouds. While chilling typically on a hammock with my floating imagination, I heard my sister’s voice echoing from my back.
“Do you want to try a facial cream?” my sister asked while walking toward me.
“YES!” I immediately responded.
“Cream?” I sounded uncertain.
“DW cream! I used to use it. TRY!”
“How much is it?”
“$10,” she sounded so exact.
Without further question, I agreed to examine my skin for the second time. After an agreement, she drives to a shop by my father’s motor. I was hoping it would heal my mental and physical pain as she was handing me the creams that she bought from the shop earlier.
“Here! The cream! It comes in a set of two mini jars. One is for AM and another for PM,” She said.
I excitedly opened an AM jar, the smell of U-90 paint was vibrating as I sniffed for the first time. It was terrible after a few weeks of application. I regretted it tremendously this time like I was on a firecracker due to this unimpressive cream. I couldn’t be more stressed than I already was. I just wasted my $10 on this stupid cream. I hate it!
This holiday was just an excellent time for me to quit my worst reality. I didn’t have to wear a smile when walking past my friends at school with this face, especially the two that used to comment touchingly on my acne. As the holiday was shortened, I was nerve-wracking thinking about returning back to the school campus. Covid-19 alerted, everyone remained home, so did I. I breathed out as a sign of release after reading the news on my school director’s post. Now, I could at least run and bike openly as I desired. Although escaping from two friends who used to throw words at my acne, yet, I couldn’t escape from my neighbors. The next day…
A girl about 12 years old came up to me with her salty words that I never believed that it was her.
“Why do you have acne all over your face?” this little girl remarked with her toxic face.
“Emmm, I don’t know!” I responded carelessly while doing work on my personal desktop.
I sat on a red chair in her house doing my school work as usual. I was there just to access the internet every day since my home didn’t have access to Wifi.
“Look at your face. That is like the bumpiest road I have ever seen. Your skin texture is like deep-fried crispy rice,” she insulted me out of the blue, then crazily laughed at her own words.
I sat there with my earphone plugged to both ears and pretended not to notice. I almost let out my anger while my teeth were clenching. My face turned real hot as I repeated her words in my mind. The air rushing out from my nose was about to explode as I breathed rapidly. I couldn’t maintain my posture until I completed my school work. I left her house like I wouldn’t want to enter ever again. It was the third embarrassing moment that I have endured. I was numb by the sharpness of the words that just struck me a moment ago.
After encountering such unexpected words from a neighbor and failing to cure my skin. I was overthinking about it until late at night.
“Sokheng, It’s dinner time!” my mother walked to me while tucking her sarong.
Not even a word coming out of my mouth to answer her phrase, I walked steadily toward the dinner table. I lowered my head, then I just ate the food. I couldn’t taste the flavor besides numbness. Just a few bites, I quitted the conversation and finished my unflavoured dinner.
I grabbed my phone and threw myself into the hammock as usual. I clicked on a Safari app on my crappy iPhone six plus and soon began to type on the mini keyboards with my unalive fingers. “What is the best treatment for acne?” I hit the enter button. Countless websites just popped up and ready for me to explore. I browsed many websites until I spotted an attractive one called “The Ordinary.” I smiled while I was scanning the details of the product. Now, I could heal my face with these two bottles of acid called, “Niacinamide 10% Zinc 1% and AHA 30% BHA 2%.” After discovering this product, I often left my house to bike around. Although I wasn’t socially active, I felt like smiling again. By the help of these skincare websites–videos, it helped me to treat and take care of my skin in a healthier way than before. It was like my lifesaver. I have never focused on such things as this information. I was on my phone while everyone was enjoying themselves with dinner, except my mother.
“You shouldn’t eat too many oily snacks and foods,” she walked from our dining table.
“Be more sensitive to your diet, especially don’t go for Brohok (fermented fish) or spicy foods,” she passionately added.
I love you, mom. I thought she was going to scold me again, seeing me laughing and smiling alone in front of my phone screen. Her advice this time seemed like a real one and a caring one. The one that I had been waiting for. I nodded my head with a giggling smile, while she made her way out.
I have never thought that my mother had a sweet spot for me. Did I just earn her love? I just received some caring advice. That night, I was the luckiest teen or man who ever existed in this world. Her words kept me scrolling through my previous memories; my mind just floated into the thin air. Love wasn’t far, love and support can be earned from the closest one, like my mother. Besides, adapting to my own beauty was another way for me to claim back my smile and confidence. Though it’s a struggle for me to reveal my face, I learned that I can’t live my life peacefully if I am constantly concerned about other personal opinions toward my face. So, I have come to a point where I need to just let the world see my beauty, and I don’t really care about these bumps as well as the comments anymore.
The smile was still on as I clicked on the Youtube app looking for a drama series before going to bed. I turned the volume on as I plugged in my earphone listening to the intro music of the series. I watched until my eyes couldn’t bear the brightening light on my screen anymore. Soon I finished it before it ended by itself, I headed to charge my phone while yawning almost a million times. By the time I got my head on a pillow, I totally looked like a dead bear on a mattress.