birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Picking Faces

They said not to pick. They always say not to pick. But the huge cysts were not only unsightly and humiliating. They were painful, too. And I tried, really tried not to pick.

I did the tea tree and salicylic acid and retinoids and benzoyl peroxide and baking soda and witch hazel and apple cider vinegar and red clay and white clay and French clay and castile soap and bubbling charcoal and strawberry juice and yogurt masks and drank water and drank lemon water and drank cucumber lemon water and drank apple cider vinegar water and took birth control and antibiotics and steroids and vitamin E and changed my pillow case and washed my hair and wore a hat and did yoga and meditated and denied myself sweets. My face still broke out, and the pimples still didn’t go away before they were ready. I said I was cursed and hated my face and wished I could pick any other face, or get a skin implant at least.

Eventually they would open and ooze anyway, so why not force them to work with my timeline? Why not squeeze them on a Friday night so maybe by Monday I could look people in the eye at school? That plan worked sometimes, and though they’d still be red and raw on Monday, at least they would be smaller, coverable. Usually they would heal eventually without leaving a visible trace on my skin.

Sometimes they weren’t ready, so I squeezed and squeezed and alcoholed only to have an even bigger mess on my face the next day. Sometimes the hard casing protected them from my squeezes, so I had to raid my sewing kit to find a straight pin. I’d wipe it with alcohol, burn with a lighter, and then alcohol again. Then I would carefully prick the large red raised pillow on my cheek, wait for the pale liquid to ooze onto the cotton ball, followed always by blood.

It’s when they didn’t release so easily that I had to use force. Of course, I knew not to use my nails, but sometimes I was rough. They were buried deep. Of course this likely contributed to the scaring on my face, but they also would scar even when I didn’t touch them. The scaring often healed within a year or two, but not always. And the scars I earned in my twenties are slow to erase.

I can ignore most of the scars, but now when I look in the mirror at the chunky part of my chipmunk cheeks below my left eye, I’m greeted by a round purple indention that will likely never go away. It was the cysts’ favorite spot, and they showed up there every few months making the scar deeper, more pronounced each time whether or not I touched them.

I’ve come to terms with my face and rather like it overall. And I work with teens, so I like to use my face as reference when they feel ugly or unconfident. It’s on my face, and even with makeup it’s difficult to hide. But that centimeter of skin doesn’t define me. I wish I had known that then.

Just Move

Skin Ignorance