Imagine aging 50 years in a few days.
This is what happened to Nguyen Thi Phuong, a lovely 23-year old woman from Vietnam. For three years, she wore a mask to go out in public because she was so ashamed of her appearance. Now 26, she and her husband have decided to publicize their ordeal so that media attention might encourage a sympathetic public to help pay for the expensive treatment Phuong hopes will restore her youth.
Doctors have yet to determine what has caused this rapid aging process, which may have been triggered by an allergic reaction to fish or to the cheap remedies she took to stop the itching. Some speculate that she has lypodystrophy, which causes a layer of fatty tissue beneath the skin to disintegrate, or mastocytosis, a rare disorder caused by the presence of too many mast cells, or a bad reaction to steroids, which are often spiked into the sort of cheap traditional medicine Phuong used to treat her fish allergy.
In interviews, her boyish husband sits quietly by her side, looking more like Phuong's devoted grandson than her mate. He has said, "I married Phuong when she was a beautiful woman. I have followed her through her disease and have never been shocked at all. It's not easy to tell everything about one's own marital affairs. Just simply understand that I still love her very much."
Would you wear a mask to go out in public? Do you wear one now?
I became vain in my early 40s when, overnight, I appeared to have aged 20 years. The corners of my eyes had puckered and soft pleats appeared at the corners of my mouth. Freckles morphed into overlapping liver spots to form a drab floral design over my arms and legs. While my lashes and brows were thinning, two black pubic hairs were sprouting from turkey wattle that had replaced the smooth column of my neck. And white hair was growing in faster than I could yank it out. How could I ever have taken that lush, dark mane for granted? How could I have taken my youth for granted?
I was 20 years old.
Once. I was 20 years old once.
I still feel like myself, more or less, but who the hell is that senior citizen in the mirror? And where the hell is my mojo?
Because, ladies and gentlemen, that's what it's all about. All this fuss about aging gracefully really is about our willingness to make the transition to asexuality. When you have white hair and wrinkles, you should be sure to put everyone at ease by 'owning it'--which means make yourself invisible and pretend your genitalia have dessicated--or you have surgery and color your hair so you are entitled to your sexuality.
Phuong's husband is simultaneously a martyr and an embarrassment. Does he fuck his wife? (Are you cringing?) She's healthy and robust and they're in love, but she looks like grandma and that is possibly more difficult to overlook than any other physical deformity. We can't really expect Phuong's husband to want to fuck her. We can easily imagine the young Phuong taking the initiative and joyously riding her man, but how can we imagine Phuong as a passionate woman taking her pleasure now--or picture her husband taking pleasure in her--when her skin is sagging?
Shall I call a press conference? Should I grow a beard and stop dying my hair so philanthropists will be more inclined to help fund my face lift, breast augmentation and liposuction? Would it help if I made a Powerpoint presentation? "There I was at 20--it seems like only yesterday--looking perfectly acceptable in a bathing suit."