The Importance of May-December Female Friendships
I will never forget the day I was raped by the man I thought was my boyfriend. I was an ambitious reporter at the largest daily paper in New England, twenty-six years old, so bold that I used inline skates to get to work, pumping my powerful legs from Jamaica Plain all the way through Franklin Park, across all of Roxbury, into Dorchester and then Southie, naively blasting merengue and house music as I went, not in the least bit worried about being hit by cars, or murdered…or raped. I was a rising star at the paper, a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, a girl who’d loved playing with words from the time I was nine years old, overjoyed that I was finally starting to not just be recognized for my talents, but paid nicely for them.
The man was a poor choice for me. Hot as hell, from the Dominican Republic, a drug dealer. I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I covered major air disasters and other crimes, and fed off the rush. I didn’t want a boring, orthodox life. I was not one to live by anyone’s rules. I’d seen the man at a nightclub, when I was reviewing a salsa and merengue concert, and he had looked, to me, like a model. He was pretty, for sure, and his “profession” became my challenge; I eventually got him out of it, and into community college and a job shucking oysters at Legal Seafoods. I was opening the door to a new future for him, but what I could not change was his past – you know, the one where he truly thought women were property, to be owned in multiples, the one where no only meant no if she wasn’t your girlfriend.
The sex was consensual. But his removal of the condom at the end, knowing I was ovulating and didn’t want children, was not. He held me in place as he did it, and put his hand over my mouth to silence my screaming. I was renting an adorable attic apartment from a nice young family, in their colorful, flower-filled Victorian home. The last thing this man wanted was for them to come running up the stairs.
“Shh, my love,” he told me in Spanish, grinning impishly, like he was just a boy playing games. “I’m going to come in you.”
I squirmed and twisted, but it was no use. He overpowered me, just 22 years old, six feet tall, muscular. And he did it. Afterwards he kissed me all over my face and told me, “I own you now. Now, finally, you are mine.” When I refused to kiss him back, he shoved my face into the pillow, as though to suffocate me. I got away from him, wrapped myself in a robe, and, grabbing my phone, locked myself in my bathroom.
“Leave!” I cried out. “Or I’ll call the police.”
He left. I sat there and cried. How could a man that pretty, with such long eyelashes and such a delicate nose, a man with a pure white smile and dimples, do a thing like this?
A little more than two weeks later, out on assignment in a company car, I stopped at a drug store and purchased a pregnancy test. I peed on the stick in the women’s bathroom at work. My hands trembled as I sat on the toilet waiting for the wetness to drift across the little screen, where it would leave either one pink line (good) or two (bad).
There were two.
My heart raced. I was not ready to be a mother. I had not consented to this. I thought I loved the man who did this to me, but after he did it, I hated him. I never saw him again.
I went back to my desk, my face drained of blood, terrified, and I sat down. In those days, newspaper newsrooms were cavernous affairs filled with desks that were all out in the open, facing each other. The reporter who sat directly across from, who had, in fact, been sitting directly across from me for two years, was in her forties. Her name was Patti Doten, and she had an elegant short haircut, beautiful clothes and a very nice car. Her jewelry was real gold and diamonds, and when she spoke it was with an erudite East Coast cadence that I loved. But what I loved most about Patti was her wicked – and I mean wicked – sense of humor. She was hilarious, a brilliant writer, an astute observer of humanity, and, to my initial surprise, she was as raunchy and knowledgable about sex and life as any of my friends my own age. She’d inherited money, and didn’t need to work. She’d been an editor and didn’t need to be a reporter. She did this job because she loved the constant input and adventure of it. She was a single mother of two sons, the oldest one not that much younger than me, the younger one still in high school. They had a huge and beautiful house in Cohassett, near the water. Patti never treated me as “other” the way many reporters and editors did because of my last name. She saw in me what I was – an irreverent, deeply thoughtful, cynical, obnoxiously outspoken young woman who, had she been a white man, might have been said to be a genius with leadership qualities.
That day, the day of two pink lines, Patti noticed the change in my demeanor instantly.
“My dear?” she asked, somewhat quietly, over the desks between us. “Everything all right?”
I shook my head.
“Do you need to talk about it?”
Discreetly, Patti gathered up her keys, and made an almost imperceptible motion with her head, for me to follow her. I walked behind her through the newsroom and out the door to the elevated parking lot. We went to her BMW, and got in. She drove in silence off the grounds of the newspaper, and towards the south, along the shore, before finally letting out a sigh. Her intuition was incredible.
“Which one was it?” she asked. “The drug dealer?”
“What did he do?”
I told her. Patti’s eyes flashed with fury. “Goddammit, Alisa. Did you call the police to report this? Why not? No! You have it backwards. That motherfucker should be afraid of YOU!”
She hit the steering wheel with her manicured hand and its rings. Her size six foot pressed just a little harder on the accelerator.
“I don’t know what to do.”
“And that’s fine. You don’t need to know what to do, not just yet. Are you hungry?”
I shook my head. I was already feeling slightly nauseated.
Patti decided she didn’t want me staying alone in my apartment until this situation was resolved in one way or another. She knew that my family was far away, and that, back then, I wasn’t particularly close to my parents, not in a way that would make telling them my predicament helpful to me in any way. She moved me into her guest room. She made meals for me, and we watched comedies together, and we took walks. She told me about her life, about the abusive husband she’d had to leave, about her exceedingly violent father. Having money did not make a woman immune from the hell I was in. Patti had been there. And now, nearing fifty, Patti was powerful, independent, a mother, and, to me, an incredible and supportive friend.
Though much has been written in popular America culture about the romantic relationships between older men and younger women, almost nothing has been written about May-December friendships between women. In fact, when I was searching for a photo to use with this post it was nearly impossible to find anything depicting anything remotely like this type of friendship – and yet, Patti’s friendship was one of the most important things in my life. Patti’s love and guidance and girlfriendness literally saved my life.
I don’t want to get into the details of what happened with that pregnancy. I will say, however, that my choice was a difficult one, and that it haunts me to this day. I will also say that Patti, a loving mother, went with me, and held my hand in the waiting room, and held me up as I limped to her car afterwards. She tucked me in with a hot water bottle over my belly, and brought me ice cream and sang to me. She cried with me, and held me. She was not my mother, nor was she a mother figure. She was not my mentor, for we were professional equals. She was my older woman friend, and we were kindred spirits who made each other laugh like no others. When my first novel came out and was a bestseller, it was Patti, who had defended me against sexist and racist treatment in the newsroom many times, who crowed loudest about my success. “Fuck yes,” she said when I sent her the article about the bidding war for my first novel. “No one deserves this more than you do.” When I had my son in New Mexico, many years later, I took him to meet Patti in Boston. She held him and her eyes welled with tears. Her sons had already moved out, and she was dating again, at last, with plans to sail around the world with her new millionaire boyfriend. She called him The Izod, after his favorite shirts. This made me laugh. When I went through a painful divorce, Patti coached me through it over the phone and email. She was, and remains, one of the wisest and best friends I’ve ever had.
It was clear to me, always, what I got out of being friends with Patti. What I didn’t understand, until recently, was what in the hell she got out of being friends with me. I was just starting out, making so many mistakes. I barely had furniture when she met me. I was only slightly higher up the food chain than a college student. I used to think it was pity. Now I know different.
Now, I am the professional woman with the son in high school, and the house with the extra room, and the successful career behind her, and a young woman friend has come into my life. Her name is Jordyn. She is 25, and a brilliant, vivacious, fun, loving, gorgeous, motivated and deeply emotional actress and singer of uncommon talents. She is also coming out of a difficult breakup and is in need of a place to stay. Remembering Patti, I offered my guest room to her, so she can save her money to move to Los Angeles, where she belongs. I will not take rent from her. Nor will I mother her. I will be her older woman friend, as Patti was for me. We text each other about our lives, pretty much every day, and I know, now, exactly what Patti got out of being my friend when I was Jordyn’s age. Energy. Hope. Youthful enthusiasm for life. Also, there is a sort of respect and support that younger women give to older women friends that we don’t really find anywhere else. Younger women friends are not as jaded and broken as are my women friends my own age. They haven’t been around long enough yet to have had one after another horrible life event come to pass. Their lives are still mostly in the future, whereas ours are starting to be largely in the past. Now, a younger woman friend reminds me of what I used to be, and allows for an exchange of wisdom and energy that absolutely flows both ways.
I would love to see the dynamic of these types of friendships brought into the light more. I would encourage women to befriend other women of differing ages from themselves. We are not so different, women, in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s on up. We have all lived these same painful things, sadly. And we have all experienced these exciting triumphs as we chase down our goals. I am so grateful to Patti, and to Jordyn, for being in my life. Long live the May-December female friendship!