When the movie Thelma and Louise came out, it was unapologetic with it’s in-your-face, shoot-you-in-the-dick, blow-up-your-tractor-trailer brand of feminism. Some men took umbrage, like the mustachioed dude who happened to walk out of the theater ahead of me. “That was nothing but a couple of women driving around and shooting men,” he remarked with more than a little contempt.
“Fuck yeah, it was.” I said loud enough for him to hear. He looked at me with actual fear in his eyes, but I just laughed, lit a cigarette and walked to my car, scrunchied pony-tail swinging and slouchie-suede high-heeled boots tapping on the pavement. If it had been a different movie, I might have said nothing, just given him a dirty look and talked shit about him later, but you see, I was Thelma.
In 1991, when the movie came out, I was smack-dab in the middle of an epic friendship that could, before then, only be described (with just a bit of a stretch) in pop culture terms as Patsy and Edina.
Without question or any stretch at all, we were an un-armed Thelma and Louise. I was much younger and still figuring out how not to take crap from men (especially the good-looking ones). She was jaded and older and always telling me exactly how to stop taking crap from men. We even took more than just a few road-trips, but instead of driving to Mexico, we were driving to New York to drink Boones Farm on Yasgur’s Farm or to catch George Harrison and Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden.
There was a female comic who, on the topic of how dating can sometimes screw up our lives, said something to the effect of “Every young woman should be locked in a closet from the age of 19 until 27 just to keep her out of trouble.” I disagree. I think every woman should spend those ages in a joined-at-the-hip friendship with a Louise who’s been down that road you’re about to drive down and already locked the State Trooper in the trunk.
Now, I might not have followed all of it, but my Louise gave me plenty of “He’s your husband not your father” caliber advice: Don’t let a man hit you, not once, not ever. Don’t date a man who cheated on or hit his last girlfriend. Don’t cry over an asshole because you already have one, you don’t need another one. Always take the word “bitch” as a compliment. Always leave a tip for housekeeping and never leave a mess. If you are going to go to one concert, go to Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band because then you get…like seven bands for the price of one…plus a Beatle.
The advice, along with hushed revelations, talk of getting the fuck out of New Hampshire, angry rants, and fall-to-the-floor laughter was a big part of our friendship. We talked. We talked on the phone for hours, then met in the Denny’s smoking section and talked over pots and pots of bad coffee. We talked at the mall as we shopped for outfits, shoes, belts and over-sized bracelets. We talked in seedy bars, lighting cigarettes and tossing lighters on the table with a clunk, jangling our well-coordinated bracelets and snapping our overly-embellished belts as we sipped double sombreros…and we laughed at the men who thought we were doing it for their benefit. I had an ex-boyfriend admit to me once that he hated the fact that we spent so much time together. I thought about ignoring it and changing the subject, but I was Thelma, so I said, “Why? What is it about two women talking that threatens you?”
My Louise even had a secret in her past, one the size of Texas. She kept it from me, but other well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people told me about it. I called them out for spreading rumors and then said, “So what? That’s in the past. What matters is the present.”
But since then, I’ve learned that it isn’t just THIS present that matters. It’s certain presents that matter. It doesn’t really matter that I needed to push her away when I quit smoking and cut back on coffee and shopping. And jeez Louise, it doesn’t matter who moved to California and lost touch and who stayed in Nashua, New Hampshire and died of cancer. What matters is that our friendship will always be there. Sue and Melinda. Two women. One present suspended in time, washed out by faded memories, defiantly hovering above the abyss.
This blog is dedicated to my Louise, who deserves better, but this is the best I can do.
Susan Smith-Rogers: 04/14/1953 to 11/09/2005 and forever over the abyss.