The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
BEAUTIFUL AND STRONG
Right before I left for college I was running my high school. I knew where to park, where to get the best chicken cutlet sandwich, and which custodians had pot. People knew me. They liked me. I was an athlete and a good friend and I felt pretty. I felt seen. I had reached my full high school potential. I had an identity. I was looked at as strong, funny, and fair. It was this sweet spot in life when I didn’t spend a lot of time questioning my worth. I owned what I had and didn’t sweat the rest.
Then I got to college, where the class of freshman girls at my school, Towson University in Maryland, had just been voted Playboy magazine’s number one hottest in the nation. And not because of me.
All of a sudden being witty and charismatic didn’t mean shit. Day after day I could feel the confidence draining from my body. I was not what these guys wanted. They wanted thinner, blonder, dumber. My sassy one-liners were only working with the cafeteria employees, whom I was visiting all too frequently, tacking on the freshman thirty, not fifteen, in record-breaking time. No males were noticing me, and, I’m embarrassed to say, it was killing me.
The closest thing to attention I got came from this guy Brett. He was five years older than me and looked like a Hitler Youth. He was also a “super senior,” which is a sexy way of saying he should have graduated but needed or wanted another year before entering the real world. He barely ever spoke, which was perfect for all the projecting I had planned for him.
Getting attention from a cute older boy felt like success. I’d get nervous to see him on campus—my heart would race, and I’d smile as he passed and look him in the eyes and feel all the blood rush to my face. I’d spend my time analyzing that interaction and planning my outfit for the next time I saw him. Should I wear simple clogs or Reef sandals? Will he be at the bar tonight? This calls for a zebra-print mini and a tube top!
I wanted him to call, but he never called. And then, one day, he called. It was eight a.m. when my dorm room phone rang.
“Amy, sup? It’s Brett. Come over.”
Holy shit. This is it, I thought. He woke up thinking about me. He realized we were meant to start a life together—that we should stop all this pretending that we weren’t created just to love one another. I wonder where we’ll raise our kids? Does he want to raise our family in Baltimore? I’ll settle where he’s most comfortable. I don’t need to raise our kids Jewish, but I certainly won’t have them christened.
I shaved my legs in the sink and splashed some water on my armpits. My roommate stared at me from under her sheets as I rushed around our shitty dorm room, which, in retrospect, was not unlike a prison: neon lighting, randomly assigned roommate, and sealed windows so we didn’t have the option to jump to an early graduation.
I ran right over there, ready for our day together. What would we do? It was still early enough to go fishing. Or maybe his mom was in town and they wanted me to join them for breakfast. Knock, knock. I beamed at the door. Knock, knock. Is he going to carry me over the threshold? I bet he’s fixing his hair and telling his mom, “Be cool, this may be the one.” I planned to be very sweet with her but also to assert myself so she didn’t think she was completely in charge of all the holiday dinners we’d be spending together. I’d call her by her first name too early so she’d realize she couldn’t mess with me. “Rita, I’m going to make the green bean casserole this year.”
Knock, knock. Knock. Knock. KNOCK! Finally, the door opened. It was Brett, but he wasn’t really there. His face was distorted from alcohol consumption and whatever else. His eyes seemed like they’d left his body. They couldn’t focus on me. He was standing next to me trying to see me from the side, like a shark.
“Hey!” he yelled, a few notches too loudly, and gave me a painfully hard hug. But I was too busy tilting up my chin, sticking out my boobs, and sucking in my stomach to notice this huge red flag.
He was fucking wasted. I quickly realized that I wasn’t the first person he’d thought of that morning. I was the last person he’d thought of the night before, because for Brett, it still was the night before. I wondered how many girls didn’t answer before he got to fat, freshman me. Was I in his phone as “Schumer”? Probably took him a while to get to “S.” But there I was in his room, eighteen years old and wanting to be held and touched and to feel desired. I wanted to be with him, and I imagined us on campus together holding hands, proving that I was lovable and that I couldn’t be the troll doll I thought I’d become, because this cool, older guy liked me. I thought, I’ll stay ’til he’s sober and we can laugh about the whole thing and realize we really like each other.
He put on some music and we got into bed. Well, he pushed me on the bed as a sexy maneuver, the move guys so often do to communicate, “Get ready, I’m taking the wheel on this one and I’m going to blow your mind.” It’s almost never followed up with anything. He smelled like skunked Heineken—well, Heineken, skunk, and MicroMagic cheeseburgers, which I planned to find and eat in the bathroom once he was asleep. His nine a.m. shadow scratched my face when he came at me (I knew it would look like I had fruit punch mouth for days after this), and his alcohol-swollen kisses made me feel like I was being tongued by someone who’d just been given Novocain.
The music was too loud. I felt faceless and nameless. I was just a warm body, but I felt freezing cold as his fingers poked inside me like he’d lost his keys in there. Then came the sex. I use that word loosely. His penis had all the hardness of an empty banana peel. I knew a few minutes after I walked in that there was no chance of any sort of intercourse. Which was good, because I wasn’t ready to actually sleep with him. There was a better chance of a baby climbing Everest than this guy penetrating me.
During this festival of flailing, I looked around the room to try to distract myself, or, God willing, dissociate. The place looked like it had been decorated by an overeager set designer who took the note “temporary and without any substance” too far. I saw a Scarface poster, which, of course, was mandatory. Anything else? No. That was it. This Standard White Dude son of an accountant who played more video games and Hacky Sack than I was comfortable with felt the greatest connection with a Cuban refugee drug lord.
He started to go down on me. That’s ambitious, I thought. Is it still considered getting head if the guy falls asleep after three seconds of moving his tongue like an elderly person eating their last oatmeal? The only wetness coming from between my legs was his drool, because he’d fallen completely asleep and was snoring into me. I wanted to scream out for myself: Get out of here, Amy! You are beautiful, you are smart, and you are worth more than this! I sighed and heard my own heart break; I was fighting back tears. I could feel I was losing myself to the girl in this bed, almost completely. Then I noticed a change in the music. The song was a bagpipe solo.
“Brett, what is this?” I shook him awake.
“The Braveheart soundtrack.”
Of course. I should have known. I bet his Mel Gibson poster was in the mail, on its way to hang on the wall proudly next to Al Pacino.
“Can you put something else on please?”
He rose grumpily, fell to the floor, and crawled. I looked at his exposed butt crack, a dark unkempt abyss that I was falling into. I was short of breath. I felt paralyzed. His asshole was a canyon. This was my 127 hours. I needed to chip away at the rock and get out.
Brett stood up and put on a new CD. “Darling, youuuuu send me.” He climbed back in bed and tried to mash what was at this point his third ball into my vagina. On his fourth thrust he gave up and fell asleep again on my breasts. His head was heavy and his breath so sour I had to turn my head so my eyes didn’t water. But they already were watering, because of this album. These songs.
“Who is this?” I asked. The music was so beautiful. The songs were gutting me. “Cupid, draw back your bowwww.” The score he’d attached to our morning could not have been more off. His sloppy attempt at “lovemaking” was more Mel Gibson than William Wallace. And now the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard rang out as this man-boy lay in my arms after diminishing me to a last attempt at a booty call. I listened, and I cried.
I looked down on myself from the ceiling fan, as if I were my own fairy godmother. I waited until the last perfect note, then slid out from under him and slipped out the door. I closed it behind me, and I was rescued.
I never heard from Brett again, so I never got to thank him for introducing me to my new self and my new love, Sam Cooke.
THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, I still love Sam Cooke, and I still need that fairy godmother from time to time. As a part of my TV show, I have a segment called “Amy Goes Deep” where I interview people who do interesting jobs or have interesting lifestyles. One segment I did that we didn’t end up airing was with a professional matchmaker. In addition to letting me ask her questions about her job, she wanted to set me up. Directly after we filmed our conversation, I was going to meet up with the man she’d chosen for me.
It was the most disturbing “Amy Goes Deep” scene I’ve taped. Keep in mind, I’ve talked to a climate change denier, a pickup artist, and a diagnosed sociopath. But this woman left the darkest cloud over me. It still makes me feel angry and demoralized. Before we met, she’d sized me up from pictures online and some footage of my performances. She told me very little about the guy she was going to set me up with but emphasized that he was a great catch. She described him as a six-foot-tall, nice-looking guy who worked out. She assured me that he was funny and that he always made people laugh with the insightful things he wrote on Facebook. She went on to instruct me about the benefits of this quality, as if she were speaking to an alien who’d never experienced human emotion before. “When there’s great banter, it’s really fun and easy—and you feel sexual chemistry happening.”
Hearing her “teaching” me—a thirty-four-year-old comic—about sexual attraction and humor in this controlling, prescribed way was making the bile rise in my throat. She asked what icebreaker I’d use to talk to a guy. I asked if she thought I should “push his head down like I was setting off dynamite.”
“No,” she said, completely humorlessly. “Because the guy is supposed to be the one doing that. You’re the woman,” she informed me. “You need to be a lady. You need to make it so that he likes you. So that there’s a hint of what’s to come. I think you just need to sit back and let him take control.”
She then informed me that my numerous sex jokes were probably the reason I was still single. How can I say this like a lady? Suck my dick!
If you’ve seen my show, you know that I expose every part of myself on-screen. I wear unattractive costumes and show my body from all angles. I write about things that I’m truly sensitive about, and I’m often the butt of the joke. But this interview with the matchmaker was, hands down, the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt. Hearing a dating “expert” inform me why I’m not attractive to men, and then having to put myself out there to meet a man she selected who might actually be interested in me, was very scary.
When the interview finished, I went to a bar to meet the guy, whom I’ll call Rex. I’m feeling dizzy even writing this now. I waited at the bar, all of my self-worth leaking out of my sweaty palms, which were gripping a glass of wine like it was the only thing connecting me to the rest of the world. I had a bad feeling. But nothing could have prepared me for who walked in the door.
When I saw Rex, I felt like the Titanic, and he was the cluster of icebergs that would finally destroy me. In he walked. He was about fifty-three years old, wearing a denim button-down shirt with a leather vest over it. He was around five foot nine (a solid three inches shorter than the matchmaker’s description) and had hair plugs and a significant belly. He was not afraid of exposing his salt-and-pepper chest hair, having left open his top four buttons, which also allowed him to showcase—no joke—a shark-tooth necklace. His own teeth had been freshly whitened and he couldn’t wait to flash them as often as possible, which wasn’t difficult because he was so excited about his tan that he couldn’t stop smiling.
I bought him a drink after we hugged hello. My heart had dropped out of the bottom of my vagina, and the clock was running the second we locked eyes. I am giving this exactly thirty minutes, I thought. I focused all my energy on being as kind as possible. He asked me no questions, which I appreciated, because I just wasn’t in the sharing mood. There was no time anyway because he needed to tell me about his band that did Bruce or Billy covers. He talked a lot about the kind of guy he was, he stared at my tits, and I witnessed the moment he decided he’d be willing to have sex with me. I was focusing on my breathing and the clock. I was smiling and trying to spread joy, but it was hard because this guy was actually cocky and a dick. I started to wrap things up at about twenty-two minutes in. I said I had so much work to do and how great it was to meet him. He then said exactly this: “You are really cute. The matchmaker told me you were, quote, ‘no model,’ but I think she’s wrong.” This made my heart, which had already fallen out of my pussy, proceed to dig a hole through the Earth’s crust, mantle, and core. Was this supposed to be the great banter the matchmaker foreshadowed? Was the sexual chemistry right around the corner? I wanted to be sure I’d heard him correctly.
“What exactly did she say?” I asked.
“Well,” Rex proceeded to explain, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on this date and was nervous about it, and she said, ‘Don’t worry, she’s no model.’ ”
I pointed out to him how rude it was to relay this information to me. I could have done without hearing her assessment of my appearance. He defended himself by saying that he disagreed with the matchmaker. I started to lay out for him why this was still a shitty thing for him to say to me, but then I thought, Fuck it, why am I engaging with a dude who was born when Eisenhower was president and who loves wearing dead shark parts close to his heart? I thanked him for his time, hugged him good-bye, and left decimated. Not for myself, but for all the single women out there trying to date. I wanted to run to the top of the Empire State Building and make an announcement to all of them to let them know they are worth so much more than this. That they don’t need to wrangle some warm body to sit next to them just so they aren’t alone on holidays. That they should never let a magazine or dating site or matchmaker monster tell them they’re in a lower bracket of desirability because of their age or weight or face or sense of humor. That they don’t deserve to be manipulated into thinking this is something they should strive for—this decaying turkey of a man who’d been encouraged to believe, like so many other men, that he was a great prize for someone like me. Why should I have worked so hard to keep him interested, as the matchmaker suggested women are supposed to do? He wasn’t funny, he wasn’t particularly nice, and I’ve been more interested talking to people’s pets.
And as for the matchmaker, she makes her living redefining women’s dreams, telling them to lower their expectations. She creates and confirms what she thinks you deserve. If you’re “no model” I guess she thinks your best hope is to be matched with a man who has a pulse and a bank account, and that you should be grateful if he musters an erection with your name on it. I walked out of there like the building was on fire and I had started it, thinking, FUCK THAT!
I’m not going to lie in that freshman dorm bed or sit in that bar with Rex and his vest ever again. And for anyone who has ever looked for love and found nothing more than a denim-on-denim-on-leather-wearing Hair Club for Men dude, I want to say, Love yourself! You don’t need a man or a boy or a self-proclaimed love expert to tell you what you’re worth. Your power comes from who you are and what you do! You don’t need all that noise, that constant hum in the background telling you whether or not you’re good enough. All you need is you, your friends, and your family. And you will find the right person for you, if that’s what you want—the one who respects your strength and beauty.
Most of the time these days, I feel beautiful and strong. I walk proudly down the streets of Manhattan, that same girl I was during my senior year of high school. The people I love love me. I’m a great sister and friend. I make the funniest people in the country laugh. My vagina has had an impressive guest list—truly an inspiring roster of men. I have fought my way through harsh criticism and death threats, and I am alive. I am fearless. Most of the time. But I can still be reduced to that lonely, vulnerable college freshman pretty quickly. It happened that day with the matchmaker and Rex, and I’m sure it will happen again. I’m not bulletproof, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. As women, we relive our fears all the time, despite our best efforts to build each other up and truly love ourselves. It happens. And when it does, sometimes Sam Cooke isn’t enough, and I can’t fairy-godmother my way out of it. Sometimes I want to quit—not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air after reading a mean Twitter comment and say, “All right, you got me. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I don’t deserve love. I have no right to use my voice. I will start wearing a burka and move to a small town upstate and wait tables at a pancake house.”
So much has changed about me since I was that confident, happy girl in high school. In the years since then, I’ve experienced a lot of desperation and self-doubt, but in a way, I’ve come full circle. I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will. I’ll speak and share and fuck and love, and I will never apologize for it. I am amazing for you, not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you.