The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
THE WORST NIGHT OF MY LIFE
Here we go, it’s time to tell you about Dan, who has already come up in this book. I thought he was the love of my life for a long time but I allowed him to hurt me in ways that I still don’t understand. I met him when I was eighteen years old, and I liked him right away. He’d take his clothes off for no reason and run around without shame. We had a lot in common, especially the shameless-nudity part. I think nudity has the potential to be both beautiful and hilarious, so when given the chance, I pull a Porky Pig on my TV show, which basically means that whenever a scene allows, I’ll rock out in a long “boyfriend” shirt with no pants or underwear. Anyway, Dan wasn’t interested in a relationship with me, and I pretended I wasn’t interested in one with him either.
Dan was fascinating to me. He grew up in Manhattan in an incredible loft and got shipped off to boarding school at thirteen. He was a bad kid—lots of detention and sex. New York City kids don’t really drink underage like Long Island kids. Instead they do drugs and bang each other to feel like adults. He effed any girl who would hold still long enough for him to come. Or at least that’s how he described it to me. But bad kid or not, I felt he was misunderstood and that I was the one person who could really love him. Which, as you know by now, was my cup of tea through most of my twenties.
The first night I slept with him was at his mom’s place in NYC. The apartment was incredible—huge, with high ceilings, and decorated impeccably. There was so much about him and his home that was “cool” to me. It was “cool” that, at night, when he came downstairs to let me in the building, he was barefoot and in his underwear. Barefoot on the pavement in Manhattan. It was “cool” he had a Dexter Gordon poster in his room. And it was “cool” that he knew about art. His family friends were famous, culturally elite people. This was thrilling to me. I wanted no part of my suburban upbringing anymore, and I was smitten with him and the life he was projecting. I knew we were meant to be together, but he wasn’t convinced that I was the girl for him. Maybe it was because the only poster I had in my room was of Ani DiFranco, and if you asked me who our family friends were, I would have said the Muppets. Or maybe it was just that Dan was a real don’t-want-to-join-any-club-that-would-have-me-as-a-member type of guy. But I was playing the long game, and I took my time winning him over. I even drove him cross-country when he moved to the West Coast. We were twenty years old driving a U-Haul across America, and by the time we got to Vegas, he was mine. I could feel the shift in him when I’d finally worn him down. He could see the look in my eyes, which said: you. are. mine. bro.
We were together, and we were running low on money, but he still decided to buy a pair of Gucci sunglasses from an outlet store. Red flag? I chose not to notice those sorts of fun little quirks. I thought that because his parents were rich, he was rich. This was a puzzle I didn’t fully solve until a year later when I was living with him and had to peddle that horrible pedicab around town so we had grocery money, which he proceeded to spend on alcohol.
And yes, when we were still in Vegas, he screamed at me at the top of his lungs and shook me so hard that I had to run and hide until he calmed down. It was the first time I saw this behavior from him. I’d never seen him even a little upset before. And how did I reward that behavior?
I moved in with him a year later. We lived together for one summer on the West Coast when I was just twenty-one. We had an apartment up on a hill and very close to the beach. Every day, I’d wake up early and teach a kickboxing class at the Y, then go play in a female beach volleyball doubles league, then meet up with him and drink and fight and fuck. It was everything you could want, if what you want is Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem’s relationship in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And if you didn’t see that movie, I was the Whitney to his Bobby. (Quick shout-out: I loved Whitney so much and still can’t believe she’s gone.)
Anyway, Dan and I would go to happy hours with friends and get drunk, and then he’d get mad at me and shove me a little. Sometimes, from the shove, I’d trip over something and fall, and get hurt. But of course it was an accident. I got hurt by accident a lot that year. He’d get jealous about something I did and would squeeze my arm too hard and I’d get a horrible bruise. But of course it was an accident, and he always felt terrible afterward. I’d comfort him and we’d move on until the next time it happened. But it’s not like I was in an abusive relationship, right? I mean, I wasn’t a passive girl. I’ve been easily standing up for myself for as long as I could talk. I’m the girl who would bully the bullies in middle school—defend the kids who got made fun of. I’d always prided myself on being strong, assertive, and independent. It couldn’t happen to me, right?
On a regular basis, Dan would say things to me I didn’t let anyone else say—passively hurtful things to let me know I wasn’t as pretty as the other women he’d dated. He’d point out areas of my legs and arms and stomach he thought I needed to work on. He’d pull the shower curtain open and laugh at my naked body. Once he even pissed on my legs and feet while laughing. I’d cry and go for a walk and we’d start over. But come on, I was smart and funny and a loudmouth who spoke her mind. I definitely wasn’t in an abusive relationship, right? That only happens to girls who don’t believe in themselves. Right?
It proceeded to get worse and worse, and I started escaping the apartment whenever I could. I’d go to Starbucks, lock myself in the bathroom, and sit on the floor and cry. I knew I should go back to the East Coast, but I thought no one would ever love me as much as he did. I believed he was just as passionate about me as I was about him, and that if I did a better job of not making him mad, we’d be fine. I really felt he loved me. And I really loved him. I think somewhere in the course of our relationship, I started to confuse his anger and aggression for passion and love. I actually started to think that real love was supposed to look like that. The more you yelled at each other, the more you loved each other. The more physical and demeaning it got, the more you were really getting through to each other. And the more I was willing to stand by him, the more he’d understand I truly loved him and that we should be together forever. And he always felt so bad about what he’d done after he shouted or bruised me. Surely he wouldn’t beat himself up so much if he didn’t love me so much. It’s not abusive if they feel really bad afterward and promise to love you the rest of your life, right? Right?
Wrong. Knowing what I know now, it’s clear as day. Of course. And being frightened and hurt and abused isn’t reserved for insecure women who are easily intimidated, or women who come from unstable environments, or women who have never seen a positive male role model. I learned from a TED talk about domestic violence by Leslie Morgan Steiner (these are mostly her words) that women of all income and education levels are affected. I also learned that I was a typical domestic violence victim because of my age. In the United States, women ages sixteen to twenty-four are three times more likely to be domestic violence victims than women of any other age. Also, every year in the United States, five hundred women in this age bracket are killed by their domestic abuser. A domestic abuser doesn’t just have to be someone you live with. It means anyone you are in an intimate relationship with. I was a statistic.
What made things so confusing with Dan was that we usually had the best time. We were manic together. He was obsessed with me in a way that made me feel high. We had sex several times a day. I thought it was because I turned him on so much, but I now believe it was because it was a way for him to have my undivided attention. We’d laugh until we were in tears, fuck, pledge our undying love, and then the next moment we’d be in shouting turmoil and he’d be screaming at me and squeezing me too hard.
One humid summer night we went out with our friends to a new bar. We were all dressed up and excited to get into the new hot spot. I love dancing—always have, always will. Am I good at it? Nope! But that has never stopped me. I grabbed my girlfriend and we hit the floor. Sometimes Dan would dance, but on this evening, I think because I’d talked all day about how excited I was, he wanted to sour it a little. I dance like all other white girls: in a sexually suggestive way that says, “This is what it would be like to mount me.” It’s completely false advertising. Also, I don’t do it well, and over the years several black people have pointed this out to me—to my face. Anyway, my girlfriend and I were gyrating and body-rolling on the dance floor when out of nowhere Dan came up and grabbed my arm. He didn’t like how the guys in the bar were looking at me, and he thought I was flirting with them. I left the dance floor and we drank and drank, and kissed in a booth, and then the song “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige came on, and you know I had to dance to that. It’s like a law that all women turn into the Manchurian Candidate when that song comes on.
A guy came up to me on the dance floor who I would have bet my life was gay. We sang the song and danced together. We were giggling and half grinding but made no actual contact. It was totally innocent. Dan walked past me on the dance floor on his way to the bathroom and whispered in my ear, “You’re disgusting.” I was furious. I thought, I’ll show you disgusting, and began to dance very sexually with another guy on the floor. When Dan came out of the bathroom he again dragged me to the booth. And that was when I did something that I’d never done before and never, ever, will do again: I spit right in his face. I don’t know if I thought I was a character in West Side Story or if it was just the booze that gave me major balls, but I did it. And this maneuver awakened the beast in Dan and fired off my fear signal in one instant. He got a look in his eyes that scared the shit out of me, and I ran. I ran right out the door of the bar and I kept running.
I ran to our friend’s house down the street, but he caught up to me. I tried to calm him down and I told him that it was probably better if we spent the night apart to cool off. That was the smart thing to do, and he was smart, so I was sure he’d agree, maybe call me a bitch, then storm away. Right? No, the smart thing did not happen. Instead, when I got out my phone to call my friend, he grabbed it out of my hand and whipped it at a nearby tree, where it shattered. He put his hands on my cheeks and squeezed my face hard. My head was throbbing, and I could tell this night was different. I wasn’t safe. And I knew it.
I told him I was going to walk to my friend’s house and asked him to leave me alone. He wouldn’t. He followed me. My heart was pounding while I listened to his footsteps behind me on the quiet side streets. I kept walking and walking, and then for a second I didn’t hear his footsteps. But it was too late when I realized he was right behind me. I tried to pick up the pace, and this pissed him off, and he pushed me onto the hood of a parked car. I banged my head and my elbow hard. This was more than he’d done before. This was an actual violent outburst. I didn’t get hurt “by accident” this time. He saw the car right there and pushed me onto it intentionally. I burst into tears, kicked my shoes off, and ran down the street as fast as I could, listening to my own breath, trying to slow down my heart rate like my volleyball coach had taught me. I think Dan had surprised himself.
I heard voices coming from a nearby backyard and I ran into the open front door of this random house, sobbing, with no shoes on, makeup running down my face and a welt on my head that was already becoming a bruise. I staggered into the living room, and there sat about eight Breaking Bad-looking huge Hispanic gang members. They had bandanas and tattoos, they were not fucking around, and they definitely did not want me there. I begged them to let me use the phone to call my friend and promised I’d then leave. Naturally, they made me promise not to call the cops.
I heard Dan screaming for me through the screen door, and at that moment I realized that being with the gang felt infinitely more safe than being with Dan did. But I quickly understood that my presence threatened to get them caught doing whatever it was they were doing. Some of the guys went outside to try to get Dan to leave, but he was causing a real commotion and standing his ground. I ran outside to get him to quiet down, and he got into a fistfight with one of the gang members until his eye and lip were bleeding. As the guy was pounding Dan with his fist, I instantly switched teams and began to defend Dan. When you are an abuse victim, your logic and instinct can become warped like this. It was similar to the night in high school when I realized Jeff was helping himself to my virginity, and I ended up comforting him for hurting me, even though it should have been the other way around. Here I was defending another guy who was actively betraying me. “Get off of him!” I yelled, running toward Dan, who was taking a serious beating. The gang members kicked us both off their property, fearing the cops would come.
We walked to his car in silence. Dan had seemingly calmed down. He was even laughing a little, talking about how crazy the night had been, and so I did too. I wanted to comfort him and make him feel like we were in this together. We got into the car, and I drove the fifteen minutes home. The events had sobered me right up. I tried to keep him calm. That was my only goal. He mentioned ordering food when we got home, and I let him know in a very collected, kind way that I wasn’t going to stay at our apartment that night.
And there it was again. The beast reawakened right before my eyes, the same beast I’d seen earlier that night, but this time, it was much angrier. He started banging his head against the window and screaming. He took my hand and used it to punch himself in the face. He broke the side mirror with his own hand, and I was scream-crying, begging, pleading with him to stop. I agreed to sleep at home if he’d stop hurting himself. It was a bad idea to negotiate with him like that, because what came after I agreed to sleep at home was so much worse.
When we got home, I went inside and got right into bed. I was exhausted and just wanted the night to be over. I had nothing left. I begged him to leave me alone so I could sleep. But he kept tormenting me, sitting and staring at me. He shook the bed to scare me, saying, “I don’t want you to go to sleep.” I told him we’d talk in the morning but I really needed to rest. I told him that if he wouldn’t let me sleep I was going to leave. He was quiet for a couple minutes. I closed my eyes, and then opened them again to see him standing over me, staring. I told him that was it and got up to leave. He ran to the kitchen and broke a mug—not a glass, a mug—over his head, and then started banging his head on a light fixture attached to the ceiling. It wouldn’t break. I was screaming for him to stop, when he grabbed a huge butcher knife from a drawer. And that’s when I was sure he was going to kill me. It may sound clichéd, but I saw my life flash before my eyes. I thought, This is how I die? I can’t believe it. I thought about my sister and my mom finding out that this was how I’d checked out. This thought awoke the beast in me. This was my moment of clarity. I had to get away from him. Fast.
I threw a glass against the wall as a diversion and raced out the door, running through our apartment complex, banging on all the doors, begging for someone to let me in. It was just like American Psycho, him chasing me and gaining on me at every turn. I knocked on five different unanswered doors before one opened up, and I flung myself inside, locking the door behind me. Dan immediately started pounding on the door. I looked up at the elderly man who’d let me in and said, “Thank you so much, I need to call the police.” I’d seen this guy around the complex for months, mostly shuffling to the Dumpster and back, and we’d wave once in a while. He had a bushy mustache and eyebrows that were salt-and-pepper colored, like his hair. He looked like a cartoon. It was the second stranger’s house I’d entered that night. I remember thinking to myself, How much worse can it get than the Latin Kings’ headquarters?
It was worse. I breathed the air in the apartment and it was stale and vaguely smelled like sewage. I noticed that his wife, whom I’d never seen before, was in a hospital bed near the window. Her arms and legs had been amputated and her mouth was cocked open, head to the side. I still don’t know if she was alive or not, but I think so. It was a terrifying and disorienting scene. I went to the bathroom, which was full of furniture and filth, and locked myself inside with their phone. I called a cab and stayed in there until it arrived.
I walked outside, numb, when the cab pulled up. Dan was still out there, but he’d calmed down too. I could have called the cops on him. I could have pressed charges. But I didn’t want to. I felt bad for him, seeing him standing there alone. I worried about how he’d feel the next day. Even after all Dan had put me through, I couldn’t dream of having him arrested. But I did finally see my situation for what it was—a case of domestic abuse. I was finally able to empathize with the millions of other women who’d been in this same situation. I was them and they were me.
I took the cab to the house of a couple that I knew. They let me sleep upstairs, and the guy of the couple slept next to their front door with a bat, which I’m still very grateful for. I flew back to New York the next day, still worried about Dan and how he might be feeling. I knew he’d feel awful and lonely and would be in a lot of pain, but I was choosing to live. I thought a lot about my sister and how I wanted be the kind of person who made her proud. I couldn’t face her if I stayed another day with a man I believed would eventually kill me.
The next awful chapter of this story—and something that it pains me to tell you—is that we got back together one more time after that, during the New York City blackout of 2003. (In that heat, I would have fucked a salamander.) It wasn’t for very long, but the loneliness of New York City and my feelings for him weakened me. I think I reunited with him because I still longed to be close to him. And I wanted to punish him for hurting me so much in the past. I thought I could do more damage from the inside. I was his girlfriend, which meant I had free rein to criticize him and point out why he was the worst. I’m not proud of that. But there was a part of me that wanted to be with him again so I could hurt him back.
We finally broke up a few months later and said good-bye to each other one morning when I was fully able to see him for who he really was. I could see that he presented to the world the facade of a certain kind of man who wasn’t really there. He had the poster, but he couldn’t name one Dexter Gordon album. He said he loved me, but every step of the way he’d hurt and sabotage me. I realized later that he put me down so much because he was probably terrified that I’d realize he was nothing and leave him. Which is exactly what I did.
I’m telling this story because I’m a strong-ass woman, not someone most people picture when they think “abused woman.” But it can happen to anyone. When you’re in love with a man who hurts you, it’s a special kind of hell, yet one that so many women have experienced. You’re not alone if it’s happening to you, and you’re not exempt if it hasn’t happened to you yet. I found my way out and will never be back there again. I got out. Get out.