The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
BLACKOUTS AND STEM CELLS
I pay my taxes. I vote—for my favorite reality show contestants, but also in elections. I call my friends on their birthdays. I use a bath towel no longer than a week before washing it. I drink the recommended amount of water daily. And I can hold my liquor. All of this makes me a grown-up. Actually, as I write this, my twenty-four-year-old assistant just brought me a snack of crackers and hummus, so maybe I still have some work to do.
But when I was in college, I was a far cry from adulthood. I did none of the things listed above. By junior year of college this is how I drank: I’d have two beers in my dorm room, then go to the bar, where I’d enjoy about four martinis. Four real martinis—I’m talking Ketel One up and dirty, and I would always go back to the bartender and complain that they’d made it too dirty so I could get more vodka added for free. Everyone else ordered normal college stuff, like vodka cranberries or Jack and Cokes, but it was always beer and martinis for me. And then sometimes I’d end the night with some wine or champagne, even though I had nothing to celebrate.
As it turns out, I also won the genetic lottery and am one of those chicks who is prone to blackouts. For those of you who haven’t been to high school or college parties, blacking out is when your mind goes to sleep but your body keeps right on doing whatever your drunk-ass self thinks is a good idea. Blacking out is NOT passing out asleep in a drunken stupor. It’s quite the opposite. Your brain is sleeping like an innocent little baby, but your body is at a rave and it keeps making decisions. Decisions such as, Let’s eat something called a “walking taco” from a place in Chicago where you eat a taco mixed in a Fritos bag and jam handfuls of it in your mouth. This is why blacking out is incredibly dangerous. You might look like a regular drunk girl, but you’re actually a zombie who won’t remember shit later. A really thrilling part of blacking out is the fact that sometimes you wake up while you’re still doingwhatever horrible thing you chose to do when you fell into it. You suddenly reemerge in your body like a time traveler and have no idea how long you’ve been out.
My most memorable (technically my least memorable) college blackout happened this way: My brain was completely checked out and then all of a sudden I was back in my body and aware of everything. I looked southward and there was a stranger going down on me in my bed. Huh? What? Hello?!! I’ll say that again. Someone I had never in my life met or seen before was tonguing my vagina like he was digging for gold. I had a boyfriend at the time and this was not him. I didn’t know this dude, but he was obviously getting to know me. I lightly tapped him on the shoulder because I didn’t want to startle him, and also because what do I know about this guy at this point? Obviously, I know he’s a true gentleman—he’s going down on me, and that is a move worthy of knighthood. On my vagina’s very best day—when I know I may have a visitor soon so I’ve just showered and really tended to it with care—it still smells like a small barnyard animal. A freshly washed goat or something of that size and potency. A cute one that you’d want to buy little pellets for and feed at a zoo. That’s on its best day. On its worst day? After a night of drinking? It’s probably like an unwashed shark tank. I imagine going down on me after a night on the town must be like Indiana Jones entering some sort of a cobwebbed room where he’ll need to choose a cup wisely.
This saintlike man looked up at me after I tapped him. He was hot, so I patted myself on the back and thought, Nice job, Schumes. He looked up but stayed down there, and for a minute it looked like I was giving birth to him. I said, “Hi, I’m Amy, I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.” He was very confused. As gently as I could, I explained what had happened. He left prrrrrretty quick. I stormed into my roommate Denise’s room and asked, “Why did you let me bring some random guy home? You know I have a boyfriend!” She was in shock and immediately defended herself. Apparently I hadn’t even seemed very drunk and had walked around the bar with this guy all night, our arms around each other like we were a couple. Denise assumed I had consciously made the choice to be with this guy and ditch my boyfriend. I literally didn’t remember meeting him. I saw him a few years later in a bar and apologized profusely. He seemed a bit unnerved but tried to pretend like he didn’t mind. Knowing what he’d encountered between my legs that night, I’m guessing he was probably thrilled to have received such an easy get-out-of-jail-free card from me. He probably shuddered at the sight of me and started having sudden memory flashes of deep-sea fishing and an old sunken ship covered in plankton and kelp. I’m not ashamed of this, either. Vaginas are supposed to look and smell like vaginas. Keep your strange scented washes away from me, women’s magazines. I’ll allow my vag to keep its natural aroma of chicken noodle soup, thank you very much.
There were other notable blackouts during college, like the time I ate an entire Papa John’s pizza, or when I ditched a cab and skinned my hands running from it. I also once went home with some dude who owned more than two pit bulls, which is the reddest flag there is, and my sister still loves to remind me about the time I put her in a car with strangers so I could stay out longer. My blackouts have usually involved eating like it’s my last meal, but the time my brain went night-night while I let a stranger wake up my unwashed vagina definitely still gets the top prize. I want to encourage any young lady reading this to avoid drinking to the point where you’re unsafe, especially if you have this cool genetic quirk and are prone to blacking out. It’s crazy unsafe, and I lucked out with a nice dude who treated my vaginal area like a Golden Corral.
But let’s get back to the part about how I’m a seasoned, smart adult now. I drink wine and scotch fairly regularly—sometimes a martini or tequila, just to mix it up—but not excessively, and I definitely don’t drink to the point of blackout. Not only did College Amy teach me a lesson, I truly don’t enjoy being drunk anymore. I’m not recommending dead sobriety here. I mean, don’t be cray. But I don’t like to get anything more than a little tipsy now. I’m in a really good place and have gotten my behavior under major control.
Guys, I blacked out a few months ago.
I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it’s cute or even funny. But sometimes when a sad and complicated set of circumstances lands you in the emotional and physical gutter, all you can do is laugh. After you cry. And drink.
It all started when a woman named Meg went to see Trainwreck with her friend. Meg has multiple sclerosis and didn’t know MS would be such a large part of the movie but ended up really liking the fact that it was included in the story. She reached out to me because she said she wanted to hook my dad up with an incredible doctor in New York who had helped her.
Dr. Sadiq is the only doctor in the US who is FDA approved to treat MS patients with stem cells. To me, the idea that my dad could feel better wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. I was grateful to Meg and excited for my dad to meet Dr. Sadiq, but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. Over the years, I’d noticed a change in my dad’s willingness to take his meds and follow doctors’ recommendations. He’s offered physical therapy several times a week in the facility where he lives, but he was going infrequently or sometimes not at all. I sent an acupuncturist to him for a few months, and without telling me, he told her to stop coming. One day a couple of years ago, we got into an argument about it, which ended with his shouting that he just didn’t want to try anymore.
This crushed me. Realizing that he’d thrown in the towel and wanted to passively allow the disease to do what it would broke my heart. People with MS deal with a lot: difficulty with eating, walking, and controlling their bowels (as has been well documented in this book)—not to mention the toll it takes on cognitive abilities and emotional stability. My dad was never the kind of guy to have a hopeful outlook on life. He was always dark. Even in his heyday, when he was young, rich, and handsome, he could make Tim Burton seem like Richard Simmons. But this was different. He was telling me to back off and let him decay. I don’t blame my dad for wanting to give up, but it still destroyed me to hear him say it.
Since then, I’ve been mourning my dad while he’s still alive. One certainty of his MS is that his physical abilities will decline more and more until they’re entirely gone. This has led us to experience a lot of “lasts” together. The most heartbreaking one was the last time we went bodysurfing. We’d always loved riding the ocean waves together, so when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be able to walk much longer, he asked me to go to the beach with him one last time. It was a pretty cloudy day, and there was a chill in the air. There were only one or two other people on the beach. I put on a brave face as we walked into the ocean. The waves were rough enough that you had to use your leg strength to make it in past the break. He struggled. It was crushing me to see him getting knocked down. I led us in and turned my face out to the ocean horizon so my dad wouldn’t notice my heart falling out of my chest and into the sea. Seeing your parent physically incapable like that is something I wish on no one.
We waited for a good wave. The last wave we would ever ride together. When we saw it rolling in, we made eye contact and nodded to each other like musicians agreeing to play the bridge. We bent our knees, leaned toward the shore with our arms over our heads, and dove. It was a long, hard wave, and we rode it all the way in. We could feel the power of the ocean carrying us. When we stopped, I picked up my head to see where my father was. He was right next to me, squinting through the salt water and wiping the hair out of his eyes. He looked over at me and we smiled big at each other, bugging our eyes out to keep each other from bawling. I took his hand and helped him walk back until the wet sand turned dry. We caught our breath and tried not to take in the gravity of the moment.
I never wanted to give up hope that we could someday go out there again. But none of the MS studies I’d ever read made this seem possible, so I decided that instead of trying to heal him, I’d do whatever I could to make his time on this earth as pleasurable and comfortable as possible. If he asked me to bring him five hundred Werther’s Original hard candies to suck on incessantly, I would. If he wanted booze (even though he never asked me), I’d get it for him. If he asked me for pot cookies (which he did), I’d bring them. I’d do anything for my dad. Buy him a lap dance, a lapdog, whatever it took.
So when I received Meg’s email about Dr. Sadiq, I thought about the promise I’d made to my dad to let him be, and I thought, FUCK HIM! He’s going to see this doctor! I didn’t care if he had to be brought in on a stretcher kicking and screaming. Well, he can’t kick, so just screaming.
I didn’t even ask him. I just told him he was going to see this special doctor, and made it sound exciting and magical and as if it were something to look forward to. And he bit.
The next day, he traveled the two hours from Long Island to meet Kim and me at Dr. Sadiq’s office in Manhattan. It’s always a gamble what version of my father I will get. The medication can often make him out of it and kind of mean, but when he got off the elevator at the doctor’s office that day he was smiling and didn’t say anything hostile to the staff. My dad can be a huge wiseass who lashes out in a funny way at people, but sometimes it’s altogether unfunny and just unkind. I’ve seen him scream at very gentle, nice orderlies who are just trying to help him back into his chair. He is rude to nurses—dismissive and cold if they’re lucky, and flirty and aggressive if they aren’t. But that day, he didn’t make inappropriate eye or ass contact with the nursing staff. At one point when the nurse asked who was older, Kim or me, he answered, “The big one,” as he pointed at me. But other than that fun insult, things were looking up.
My dad and I held hands as Dr. Sadiq explained what the stem cell treatments would entail over the next six months. Less than halfway through the conversation, my dad interrupted Dr. Sadiq, who was midsentence.
“I have to pee.”
His attendant wheeled him to the bathroom, where he stayed for a very long time. Longer than normal by five times. The doctor continued while my dad was in the restroom, explaining that the stem cell treatment could at the very least improve him significantly, even potentially making it possible for him to walk again. This was amazing news, of course, but Kim and I must have seemed like we weren’t sold, because Dr. Sadiq started offering up references who could testify to the quality of his treatments.
“No, doctor, we aren’t worried about you,” I said. I came right out and admitted that I was afraid my dad would either completely resist the treatment or become so difficult that the doctor would eventually refuse to treat him. Dr. Sadiq—a man so determined and dedicated to his work that he often sleeps in his office—jokingly explained, “Oh, no, I am treating him whether he likes it or not. He can punch me in the face and call me names, and I will not let him get out of this.” And then the doctor, in his matter-of-fact way, said something that should have been obvious to me.
“Your father doesn’t want to get his hopes up.”
A pang shot through my entire body. Of course. Why didn’t I see this myself? It’s a huge theme in my own life and even in my movie. Trainwreck is in many ways a love letter to my father. It’s my way of saying, Even though you have wronged people and made mistakes, I love you, and your life hasn’t gone unwitnessed. I wanted him to see himself as I see him, as a human who is sick and flawed but who I think is pretty wonderful, most of the time. I guess the need to protect yourself to the point of being an asshole runs in the family. My dad and I have both been burned so many times that we use humor and darkness to keep potential pain at bay. I’d been giving my dad such a hard time for his unwillingness to fight his MS, but he was being resistant for good reason. He’d already been beaten to the ground countless times. Literally.
Kim and I teared up a little and nodded as our dad was rolled back into the room. I squeezed his hand and could tell his mood had soured a little.
I held my breath and could not bear to look at my dad. Dr. Sadiq explained every detail of the next six months of his life, and while he didn’t make it sound easy, he did focus on the results.
Throughout the discussion, my dad kept looking at the floor and Dr. Sadiq would gently reprimand him, “Look at me, Gordon.” When he finished his explanation, my dad was looking down again. There was a long silence. We all sat there very still.
And then my father looked up and said: “Okay, I will put my hope and faith in you.”
Kim and I couldn’t fucking believe it. Never had I ever heard my dad say the words “hope” or “faith.” I think my dad could be at the Wailing Wall or sitting with the Dalai Lama on a mountain in Tibet and he’d be annoyed that someone next to him was humming too loudly or complaining that he was hungry. What I’m saying is he’s not a spiritual guy.
I threw my arms around him and then sat back down before the tears started falling uncontrollably down my face. I leaned over and said, “I’m so proud of you! I love you!” It wasn’t just that he’d accepted treatment. It was that he still had some hope left in there.
We set up our next appointment with Dr. Sadiq and said our good-byes, and went home to spend the evening with my very kind boyfriend, Ben. I was feeling emotional, but I held it together. We got cozy in the living room and I exclaimed, “I had a tough day. I want to have some wine tonight!” I opened a bottle and had a glass. We started watching the latest episode of Girls, and it was coincidentally about Hannah’s father, who was struggling with living his life as a gay man, having just come out of the closet to Hannah. The parent/child roles were reversed, with Hannah coming to his rescue when her father was sad and disoriented. The episode ended with their walking through Times Square together, him sadly saying, “I don’t know what to do,” and Hannah saying, “That’s okay, I’m here . . . and I’ll always be here.”
Any tears I’d held back in my entire life came out right then and there. The floodgates opened and I bawled hard. Thank God I’m a very very pretty crier. Ben was sweet and watched a lot of mucus drain from my nose onto the couch, and hugged me after I finally caught my breath. When I was done crying, I drank another glass of wine and took a hit of weed. I wanted the day to end because it was hard enough having all of those realizations about my dad, but it was also new to have a boyfriend with me, witnessing the whole thing. Being the child of an alcoholic father and whatever my mom is has made me almost incapable of believing that the people I love won’t leave me or hurt me in a way I didn’t think they were capable of. I have to fight against all of my impulses and warped instincts to accept any sort of love. This night was no exception.
It was time to call it a day. And fast. So I took five milligrams of Ambien, which is on the higher end of the normal nightly dosage for me, and I started to get ready for bed. My limbs were a little sore from the eleven-mile bike ride Ben and I had gone on that morning. (Ew, we’re an annoying white couple.) I was physically and mentally drained—and a little drunk. Throwing Ambien into the mix was not wise, since, as I learned the hard way, it enhances the effects of alcohol and vice fucking versa. If the details of what happened next were left to me, I’d tell you that I had one more glass of wine and then woke up the next morning.
But according to my loving, patient boyfriend (who was staring forlornly at the ceiling when I opened my eyes the next morning), a LOT happened after that last glass of wine.
According to Ben, shortly after I prayed to the holy trinity of Ambien, wine, and weed, I began dipping crackers into butter as if it were guacamole. While he watched me in this feeding frenzy, I kept accusing him of judging me. He said I was chasing him around the living room saying, “You’re judging me!” with a lot of sass and he was responding with “You’re getting butter all over the apartment!”
Then I sat down on the couch to watch television and continue eating my buttermole. I turned on Keeping Up with the Kardashians (his least-favorite show) and wouldn’t shut up about Khloé and how much she’s changed. At least that’s what Ben thinks I said, because he could only understand about 30 percent of my yammering. I ended up heating up two frozen pizzas, one of which I burned, before he finally convinced me to go to sleep. In bed, I aggressively stacked all the pillows on my side instead of the usual division of two and two. Then I laid my head on top like the princess and the pea. He said, “Amy, we each get two pillows,” to which I elegantly responded, “Not tonight, motherfucker!” Cue the Stevie Wonder song “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Anyway, the lesson here is don’t combine alcohol, Ambien, and weed on the same day that you take a marathon bike ride, find out your dad’s will to live has been restored, and watch a heartbreaking episode of Girls that hits way too close to home. If you learn one thing from this book, let it be that.
This blackout at age thirty-four was a far cry from some of the dangerous situations I got myself into during college, but I still wouldn’t recommend that anyone engage in this kind of activity—not even grown-ups who are in loving, supportive relationships and safely drinking under their own roofs. Ben was pretty generous about the whole thing. He wasn’t judgmental or critical, but he was concerned. He didn’t like that I decided to “check out” on him. With good reason. It’s not fair, and I haven’t done it since.
It was a hard couple of years, seeing my dad check out on life like that, knowing that he really meant it when he said he was done trying to improve his condition. A part of me gets it. Things are grim for him most of the time. I’m strong and healthy, and I still have to fight the urge to give up about twice a day. Three times a day during awards-show season. In his younger, healthier days, my dad traveled, partied, philandered, and drank. I know he must miss those times. I feel fortunate I’m still able-bodied enough to make poor choices.
Sometimes when I visit him and he’s looking particularly dead-eyed or sad, I try to amp up his spirits. Roll him outside for a walk, get him involved, force him to mix it up. He’s still in there when he wants to be—and it’s nice to see. Knowing there’s a possibility he will walk again has made everything brighter, and it feels like he’s coming back. I push his wheelchair into the fresh air, and make him look up at the sky. I watch the sun hit his face and he comes alive, every cell of his body lighting up to cause trouble, just like he was meant to do.