A Review of Trainwreck, From a Girl Who Actually Lost Her Father to M.S.
My dad wasn’t a tough talking, Mets-loving, “drinker”. He was rather soft-spoken most of the time, a Yankee fan, and I can’t ever recall seeing him take a drink. I don’t know that I could qualify as a train wreck. My sexual tally is probably not as high, I’ve never smoked anything, and I’ve probably never had more than 5 drinks in one night (except when I lived in Scotland for a year… because that’s what you do in Scotland). But I can relate to Amy Schumer’s masterpiece Trainwreck more than the average viewer, and I thank her for that.
For basically my entire life my dad battled with Multiple Sclerosis. I could have phrased that as “suffered from” or “struggled,” but it was a vicious war from the very beginning, as he was a mighty opponent. Sure, the enemy was subtle in its tactics – numbing his feet, shooting pain throughout his body, weakening the vision in his eye – but make no mistake, it was a war. Maybe there wasn’t a lot that could be discerned from the surface, aside from his gait, his hunched posture, an angle that decreased in degrees with years if not months, or the cane that he used to walk, because he refused to use a wheelchair until he had literally no choice. He was always afraid that kids would just think he was a clumsy drunk. Being an art teacher, he hated for students to catch him vulnerable.
A year after I moved to New York, to start graduate school, my dad suffered a massive heart attack. I was at work, at a fancy museum gift shop helping with inventory, when my sister texted me that something wasn’t right with him; he was having trouble breathing. I couldn’t bear to say anything to my supervisor – himself a middle-aged man who had just mentioned an appointment he had to get on a treadmill and have his heart tested. I got through the day, crossed the street and walked up alongside Central Park West, terrified. No matter what was wrong with my dad, I knew it wouldn’t be good.
When I was in first grade he had a grand mal seizure at the breakfast table. From what I remember, he was at the table with my mother, and my sister and I were in her bedroom, down the hall. I have a blurry memory of seeing my mom hold my dad’s arm as he jerked around in a chair. I have a distinct memory of my mother shouting to us to call 911. Of course, I was maybe 6, it was all very traumatic, and it happened fast. I don’t remember paramedics arriving, I don’t know if my mom went with him, or what happened with us while he was gone.
I remember hanging out on our patio when he came home, and that he seemed most afraid of scaring us. Somehow I knew, even at that age, that most of all our dad didn’t want to scare us. He was worried that we would view him differently, that we would be afraid of him. I don’t think we were. We just wanted him to be better, and even as a little kid, it sucks to know that you can’t do anything. And with a disease as mysterious as Mutliple Sclerosis, when nobody can really do anything, well imagine what that does for a kid’s sense of reassurance.
I can recall some other times my dad was sick before the divorce. With the diagnosis of M.S. came new medications and treatments, a lot of which have unpleasant side effects. It was unusual for my dad to be home during the day – he worked a lot as an illustrator for newspapers and in freelance. Seeing him home, and sick, was very odd. He didn’t want us to see him vomiting but I could hear him.
After a while he returned to work and immersed himself in so much medical information that he probably could have been a doctor. My dad went through every “ABC” drug. He even began going to a local support group for M.S. that he ended up leading. I know that couldn’t have been easy for him. Softie that he was, talking about emotions with anyone, let alone strangers, was not easy for him. I only saw him cry a few times in his life; when he found out his only brother had cancer, and then again after his heart attack when he was terrified of death.
Just like in the movie, with Amy’s dad, death struck without warning in our story. After a person suffers the trauma of a heart attack, in a body already ravaged by M.S., you could imagine that 24 hour care is essential. Surviving the essential reparative surgeries on his heart, we knew the road ahead would be difficult. He kept getting sick – various infections, fevers, confusion – they even told us he had early signs of dementia. Well no shit. What do you think happens when you have scar tissue in your brain? It finally came to a point when we had to say enough was enough. Do you know how fun it is to have a young female doctor, probably your age or younger, look at you with concern as you tell her to “just make him comfortable”? It was more fun when I asserted that no priests or other such religious people were allowed near my father. The mere sight of someone like that would surely alert him to end times, and I didn’t want him to have any stress.
All my dad had was two young daughters – me, 27, trying to stick out on my own in the big city, and my sister 28, in town and doing the best she could to deal with emotions and the endless barrage of medical terminology, bills and legalities. When he first entered his care facility, we kept up the illusion that he would return home. I had fantasies of somehow finding a way to be able to afford at home care. Of course our meager resources were quickly devoured by the medical care system. The condo had to be sold. I spent my month off between summer classes and the fall semester packing up his possessions.
Years before, our dad had to put his father in a home because he had Alzheimers and needed surveillance. He had been living with our dad in his condo until we were afraid that he would set the place on fire. It killed him to watch his father die, especially in a care facility. He always asked us to promise not to put him in such a place. There is guilt there that I will never get over.
The place where he settled could had been much worse. It could have been cleaner for my liking – the food could have been more whole, plant-based, and nutritious than the decrepit junk they served. But most of the nurses were genuinely caring, and they even let our dad have a corner of a recreational room for one of his giant easels. But by the time he wheeled himself down the hall, with his repurposed briefcase full of paint tubes, and got set up, he would fall asleep, slumped in his chair. He never did finish that final painting.
I did my best to put on a brave face when I went to see him. In the year or so he was there I did a lot of crying in transit. While driving, on the subway, on an interstate bus. The great thing about crying in New York city, say in line for a bus at 5am behind Port Authority, is that nobody gives a shit. In fact it’s almost like everyone silently understands. I highly recommend it.
The people that didn’t seem to understand were my peers. The shiny, bright, happy graduate students I was surrounded by, had no idea what I was going through. How terrified I was every time my phone made a noise.
For a lot of people who see Trainwreck, they’ll think it’s just funny, maybe even empowering how Amy Schumer would portray a young woman who is always out for a good time. For those of us who have used the cloak of a good time to mask the really really bad time we are truly having, it makes more sense. I once had a guy I was sort of seeing, look me in the face and ask me why I had to be “so crazy”. Good question. He had no idea what I was going through, and I’m sure didn’t genuinely care, but couldn’t begin to understand. Another winner, an actual boyfriend, new little of my father’s plight, and one night when I finally broke down and talked to him about it, which felt like littering in his hygienic, carefully curated Brooklyn world, he reacted as if I had told him that I didn’t get the lead in the school play or something.
In the movie, when Amy finds Aaron, and is confronted for the first time by a guy with a heart, she doesn’t know what to do. It’s a beautiful storyline, and I at least won’t ruin that for you, but it did leave me a tad resentful. I didn’t have someone like that by my side when my father died. I didn’t even have any friends at the gathering we held, in lieu of a funeral. I did have that bartender, though, at the karaoke bar in the East Village, who gave me a kiss on the cheek upon leaving way after all of my friends left. Oh, and I had sporadic booty calls to bask in the glow of (declined, thank you very much) from the guy who called me crazy.
I find it interesting that Schumer would choose to have her dad die in the movie when in real life he is still kicking. I can’t help but think that she is trying to prepare herself. I tried to prepare myself for most of my life, and it was pointless. But I didn’t have a film contract, or Bill Hader, so maybe she’ll have better luck.
Just like a microcosm of life, this movie truly made me laugh really hard and cry really hard, at some points simultaneously. It wasn’t flawless, but it struck a deep nerve. Right through the myelin (that’s an M.S. joke, people). I could be pissed with Amy for going ahead and taking my idea for a movie about a gal with daddy issues, but I don’t begrudge her. Just like the song used during one of the montages, Wilco’s Please Be Patient With Me, I feel like this movie offers people insight on how to deal with broken people. We can’t control the events that shape us, especially the ones early on. But we can choose what we do with the shape that results – even if it’s lumpy, has crooked fingers and transparent skin (all metaphors. Definitely just metaphors).
It feels silly to admit, but Amy gives me hope. She uses her pain to entertain others, and to create her success. I’ve got a surplus of pain and I am eager to make use of it. She also gives me hope for finding someone compassionate and willing to explore a mess rather than run from it. But I still refuse to dance to impress anyone. Especially to Uptown Girl. Everybody knows the best Billy Joel song is We Didn’t Start the Fire. (Just kidding, it’s totally A Matter of Trust.)