Sick people can do the craziest things.
There was the time I came back home to Las Vegas from Orange County, where I’m a resident in a care home, and I ripped out all the carpeting at Max’s house. My mom, Maria Elena Grimaldi, has been seeing Max for fourteen months, twelve days, and nine hours. I know because I remember her telling me she met Max when he started working at the Gold Coast casino where she’s been employed for five years, eleven months, two weeks and three days—a total of three-thousand, seven-hundred, eighty-four hours.
What I find strange is how Maria Elena and Max got together soon after I had told the woman who carried me in her belly for nine months that I had started dating a girl who is a resident in the same care home where I spend most hours of the year. When I say “dating” I mean holding hands when we are in the common areas, and always eating next to each other at meals.
Max is a nice enough person and he pays me to do occasional home repair work for him when I visit my family during holidays. Some of the care facility residents’ parents don’t like their kids visiting home because people with Asperger’s can often make a mess of things, but Maria Elena and Max always pick me up at the airport and take me to Morning Mania Diner to eat blueberry pancakes afterward, even if it’s close to bedtime when I arrive.
During Christmas break Max paid me to change an old toilet for him. The new one he replaced it with is jet black ceramic and has the streamlined shape of a sports car. On President’s Day weekend he had me patch up a hole he had punched in the wall during a drunken fit. My mom had told me about his drinking habit, but she tolerated it because, according to her, Max is a romantic. I know the more romantic episodes in some normies’ lives are inspired by alcohol, so I uncomfortably understand Maria Elena’s tolerance of Max’s drunken moments.
When I visit home for Easter holiday, Max complains that the carpets in his house are ugly and that if he expects to sell the property for the best possible price, he should probably replace them. He never explicitly says he is going to pay me to pull up the carpeting, he never even once asks me to do the job. All he does is complain about how unsightly the burgundy-colored synthetic floor covering is and how he wants a look for the house that is less “ghetto-extraordinaire,” a look that Maria Elena, who collects clown sculptures and whose house has marble floor tiles and woolen cream-colored carpeting, would feel more comfortable in.
Now I don’t know how you, specifically, put two and two together, or what their sum is when you add them up, but I’m one of those guys who sees two twos and combines them to make five. When I was five years young, I remember going to a supermarket in Sin City with my dad and betting on the black number five horse in a type of gambling machine you don’t see these days. The bet won me ninety-three dollars and seventy-five cents that day, and since then I’ve felt an affinity for the number whose multiples end either in another five or a zero.
But back to putting two and two together to make more than their sum. What do I mean by that? By that I mean because of the condition I have, I always see more in things than other people do. I’ll see a cloud on the horizon as I’m taking an Uber to go have my monthly lunch with dad, and I’ll take it as a sign that nuclear war is immanent. I’ll see a mound of dirt someone has used to cover up some doggy diarrhea, and that mound of dirt becomes the grave of one of my friends who I believe is going to die in a war that hasn’t happened yet.
My psychiatrist tells me putting two together to make five is just a symptom of my condition. People who have what you have can often experience magical thinking, the doctor says. Magical thinking is when you think like causes like, or when you think you can exert control over somebody if you do something to a resemblance of that person, like sticking pins in a voodoo doll’s head to give the school bully a migraine.
Maria Elena says that what happens when I put two and two together is just imaginary glitches in reality. Always remember these things you see aren’t real, Gaff, she says. Although my mother’s parents were Italian immigrants, my mother has been an Anglophile since Princess Diana died in 1997, six years after I was born. Maria Elena named me Geoffrey, but I couldn’t pronounce my own name properly when I was two, and called myself “Gaff.” The name stuck, and it’s how I introduce myself even today at the age of twenty. I think Gaff Grimaldi sounds better than Geoffrey Grimaldi because it alliterates, a word poets use to describe the repetition of consonant letters. My ears like it when consonants repeat. It’s kinda’ similar to how sums and multiples of the number nine repeat themselves when you add them together. For example, two times nine, or nine plus nine equals eighteen. When you add the one and eight in eighteen together, what number do you get? Nine. I’ll use numbers to make the rest of my point: 3 x 9 = 27. 2 + 7 = 9. 4 x 9 = 36. 3 + 6 = 9. And so on and so on, beyond infinity. Nines always give you more nines.
Max, who liked what I had to say about the fractal nature of nines, says I just have to man up and face that some things are exactly what they appear to be. "Somethings is less, others is more," Max tells me, speaking the way his grandfather who was a peach picker in Georgia spoke, but most things are what they are. What I need to do, according to my mom’s boyfriend, is act like a man despite what the things I see make me feel.
So, on my last day home from Spring break, I see Max’s toilet and although it’s black, it reminds me of his gold Lexus and I want to steal the keys and drive the Lexus into a tree, because if I do, I believe Max won’t drunkenly crash into that same tree and die. But since I’m busy putting two and two together and also believe that people can read each other’s thoughts, I see the poor patch job I did on Max’s wall and think he’s going to sock a hole into my head for wanting to crash his Lexus. So, to make up for my anti-social musings, I decide to rip up Max’s burgundy-colored carpeting for free, thinking that if I do, I can save Max some money and also prevent his blood from being spilled, because magic being what it is, no dark red carpets signifies no spilt blood. And there you have it. How two and two make five.
Max and my mom pull up to Max’s house as I’m uprooting the carpet from the spare bedroom. “Gaff, what the hell you think you’re doin’?” Max asks, and when I don’t respond and just keep right on ripping carpet up, he puts me in a half-nelson. “Stop trying to sock me upside the head, you crazy fool,” says Max as I try to make him release me, and my mom nearly screams out, “Gaff! Calm down! I’m calling for help! I’m calling 9-1-1!”
“Don’t call 9-1-1!” warns Max as I squirm in his WWF grip and smell the intermingled sweat and Drakkar Noir cologne he sprays in his armpits instead of roll on deodorant. “They’ll just send over the police,” Max says, then adding, like he means it, “I can take care of this myself.” But as I continue to writhe, he starts to lose confidence. During my episodes, Maria Elena says I acquire super-human strength, and when she’s said that, visions of the Hulk have flashed in my mind, but I’m not like the Hulk. I’m not him because he always scares the bejesus out of me, and I don’t think I’m big, green, or mean enough to scare anyone.
Max and I continue to struggle for what seems to be the length of a pro-wrestling match, and when mom sees Max’s strength begin to flag, she dials for an emergency response.
I finally break free of my mom’s boyfriend’s grip and although I don’t want him to be scared, the look on his face tells me he is. “You alright now, Gaff? You good? Help is coming. We don’t want them to take you away. Sit down on the bed there. Maria, get him some fizzy lemonade.”
When the woman who carried me in her belly for nine months comes back upstairs she sits next to me and caresses my back like she’s done before after my episodes. As I take the last sip of Limonata, the police arrive.
Max lets them in, they come upstairs to see me, and as Max is explaining to the cops what happened, my ears shut out the sound. I see Max’s and one of the officer’s mouths move, but no words come out. I see Max rub his neck with his right hand. If he knew that I was about to start putting two and two together again, he’d tell me to stop and explain that his neck is just sore from the wrestling match we just had. But no one can ever tell when my mind is making fives. Max is rubbing his neck and I remember when that police man on T.V. had his knee on that black man’s neck. I don’t want what happened to George Floyd to happen to Max. My mind is saying that Max is trying to tell me that the police are going to hurt him, that they’re not going to let him breathe. Max’s life matters. I can’t let the officers kill him. I have to hurt the police. Now.
Later, at the hospital, Maria Elena is once again rubbing my back as the nurses are cleaning my eyes of the stuff one of the officers sprayed on me after I had given his partner a knock to the ground punch like I’ve seen Rocky Marciano do to other boxers on Youtube.
Max is at the hospital, too, and I know he’s thinking I need to stop reacting to the way the things I see make me feel. Maria Elena tells me, “Gaff, it was just another glitch in your reality. They’re just glitches. They don’t last.”
I wish they wouldn’t happen at all, but as I let her hug my neck, she promises to take me to Morning Mania Diner. Sometimes even unwell people who do crazy things can have blueberry pancakes.