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Delusions of Grandeur

From: The Missouri Review
Volume 36, Number 1, 2013
pp. 24-40 | 10.1353/mis.2013.0009

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But who was more tragic, or who was more damned— the man who knew [about his brain disorder], or the man who did not?

—Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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Rainbow Handshake by Adam J. Thaxton

David is a certified helicopter pilot, a professional chef, tried to serve in the U.S. Army but was discharged prior to enlisting because he bit a hole in the side of a sergeant’s cheek, has a medical degree, is a ninja, is the mathematical e-mail assistant to a physicist at Harvard, and, to keep the hundreds of girls who are after him at bay, started sleeping on the couch in my son’s apartment. So he says.

The single fact I know for certain is that David was born in 1982—I’ve seen his birth certificate. His delusions, according to psychologists, are considered “nonbizarre.” Different from “bizarre” delusions, nonbizarre delusions are those that are within the realm of possibility. Certainly these claims could be true; however, with a little fact checking, I’m sure I could disprove each of them. He’s held only a handful of jobs since I met him, most of them lasting a couple of weeks, the last one ending when, as David says, “Nick pissed me off, so I had to stab him.” (No arrest?) A bizarre delusion, one psychologist told me, would be if David believed he was housing multiple generations of rats in his stomach.

David has been my son’s best friend and occasional roommate for the past four years, and I expect they’ll be friends for a good long while, even though Adam has always, up until he met David, had trouble keeping friends. He’s always wanted friends, yearned for them, but he is unable to hold age-appropriate conversations. He could not talk with other children or teenagers or adults about anything other than dinosaurs or worlds he’s created. When he was three or four, this was not a glaring problem, but as he approached his teen years and adulthood, it kept him friendless.

When Adam entered kindergarten, his teacher called me regularly to report Adam drawing dinosaurs in the dirt during recess instead of playing with the other children, bouncing in his desk when he was supposed to be sitting still, reading encyclopedias when he was supposed to be working on the next assignment. Adam scored in the 99th percentile in all the standardized tests they put on his desk, but he could not complete his math homework. He was able, by the time he entered kindergarten, to outline the entire DNA structure of a universe he’d created in stories and drawings but could not, no matter the consequence, put on his pajamas.

Adam never liked to be left alone in the dark. His dinosaur friends might be attacked by snakes or worms. “He cries to get your attention,” my mother would say. He cried every night. My mother told me that he would, and should, cry himself to sleep. “He’s three years old,” she’d say. “If you give him too much attention, he’ll never grow up.”

She was right. He has never grown up. But I do not think it is because I comforted him too much as a child or gave him too much attention. We lived with my mother for the first three years of his life, until I got a job at a bank and could afford to rent an apartment. By then, Adam was lost in his world of dinosaurs. He knew, and could read and recite, the names of more than a dozen of them. He drew dinosaurs, pretended to be dinosaurs, and by the time he entered kindergarten, the only thing he wanted to talk about was dinosaurs and the imaginary worlds he lived in with them.

For Adam’s sixth birthday party, he wanted to invite his entire kindergarten class. My intuition told me not to have it at my apartment or at my mother’s house, where Adam would surely feel trapped with all those children. At a city park, my mother, his kindergarten...

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