Reader’s Guide: Hopper Tilley-Blandin, 33, is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of a best-selling book that is being turned into a movie, with his mother writing the screenplay. He has two younger sisters, Olympia and Silver. Since the declaration of a national emergency over COVID-19, he has been living at his parents’ 10-acre estate near the Delaware Water Gap. In addition to his parents, he is quarantined with Olympia and her boyfriend Huey, his ex-wife Ingrid, and their two sons, Max and Alexis. Silver has decided to remain in Washington DC. Her boyfriend Louis also lives in DC. Hopper has recently become aware of blog postings focusing on Silver [here], Louis [here], and Olympia [here], which are recommended reading for this blog post.
Sometimes, sweet Jesus Lord of all that is holy and mighty in this universe, I just wish mom and dad had installed an outhouse on this godforsaken property so a guy could get some privacy and a place to just think without his ex-wife pounding on the door asking when I’m going to be done. I don’t appreciate my mother’s scheme to have my ex-wife shelter in place with us during the pandemic. “Oh, it will be good for the children to be reassured by having both parents,” my mother said. “And, since Ingrid is a doctor, after all, her presence will make all of us that much safer.” I tried to reason with my mother that we had not abandoned civilization, and that there were very fine medical facilities and doctors throughout the county. That any of the three autos or two SUV’s on the so-called Tilley-Blandin Fortress could easily whisk an injured or sick family member to seek medical attention. Dad’s a bit of a prepper, so we have no shortage of just the kind of supplies families need during national emergencies. Tangentially, I believe there are guns in the attic or basement or buried under some tree. But, in the end, what mission is more critical for a son to accomplish than pleasing his mother, if not placating her. And Ingrid is being coy about why she agreed to this arrangement. She could have kept the boys in Chicago with her and Ken, a living, breathing Ken doll of a man for whom she professes love. She could have let them come here with me and be with their grandparents and Aunt Olympia. And now it’s become so, so much more complicated. Ingrid and I have fallen back on all the old habits, both good and bad. I’m driving her crazy and she’s driving me crazy, according to the well-worn script. The way she intentionally mispronounces “pecan” in my presence sets me off. When I quote Malcolm Gladwell, she rolls her eyes. However, we are holding things better in check now that everyone is watching us. And now, thanks to my sisters’ revelations in that goddamned blog, everyone also knows that Ingrid and I are having sex. Who else is there to have sex with out in the edges of Monroe County? No one. What am I supposed to do? Ingrid is a very attractive woman and we possess some good history. So, it’s just us being us. We do not intend to hurt anyone. Of course, she hasn’t broken up with her beloved Ken doll, but once someone shows him what my sisters have been proclaiming to the world, Ken probably won’t last long. She still Zooms him every day and, Christ, it’s sickening listening to them. Is there anything worse than listening to lovers talking to each other when they think no one else is in the room? Ingrid works so hard to convince Ken that she loves him. I’m embarrassed for her. I don’t care. And what about Charlize? Charlize Theron, introduced to me by my mother the screenwriter, no less. Just as beautiful in person. Intellectual. Voracious. Funny. She does a great Mandela impression. Being with her is like eating your favorite desert without guilt. She was going to take me to South Africa in April. All our plans are on hold. But no one knows about us. Not even my mother. Charlize told me that she hasn’t even told her publicist. No good will come from people knowing about us right now. Sooner or later, Charlize is going to learn about Ingrid. Let me be clear, Ingrid is not in the picture. I don’t care that Michelle Obama introduced us and that the Obamas blessed our marriage. They didn’t have to live with Ingrid. Sure, I still have feelings for Ingrid, she’s a very fine mother and so forth, but she will never be in the picture again. Wait! Yes, that’s right. Take it easy. Don’t force it. OK, when this thing is over, and if we survive it, Ingrid and I will go back to our lives. My life in Hyde Park, her life in Evanston. Talking to each other about our children, the weather, and the multitude of my failings as a husband. Just relax. Everything’s fine. Just let nature go to work! Oh, and let me be clear about one thing. My sisters have slandered me about my dealings with undergraduate students. I never “diddled” them, as they claimed. My failing, and I recognize it as a failing, is that I can be flirtatious, and sometimes allow myself to be placed in compromising situations (i.e., alone with 20-year old women in my office with the door closed). However, I never, ever did or said anything to cause discomfort or even concern on Ingrid’s part. I may have been a self-absorbed bastard in our marriage, but I was not guilty of infidelity. Of course, I now recognize the irony of cheating on a girlfriend with my ex-wife. But what are you gonna do? With death from the coronavirus waiting outside the door to take everyone you love, the rules take a beating. Which is more than Silver is doing, living by herself in DC. She won’t even let her boyfriend move in with her. She spends all her time staring at computer screens, typing words into Slack, and walking her dog. I don’t understand it. She is supposed to be some kind of idiot savant, but I never understood Silver and her desire to keep us at arm’s length. Is she a lesbian filled with self-loathing? Is she President Voldemort’s top-secret consort? Is she an Antifa terrorist? I don’t know. Maybe Olympia knows. Ever since those incidents in Oregon, she has stopped talking to me. She was so angry about the drug bust, complaining that the cops in Portland handled things differently than the cops in New York. As if she got treated unfairly because of a change in geography. She was offended that law enforcement took a dim view of her breaking the law. “Can you imagine what would have happened if you were black?” I asked her. More like shouted at her. “Hypotheticals don’t work on me, Hopper,” was her answer. At least she stopped with the illegal substances. But after getting beaten and raped by Lenny after she broke up with him? She was angry that I flew out to Portland and nearly killed Lenny. “I am not your little girl,” she said. “I don’t need my big brother to protect me.” Ouch. Mom made a call to someone with connections in Portland. No one will ever find out about what happened there. As far as anyone is concerned, Silver Tilley-Blandin went to Oregon, graduated from Reed College, and returned to the East Coast. End of story. Four years of painful memories erased. Silver’s good about compartmentalizing the past. She’s a bit like Holly Golightly. Sometimes you can’t do anything right for your loved ones. She still talks to Olympia. That’s good, I suppose. Was my sin to go out in the world and become successful and do normal things like start a family? Ingrid thinks that Silver is redirecting her anger at our mother at me. It’s because we’re working on the movie. She can’t shut her mother out. The brother is expendable. Jesus, I can’t believe that Ingrid and I talk, too. But, I mean, who else am I supposed to talk to here, other than the person who knows almost all my secrets? Everyone’s got secrets. No one knows all my secrets. The third bank account. That I ate at Chick-fil-A all those years; their chicken salad is amazing! That I still watch Woody Allen movies. By the way, Ingrid’s not some kind of witch. It’s not easy for her being the everything to eight-year and six-year old boys. I’m pretty sure they’re happy that their mom and dad are with them. Confused, I suppose, because we’re not yelling at each other anymore. When this is over and, if we survive, we are going to go back to our homes. Maybe we’ll be better to each other as divorced parents. All I can do is to try and be better than my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. Everything comes easy to them. One taste of success, and then all the money and connections in the world followed. Without a doubt, Olympia is their favorite. She’s supposed to be the forgotten middle child, but I was the focus of their pressure to succeed, and they let Silver do whatever she wanted. Olympia, the most emulated teenager on the western half of Manhattan, the girl every girl wanted to be. I wonder how her legion of fans would feel now if they knew about the nose job she had in Los Angeles the summer she turned 15. Hardly noticeable unless you were a professional watcher. They probably thought she had left town to have an abortion, the fashionable thing for 15-year olds in her crowd. Or the bulimia and the trip to Silver Hills in New Canaan the following summer. Mother’s agent kept the press at bay over that “little slip,” as she called it. I think they told everyone that Olympia was being secretly screen tested by directors in Hollywood. And I don’t know what she’s doing with a black boyfriend. Biracial, actually. If Huey had heard half the racist remarks coming out of Olympia’s mouth when we still lived in Westbeth, he would have run for the hills. Is she in the thrall of Jungle Fever? She does not deserve Huey. He should come to Chicago and teach at the Lab School. Plenty of room in my apartment until he gets himself settled. And I wonder if Silver knows that Olympia’s best friend “Astrid” is a fictional creation? I mean, the best friend exists, but all the exploits on the dark side that Olympia has written in her journal were invented. I should know. Astrid and I dated in Chicago the summer before I met Ingrid. She was interning at the University of Chicago Hospital. We had a great time before she returned to Barnard. Her real name is Sylvia. She is not anyone’s idea of a secret. We’re friends on Facebook. She works as a psychologist with the FBI. OK, great. First download completed. Let’s see if there’s anything residual still lurking. Jesus, I think there’s supposed to be a Black Lives Matter protest today in DC. Silver will probably be there, lurking on the edges with her dog. I read that President Voldemort has usurped all the authority of the DC mayor and has called out the 82nd Airborne to keep the so-called peace. Most of the DC police force resigned in protest. I hope Voldemort knows that he better not call out the DC National Guard. They might mutiny. Since the Fourth of July, protests in DC have resulted in more than two thousand deaths. No one wants to talk about the Fourth of July. The savagery of that day, Jesus. Best way to kill a conversation. I am not sure democracy will survive. Huey’s been making noises about abandoning us and joining the movement. I wonder if he knows that Olympia wants to break up with him? No one’s mentioned it. Maybe it’s too awkward? And the COVID infections among the protestors and troops have spiked after each demonstration. The Times reported yesterday that there is a rising rate of desertion in the Army over the violence against U.S. citizens, and that the Army is doing nothing about tracking down the deserters. “Triage,” their spokesperson called it. We’re on our third acting Secretary of Defense in the last three months. I think the current occupant was a pool boy at Mar-a-Lago. Christ, Olympia got the wrong toilet paper again! I have had this discussion with her. She’s just doing this to spite me. I give up. I have no alternative but to seek my revenge. Will revenge skew the results of my current study of extended families living together during the pandemic? Gotta think this one through. Lola was not too keen on including my family in the study. Editors are all alike. “Everyone in the Tilley-Blandin household knows about the study and knows that they are part of the study,” she told me. “I shouldn’t have to lecture you on how self-awareness will affect people’s behavior.” She’s right, goddammit. Just go for the revenge. I gotta finish proofreading the galleys of my book on the impacts on marriages of the oldest of three children. Lola’s less keen on this book, but she told me, “You have to knock out a second book quickly. Just make sure your methodology is solid, so your reputation remains unsullied. Your third book will be a blockbuster.” Lola is so funny, using the word “unsullied.” Who talks like that anymore? Ingrid will blow a gasket when she learns that she’s in the book, but this whole thing will be over by then, god willing, and we’ll be back to opposite ends of Chicago. The Almighty Eight will dissolve and I will never have to step foot on the Tilley-Blandin Fortress again. I will be able to afford my own fortress next time. And there will be a next time. “Goddammit, Ingrid! I’m almost done. Give me 10 seconds.”