Ulysses: The Stabbing of Hopper

Table of Contents here.

June 16, 2022 — Hopper stopped at the corner of West 12th Street and Seventh Avenue, across from the site of the old St. Vincent’s Hospital. All three of the Tilley-Blandin children were born at St. Vincent’s at a time when the hospital was recognized as Ground Zero in New York City’s AIDS crisis. Hopper and his sisters had each sustained at least one injury requiring a trek to St. Vincent’s emergency room. The storied hospital failed years later in the hands of the Catholics and closed, only to be replaced by another healthcare system and rebranded in the most anodyne fashion.  

Hopper did not consider himself nostalgic, he did not dwell on failure, and he did not resent progress, but he respected karma. Karma demanded that he pause on his walk and commemorate this sacred place of birth, healing, and dying.

He spotted a familiar large Black man walking across Seventh Avenue. Nearly 20 years after first meeting him, Hopper could still pick out Dr. Dixon in a crowd of pedestrians. He stood six-and-a-half feet tall and must have weighed at least 300 pounds. Dr. Dixon was the emergency room doctor at St. Vincent’s who treated Hopper when he was 16 years old. Hopper had been stabbed by Silver.

What Hopper remembered from the attack was that he and Silver were alone in their apartment. Hopper was making pasta and salad for their dinner. Most evenings Hopper and Silver ate dinner by themselves while their parents were out doing whatever famous people in New York did to promote themselves and their work to the industrial-cultural-media complex. Olympia was out honing the craft of coming into her own, being fabulous around cameras, and, at the age of 14, letting men buy her expensive dinners. Silver walked into the kitchen; Hopper could tell that she was seething. “Olympia wants to paint our bedroom teal, but I want to paint it cornflower blue,” she said.

“Why don’t you let Olympia win for once?” Hopper asked. “Cornflower is kind of a color for nurseries, anyway.” He turned away from Silver to wash the blueberries that would attend the arugula and walnuts in the salad. He had already made a vinaigrette he learned from a Julia Child cookbook that complemented both the bitterness of the greens and the sweetness of the berries.

“Never, tyrant!” Silver shouted as she thrust the blade of a paring knife into his back, just below the right scapula.

Hopper turned around, the knife still stuck in his back, and shouted, “Jesus, Silver! You could have just played rock, paper, scissors for it.”

Silver shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know what to expect from a…12-year-old,” he spat out, then added, “girl.”

Forty-five minutes later, after he had taken himself by cab to St. Vincent’s on a slow night, Dr. Dixon told him that he would be fine and could be discharged as soon as he finished stitching the wound and his parents arrived to sign the release forms. Apparently, there had been a question of whether Hopper wanted to file criminal charges against Silver for assault and attempted murder. Two hours later his father, possibly drunk, walked into the emergency room and asked Hopper, “What’s this ruckus that Silver told me you got yourself involved in?”

Hopper declined to press charges against his sister, but as a form of punishment for her role in “the Stabbing of Hopper,” as it became known in family lore, Olympia was allowed to paint the room teal, marking perhaps the only defeat within the confines of the family Silver had ever suffered. Every year on the anniversary of the stabbing, Olympia sent a note card to Hopper with this message: “Never send a 12-year-old on a mission designed for a 14-year-old.” Silver never apologized for stabbing her brother.

Dr. Dixon stopped to talk to man, who Hopper recognized the man as Stephen, who he had passed on the street only minutes earlier. Hopper searched his memory for the last time he had talked to Stephen. It had been at the emergency room the night that Silver had stabbed him, when he was waiting for one of his parents to arrive and advise him on sending his sister to prison. Stephen was in the ER getting treated for possible rabies after being scratched by a feral cat he tried to pet while waiting outside a laundromat for his clothes to dry inside.

As with most of their conversations, they had talked not about art or poetry, but about living in Westbeth. Stephen was on the waiting list for Westbeth. He seemed obsessed with finding an apartment in the complex with Hopper’s parents. Though he often attended their parties, Stephen was openly resentful of Hopper’s parents, who had not only found their audiences and become critics’ darlings but were also financially successful.

“They don’t need the subsidy anymore and should not be allowed to live there,” Stephen said to Hopper. “It’s not fair.”

The next day, when Hopper asked his mother how much money she made, she told him, “We are artist rich, but not real estate rich. We still drive to New Jersey to shop at Costco.” Years later, he asked the question again after she began to write screenplays and came into demand as a script doctor for TV and the movies. She replied, “We are writer rich, but not producer rich. We still fly commercial.”

Dr. Dixon and Stephen embraced, shook hands, and parted ways. Hopper wondered if Stephen would get a shot at his parents’ newly vacant apartment.

Hopper had not been surprised when his parents announced during the worst of the pandemic that they were getting divorced, but he was surprised when his mother moved to Los Angeles with Olympia and sold the Tilley-Blandin Fortress in the Poconos to Matt Damon before she filed for the divorce. She had purchased the property in an estate sale back when her husband was still an unknown painter, and the title was in her name only. She would be handing his father a large sum of cash rather than a percentage of non-fungible property. She replied, “I am much wealthier than your father and Lord knows if he will remain popular after he’s untethered from me. Call it my last act of love in our marriage.”

After Hopper’s mother announced her intention to divorce, his father lived alone in the Westbeth apartment but spent most of his time at his studio in Tribeca. During the worst of the pandemic, wealthy patrons had been commissioning him to paint portraits of them eating cereal with the actor Ryan Reynolds undisclosed, seven-figure sums. Shortly after his return to the city, he changed direction and started painting portraits of wealthy people partaking in the Dolly Parton Challenge for $2 million. He had commissions lined up from several hedge fund managers, Dolly Parton herself, Ryan Secrest, and Reese Witherspoon.

Hopper’s father died in his studio while experimenting (inspired, according to his assistant Gerty, by “that Little Nas X stunt”) by painting with his own blood. In what was officially ruled an accident (“just him being stupid,” according to Hopper’s mother), he slit his left wrist to increase blood flow and lost track of time. He fell unconscious and bled to death on the floor of his studio. The autopsy indicated that his blood-alcohol level was three times the New York State legal limit for driving.

He was found hours later by Gerty, who was a middle-school classmate of Silver’s, and who had been sleeping with their father.

Hopper’s mother directed the obituary writer at the New York Times to call Hopper. “She told me that you are a dutiful son,” the writer said. They wanted Hopper to confirm details of his father’s life and, “possibly to add some color.” Hopper managed to insert an easter egg into the official, permanent record of his father’s life: that he listened to Hawaiian music while he painted, even though he had never visited Hawaii or, to Hopper’s knowledge, ever listened to Hawaiian music. Anyone who read the obituary and recognized the lie would appreciate the dark humor. Silver and Olympia had congratulated him on pounding that nail into their father’s coffin. At the funeral, his mother had simply shaken her head, though he detected the faintest outline of a smile underneath her lace veil. She had made the burial arrangements.

When Hopper’s father died, his estate was worth $40.5 million. About A quarter of that total came from sale of the Tilley-Blandin Fortress. Hopper found himself $500,000 richer. Olympia received $2 million. Silver received $5 million. As executor of the estate, Hopper was responsible for the disbursement of the rest. His father’s name would be carved in stone three times and placed on brass plaques seven times. He had no inventory of finished paintings. All his father’s work was in the hands of private collectors.

Continue to Chapter 4 here.

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