Major Tom, the radioactive man


The fantastic story below came with this attached letter.


I think you are a cock-sucking bastard.  Your endlessly engaging bravado and magnetic self-centeredness just doesn’t seem to work as a female narrative, and frankly, I think that’s unfair.  While we have mostly social construct to blame for this phenomenon (and I am obviously excluding lesbian Romeos from the argument altogether), I would also like to blame you.  Not because I can make a logical connection, but because this is the internet, and that is what the internet is for.



I fell for Tom when he fell off a building.

Like many a doomed pair, we met on the internet. Fate would find me a lonely graduate student posting “looking for someone who can beat me at scrabble and wouldn’t mind making out with me afterwards” on some now-defunct social networking site at roughly the same cosmic moment that Tom’s therapist was telling him he should try meeting women on the computer.  After a couple dates he had failed to win at scrabble but had proved himself far more clever and interesting than any of the other lexicographically lacking lothararios my internet plea had attracted.  Tom had great curly hair and wild eyes. He was, without question, a genius and also played beautiful piano. We agreed to a third date.

Which is where the building comes in. Tom spent an evening drinking alone at a small San Diego dive called the Live Wire, waiting for his songs to come on the jukebox.  After David Bowie had laid his last ashes to ashes, Tom decided to sleep off his inability to operate a vehicle someplace where he wouldn’t be bothered, and the roof of the Live Wire seemed like a perfectly reasonable spot.  Now Tom will claim that he is a great climber, and whether that is true, I’ll never know.  But it was verified later that there was, in fact, an actual live wire at the lip of the roof of the Live Wire.  Tom woke up to an angry driver threatening to call the cops if he didn’t get out of his fucking parking spot. I ended up received the following missive from an unfamiliar email a day before our scheduled date:

hi caroline,

i’m tom’s brother. tom wanted me to let you know that he probably will not be able to meet you tomorrow. He has had an accident and is in the hospital and we are not sure when he will be released. he’s doing ok though and he’ll try contacting you once he’s out.

After the hospital spent a week making sure his neck wasn’t broken, I brought some tea and sympathy, and scrabble, over to Tom’s apartment and was enlightened to the preceding story of adventure and woe.  I was thrilled by the impossible irony and the ridiculous whimsy of it all.  So when I had two blanks and an assured bingo, I skipped my turn, slipped my prize tiles back in the bag as if they were foul Cs or a late-draw Q.  Tom emerged victorious and I took him (gently) to bed.

Perhaps I saw the incident at the Live Wire as a promise of the never-dull in a relationship, and to be fair, the promise was soundly kept.

There was the time when the Major returned a week early from a conference in Denver claiming to be really disturbed by all the robots masquerading as people on the street.  When I tried to join him in the metaphor, he turned to me and said with a look of absolute and sincere fear, “no, Caroline, Robots. Real Robots.  Like out of metal, but not metal because they’re more advanced than that.”

There were the months where we could only spend three out of every 24 hours together because he had signed a paper promising to limit himself thus.  In addition, he had legally agreed to: flush five times, not be in a room with any human under three, and without fail, to always, always wear a condom.  The doctors were trying to kill the madness with a pill that came in a lead vial.  For the three months that Atomic Tom was radioactive, we both waited excitedly for him to develop superpowers, and tried to hide our disappointment when he didn’t.

After swallowing plutonium, Tom’s opium addiction got worse, and during an especially rocky spell, I stopped talking to him altogether.  True to character, Tom made another bold step and got clean, going to AA and leaving sobriety tokens under the door of my on-campus studio.  When we got back together it felt like everything might just balance out in all the right ways.  Still a madman, but likely to live past 30.

And when you start to get comfortable is about the time when you walk into the bathroom to find your sober lover with your supply of painkillers in his hand.  Which is just about when you ask how long he’s been back on the sauce.

It turns out that Tom had never kicked any habit, but had made a show of going to meetings and saying he was clean so he could get the tokens, and in turn, win me back. In honor of my Italian heritage, I scooped the tokens off my bedside table and hurled them across the room.  In honor of his Canadian/British lineage, Tom stood patiently by, let off a long sigh and shrugged, “I was always too smart for you anyway. And you were always too pretty for me.”  As if it somehow remotely countered the first point, I jumped back with, “I threw that game of scrabble, you bastard.”  And then, to indisputably confirm his original stance as Major Tom, the cleverer by far, “Well, then. That would make us both liars.”  And with that, he walked out into the balmy southern California night, the last of my vicodin still firmly in his palm.

5 Responses to “Major Tom, the radioactive man”

  1. 1 C

    Good. This is one of my favorites.

  2. 2 Stephanie

    Finally! It’s good to hear from a woman who isn’t just lamely reflecting back KD’s penchant for doomed–though inevitably beautiful–female specimens.

  3. 3 Caroline

    While I am thrilled to have made the cut with Mr.Dupree and his gang, I’d like to take a moment to disown the typo in the third paragraph. Such disagreement was not original to my piece. Sabotage? Too much Old Crow?

  4. 4 Shane

    I forgot I was reading fiction after the third sentence. Oscillating between reality and understanding there is nothing but regret that this story isn’t longer now that I sit here wanting to read it all again.

  5. This is fabuIous! Like Shane, I sit here wanting to read it again.

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