Starman: 1945: Nuclear Furnace, Epilogue: The Tipping Point

by Dan Swanson

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By the end of July, 1946, within a few weeks of resigning from The Sky’s the Limit Foundation, Doris Knight found herself getting bored. She missed all the activities that went along with being the chairman and president of a nonprofit organization. And she had also just about reached the end of her rope with Ted Knight.

Doris had been pleased when Ted had agreed to give up being Starman, and she had no second thoughts about that now. But the Ted she had fallen in love with was dynamic and active, and had a wide range of interests. He had worked on new research projects or inventions practically every week, and he had been excited about his life, and shared that excitement with her. These days, when he wasn’t obsessively working himself to death in the observatory, he was acting like one of the bored, idle, apathetic, born-to-riches parasites that embodied, in Doris’ mind, some of the worst human qualities. In fact, Ted was becoming in reality like the playboy image he had affected during his early days as Starman.

She had a plan to address both her problems, her need to be actively involved in making a difference in society, and Ted’s apathy. In early August, 1946, she and Ted were talking in the library, and she broached her plan.

“Ted, you know that I really miss the Foundation, right? Well, I’ve been thinking about starting a new nonprofit organization.”

“That’s great, dear,” replied Ted without any hint of interest or emotion.

“I know you were disappointed when I resigned and turned control over to Donna — after all, the Foundation was your idea. But I think you’ll like this new plan!” It was easy to see that Doris was really excited about her plan. “I want to start an organization to find a cure for radiation poisoning!”

This caught Ted’s attention, and he sat up straighter. Some of his apathy traced to his guilt over the many Japanese who were suffering from radiation sickness and poisoning. “That’s a great idea, honey! Tell me more about it!” There was actually some emotion in Ted’s voice. Doris had high hopes that this plan might bring him out of his emotional exile.

“Well, I figure that this new foundation will make money by developing a lot of your ideas for commercial use, and then licensing them. For example, I’ll bet there would be a big market for your radio-controlled garage door opener, the telephone answering tape recorder, and the TV channel switcher.”

Ted looked as excited as she had seen him since shortly after they married. Without waiting for Doris to explain further, he jumped up and ran out of the room. “Honey, I’ll be right back!”

Doris didn’t know whether to be peeved that Ted had run out while she was talking, or pleased because Ted was taking an interest in something. She decided that, for now, pleased was the way to go. But she made a note to talk to Ted later about listening to what she had to say before running off.

Ted was back within ten minutes. Doris was starting to waver toward peeved by the time he ran back in the door. He was carrying a briefcase in one hand and a large artist’s portfolio in the other, and holding a cardboard box stuffed with papers between his arms.

“Here you go! When I worked on all these things, I thought they might have commercial applications, but I’ve always been too busy to follow through. You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I think Jason Heber would be the guy to do the commercial development for you! He’s the best model-maker I’ve ever seen. And there is probably enough stuff here to keep you and him busy for several years! What a great idea!” And he dumped the stuff he was carrying on the library table.

Doris wasn’t wavering between peeved and pleased anymore. She was definitely on the peeved side, sliding quickly through vexed and angry, quickly reaching furious. The objective was to get Ted involved, and keep him involved.

“Ted, I’ve just about had it! You have been wasting your life for almost a year now, and I can’t stand to watch it anymore. You’ve abandoned your astronomy, your research, and your inventing, and replaced them with gambling. I don’t care if you usually win — you don’t need the money. I’m pleased you aren’t off risking your life as Starman, but the Ted Knight I married had interests and enthusiasms. Right now, all you have are addictions!”

Ted was taken aback by this. Doris had alluded to her discontent many times over the past year, but Ted had always managed to ignore her. He didn’t think her points were valid, and he knew for sure he wasn’t addicted to gambling; he could stop any time he wanted to.

But Doris wasn’t through yet. “I’m sick and tired of spending half my nights alone, and you coming home late stinking like smoke, and sleeping until noon, and then running out to play the horses. What kind of life do you think that is, Ted? I got married so I could spend more time with you, and these days I hardly ever see you! And it sure isn’t thrilling to know that I’m playing second fiddle, not even to some other woman, but to horses and gamblers!

“Ted, I know you are still trying to deal with your pain and guilt from the atomic bombing of Japan. But damn it all, you have to get over it. You may not believe it, but it wasn’t your fault!

She could tell by his expression that Ted didn’t believe it, not for a second.

“Ted, we can’t go on this way. If you can’t learn to deal with your emotions on your own, get help! See a psychiatrist. Or, so help me, Ted Knight, you’ll go through the rest of your life without me!”

Doris didn’t wait for Ted to reply. She knew he would only make excuses and try to sweet talk her into forgiving him yet again, and she wasn’t in the mood. She had a life to live, even if Ted had given up on living his own.

***

Ted Knight tried to pretend that this scene had never occurred. He continued to live the same lifestyle that was bothering Doris, obsessively working one on his astronomy research one week and living the life of an idle playboy the next. He didn’t really believe she would leave him, and he didn’t see that he was doing anything wrong, anyway. Doris did set up her new nonprofit, and Ted was right. Jason Heber was a genius at redesigning Ted’s gadgets and inventions to make them commercially successful. They called it the Knight Foundation for Radiation Research. Doris kept trying to get Ted interested in the Knight Foundation, and Ted kept ignoring her efforts.

Finally, Doris gave up and moved out. She didn’t leave a note; she didn’t throw a tantrum. One night, when Ted was out playing poker, Doris packed some things in a trunk and left. Ted got home late, went to bed, and didn’t even notice she was gone until later the following evening. When he went looking for her, the cook gave him a message from her. If Ted would get help, she would come back.

Ted had always been a stubborn man. He had no reason to get help. However, as days went by, it became clearer day by day that Doris was really gone, perhaps for good. And they hadn’t even reached their first anniversary yet.

The thought of being without Doris for the rest of his life finally penetrated through Ted’s denial, and in early December of 1946, Ted made an appointment with Dr. Howard Sooter. He was a well-known psychiatrist in Opal City who had a successful private practice, but Ted knew of him through the Elmwood Sanitarium, where Ted had convalesced a few years earlier before becoming Starman had cured him of his hypochondriac tendencies.

Ted gave the cook a letter for Doris, in which he described his recent soul-searching. He didn’t make any promises he couldn’t keep, but he did promise to try. He asked Doris to have dinner with him, and they actually went on several dates during December, including one to quietly celebrate their wedding anniversary. By Christmas, Doris was almost convinced that Ted was honestly committed to getting well, and she moved back into stately Knight Manor, while Ted voluntarily admitted himself as a patient at the Elmwood Sanitarium.

Although Ted’s life didn’t go back to normal right away, he did start learning to deal with his painful emotions during his stay at the sanitarium. But this was a very difficult time for Ted, a time that he never liked to remember in the years to come. For one thing, he was hardly recognizable. The once-handsome Ted Knight, playboy of Opal City and New York, was now a disheveled mess of a man who smoked obsessively and rarely shaved or showered, wearing nothing but his ever-present pajamas and robe. During the daytime he was lethargic and listless, consumed by depression. But at night, and especially under a full moon, Ted came to life. As if compensating for the sad state he was in during the daytime, Ted Knight would become maniacally alive and full of energy, gripped with scientific theories that would come to his mind. When his friends in the JSA came to visit, they could hardly believe that this was the same man who had served alongside them as the heroic Starman.

It seemed that the situation would never change. Ted would stay at Elmwood for weeks and sometimes months on end, then return to Knight Manor, where Doris would make him clean himself up and try to get him interested in his old pursuits in the daytime, not just at night. But soon enough he would end up having an emotional breakdown, forcing him to return to the sanitarium for an even longer stay. Doris found herself simply waiting for something to happen.

Finally, in June of 1947, the dam was ready to break. It was then that a powerful encounter with Superman at Knight Manor finally allowed Ted to forgive himself and let go of the tremendous weight that he’d been carrying for the last two years. (*) Ted Knight never returned to Elmwood Sanitarium as a resident, instead spending the next year becoming reacquainted with his young wife. At last, Doris had her husband back.

[(*) Editor’s note: See Stars and Sliders: Slide Heil, Chapter 2: Starman’s Darkest Days.]

By the middle of 1948, Ted and Doris were getting along smashingly well, and he had even begun attending meetings of both the Amateur Astronomers Association and the Astronomical Society again. Ted Knight was starting to think that perhaps he was finally cured.

The End

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