My mother never held me after my fourth birthday. She had contracted TB. She was so afraid of giving it to us–she used her own cutlery. She left for months at time, “taking the cure” in Austria, so we hardly saw her. When I was twelve, she left for “cure” in the south of France and never came home.
My father had a PhD but could only get a job teaching science in a boy’s high school. He was Polish. Both my mother and father’s parents lost their property in the uprising for Poland’s independence. Russian Poland would not allow Polish patriotism. No universities would hire him.
He put all of his energy into his five children. I was the youngest but understood the most. I studied relentlessly, learning through my own education until the universities allowed women. When I was finally admitted, I did not have much money. I often fainted from hunger.
When I met Pierre at the Sorbonne, he was a man who could match my own mind. He knew what it was like to think like white heat and yearn for the secrets of science. We realized a dream together and won the Nobel Prize for discovering polonium, which I named after my country of Poland.
And then it all ended. Was he looking when he stepped out into the road? Probably not. He was always deep in thought. I became a widow with two small daughters. Pierre’s father raised them while I worked endless hours in the lab. I forbid his name be uttered. I could not bear that I lost the love of my life.
I did accomplish what Pierre and I wanted. From the exhaustive manual work of distilling the contents of a ton of pitchblende to isolate one ounce of pure radium, I was awarded another Nobel Prize. I was the first person to win in a new realm of science, which I had created: Nuclear Physics.
I used to keep a vial of radium by my bedside. I had always hoped that radium would have health benefits, but even I could not conceive of the destruction of radioactivity. I was its discoverer and my discovery destroyed me in the end. My papers from the 1890s are still too radioactive to handle. But with proper protection, radiation has saved lives. My work lives on and that is what matters.