Like Daughter by Tananarive Due
Series: Women Destroy Science Fiction! (Lightspeed #49)
Published by Skyboat Media on November 18, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 15 hours, 11 minutes
Narrated by Jamye Méri Grant
Buy It Here! •
The summer of 2013 was a rough one for women in science fiction. Every few weeks there was a new reminder that to a certain subset of the field, women are not welcome. There were multiple articles returning to the tired accusation that women aren’t writing “real” SF; disputes about the way the field is represented by vintage cheesecake art on the cover of a professional trade publication; the glib admonition that if women are to succeed, they should be more like Barbie, in her “quiet dignity.” For many readers, it was a very nasty surprise to discover this undercurrent running through the ocean of imaginative fiction we love.
And it just. Kept. Coming.
We got tired. We got angry. And then we came out the other side of exhaustion and anger deeply motivated to do something.
Thus the Women Destroy Science Fiction! special issue of LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE was conceived. We did a Kickstarter campaign in early 2014 to help make the issue into a double issue; we crushed our fundraising goal in about 7 hours and ended up funding at more than 1000% of our original funding goal, with more than 2800 backers. Because of that tremendous success, we unlocked two major stretch goals which resulted in the publication of companion volumes Women Destroy Fantasy! and Women Destroy Horror!, which are being published as issues of LIGHTSPEED’s sister publications, FANTASY and NIGHTMARE.
FROM THE EDITORS — Christie Yant, Rachel Swirsky, Wendy N. Wagner, Robyn Lupo, and Gabrielle de Cuir
Editorial, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction!
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES — edited by Christie Yant
REPRINTS — selected by Rachel Swirsky
Like Daughter by Tananarive Due – narrated by Jamye Méri Grant
The Great Loneliness by Maria Romasco Moore – narrated by Judy Young
Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon) – narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Knapsack Poems: A Goxhat Travel Journal by Eleanor Arnason – narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
The Cost to Be Wise by Maureen F. McHugh (novella) – narrated by Gabrielle de Cuir
Trigger Warning: There is discussion of child molestation in the story and in this review.
Like Daughter gutted me. It was unsettling and sad and just chock full of emotional WTF that I was in a bit of shock while reading. The MC of Like Daughter is Paige. Paige is Denise’s (Neecy) best friend and the story starts when Paige receives a urgent call from Neecy telling her that [Neecy’s] life was falling apart and begs that Paige come and take her daughter as she can’t care for her any longer. Neecy’s husband has left her.
As Paige gets herself together to go visit her friend (and possibly collect her goddaughter) she begins to reminisce about growing up with Neecy. As children they were as close as sisters – spending every moment they could together. As they got older, life snatched away most of Neecy’s childhood while Paige had to stand by and watch as her friend was abused in almost every way. Paige’s very own childhood heartbreak.
“Paige, promise me you’ll look out for Neecy, hear?” Mama used to tell me. I couldn’t have known then what a burden that would be, having to watch over someone. But I took my role seriously. Mama said Neecy needed me, so I was going to be her guardian. Just a tiny little bit, I couldn’t completely be a kid after that.
Mama never said exactly why my new best friend at Mae Jemison Elementary School needed guarding, but she didn’t have to. I had my own eyes. Even when Neecy didn’t say anything, I noticed the bruises on her forearms and calves…
Her mother was neglectful and her father beat her. What was worse – to me – was the sexual abuse that Neecy had to deal with and the fact that her parents didn’t give a damn. And it seems that no one else did, either.
I knew things Mama didn’t know, in fact. When Neecy and I were nine, we already had secrets that made us feel much older; and not in the way that most kids want to feel older, but in the uninvited way that only made us want to sit by ourselves in the playground watching the other children play, since we were no longer quite in touch with our spirit of running and jumping. The biggest secret, the worst, was about Neecy’s Uncle Lonnie, who was twenty-two, and what he had forced Neecy to do with him all summer during the times her parents weren’t home. Neecy finally had to see a doctor because the itching got so bad. She’d been bleeding from itching between her legs, she’d confided to me. This secret filled me with such horror that I later developed a dread of my own period because I associated the blood with Neecy’s itching. Even though the doctor asked Neecy all sorts of questions about how she could have such a condition, which had a name Neecy never uttered out loud, Neecy’s mother never asked at all.
Reading that, my entire body broke out in goosebumps. HOW could anyone let a child go through this and say NOTHING??? I’m speaking of Paige’s parents and her doctor. How could no one STOP this?? I was so damn unsettled I didn’t know what to do. What’s worse is that I know this isn’t just a “make believe” incident that has no basis in reality. It’s something that occurs every.single.day and it breaks my heart.
As we all know by now, children who are neglected and abused do not do well in school. We also know that children (both boys and girls) have a tendency towards promiscuity if they were habitually sexually abused since they become programmed to see their self-worth attached to sex.
What I didn’t understand, as a child, was how Neecy could say she hated her father for hitting her and her mother, but then she’d be so sad during the months when he left, always wondering when he would decide to come home. And how Neecy could be so much smarter than I was—the best reader, speller, and multiplier in the entire fourth grade—and still manage to get so many F’s because she just wouldn’t sit still and do her homework. And the thing that puzzled me most of all was why, as cute as Neecy was, she seemed to be ashamed to show her face to anyone unless she was going to bed with a boy, which was the only time she ever seemed to think she was beautiful. She had to go to the doctor to get abortion pills three times before she graduated from high school.
After learning that Neecy was beaten, neglected and sexually abused, the rest of the story had me giving Paige a bit of the side-eye. Paige is a smart girl with a good education and wonderful parents. She has to know that her friend is broken…she watched the destruction take place. Yet Paige’s monologue is full of comments about all the things Neecy didn’t learn [through experience] and all the bad decisions that Neecy has made. And I’m thinking…FUCK YOU, Paige! You know this girl is doing great not to be a drug addicted prostitute and you’re bitching about bad decisions??? What about the bad decisions your parents made by leaving a little girl in that hell hole??????? What the fuck can YOU say when YOU had the chance to go to college and live your dreams while Neecy’s dreams were over before they even started?
As the reader gets further into Like Daughter, the true horror of the entire situation unfolds – the science. About 7-8 years prior to the beginning of Like Daughter medical science made it completely possible to functionally clone any human who gave permission – “Copycat babies” they’re called. Within a short period of time the practice was outlawed…but it was after Neecy was pregnant.
At the start of Like Daughter Neecy is Denise. She is an adult suffering through crisis. As the story winds into the past, Denise becomes Neecy – Paige’s childhood friend. But Neecy becomes an adult Denise who has a copycat baby. She birthed herself. She planned to fix herself…and thus Denise birthed Neecy. Denise was trying to raise Neecy – the Neecy she always wanted to be. Point by point, piece by piece, moment by moment.
Denise was in the closet. She was six years old again, reborn.
I’d known what to expect the whole time, but I couldn’t have been prepared for how it would feel to see her again. I hadn’t known how the years would melt from my mind like vapors, how it would fill my stomach with stones to end up staring at my childhood’s biggest heartache eye-to-eye.
It wasn’t working – trying to recreate Denise. Denise’s marriage fell apart and she was left watching her daughter – herself – destroyed again. Denise’s husband is mainly a non-entity. He has no real on-page words. No voice or real opinions. Like Daughter is the story of Denise and Paige. Of Paige and Neecy. Of Denise and Neecy. Like Daughter is the story of Denise.
Yes, I realized, it was these tears ripping Denise’s psyche to shreds. This was what Denise could not bear to look at, what was making her physically ill. She was not ready to watch her child, herself, taken apart hurt by hurt. Again.
“Neecy? It’s all right this time,” I heard myself tell her in a breathless whisper. “I promise I’ll watch out for you. Just like I said. It’s all right now, Neecy. Okay? I promise.”
I clasped my best friend’s hand, rubbing her small knuckles back and forth beneath my chin like a salve. With my hand squeezing her thumb, I could feel the lively, pulsing throbbing of Neecy’s other heart.