I wrote this story a while back, and posted it on a couple of forums. But I often find I need to link to it (it was written to make a point!) so I’m reposting it here. Hoping it might generate some discussion 🙂
The Two Lizzies
Lizzie was a single mum, with a one-year daughter, Beth. Lizzie wanted to get back to her job in neuroscience – she’d left tantalizing data unanalyzed – but she loved her daughter, and wanted to give her a good start in life.
Lizzie heard about an experimental technique, whereby she could be in two places at once. Perfect! She thought. I can stay at home with Beth AND go back to work.
Lizzie made an appointment for the procedure. She was told that she would undergo a whole body scan under anaesthetic, and every atom in her body would be identified and located. Then a random half would be selected and displaced one meter to her left, making two sparse copies of Lizzie. Fresh atoms, identical to those missing from each copy would then be added, resulting in two identical Lizzies where there had once been one.
On the day of the procedure, Lizzie left Beth with a child-minder, and drove to the hospital, taking a spare set of clothes. Soon she was under full anaesthetic. When she awoke she was aware of someone in the next bed. She turned – and saw her own face, as in a mirror, looking back at her. The face smiled back. Was it a mirror? “You”, she said, and the face in the mirror mouthed back, “You”. Lizzie laughed – it must be a trick. The face in the mirror laughed too. But it wasn’t a mirror – or at least, if it was, there was something very strange about the room acoustics. Lizzie sat up, and Lizzie in the mirror – if it was a mirror – sat up too. It wasn’t a mirror. That was now clear. The two Lizzies swung their legs over the side of the bed, in almost, but not perfect, unison. They stared at each other. “You are Lizzie.” They spoke simultaneously, and laughed, the same laugh.
“OK”, they said, in unison, “time to fetch Beth”. Two sets of clothes were hanging on the back of two chairs. They got dressed. “We’d better decide what to call each other” they said together, again, and laughed. “I’ll be BrownLizzie” said the Lizzie who was nearest the chair with a brown jacket draped over the back. “I’ll be BlackLizzie” said Lizzie, simultaneously, as she picked up a black jacket. Both Lizzies felt in their jacket pockets for the car keys. BlackLizzie’s pocket jingled. “Where are my keys” said Brown Lizzie. “I’ve got them” said BlackLizzie.
The two women walked out to the hospital car park. BlackLizzie got in to the driver’s seat, and BrownLizzie sat beside her. They drove off.
BrownLizzie felt strange, being driven by someone else in her own car. But wait – it wasn’t someone else – she was driving the car – BlackLizzie was Lizzie, wasn’t she? But BlackLizzie was driving too fast. “You’re over the speed limit”, said BrownLizzie. “No I’m not” said Black Lizzie. Then BlackLizzie laughed. If BrownLizzie thought she was going too fast then – wasn’t that her own opinion? Or the opinion she would have had if she’d been sitting where BrownLizzie was now? Well, of course – she was sitting where BrownLizzie was! They were both Lizzie!
BlackLizzie slowed down. This was cool! She’d be sharing her life with someone who would always think as she did – and if they differed, as now, then it would only be because she had a different point of view.
BrownLizzie was thinking similar thoughts. Of course, if she’d been driving she’d have been driving too fast. Now she’d have BlackLizzie to tell her, if it happened again. How useful to have a different point of view.
Hang on a minute, thought BlackLizzie and BrownLizzie, together. If we are the same, person, how can we have different points of view?
But no time to think about that now, it was time to pick up Beth.
Beth was astonished when two Mums showed up at the childminder’s. BrownLizzie got to the door first, and Beth hugged her knees. BlackLizzie felt a pang for a moment, then told herself that of course Beth’s hug was for both of them. BrownLizzie picked Beth up and carried her to the car, and strapped her into the car seat. Then the two Lizzies collided as they both tried to get into the driver’s seat. “This is more difficult than it looks!” they both said, again simultaneously. BrownLizzie went round to the passenger door and got in, and BlackLizzie drove home, both uncertain as to how to behave with someone whose thoughts and actions were your very own.
That evening, they tossed a coin to decide who would go to work and who would stay with Beth. There was no other way of deciding, and after all, the reason for doing this was because they both wanted to do both. “We can’t do half each” they said, simultaneously (having conversations was proving to be awkward), and then stopped. Both knew what the other was going to say. One of them would have to go back to work, fulltime, and the other would have to stay at home, full time. Otherwise, they’d spend most of their lives trying to keep the other updated as to what had been going on, at work, or at home.
So they tossed a coin. They agreed that if it was heads, BlackLizzie would go to work and if it was tails, BrownLizzie would go. It was heads. So next day, BlackLizzie got ready to go back to work, and BrownLizzie prepared to spend the next few years at home with Beth.
When BlackLizzie got home, BrownLizzie was excited. “Beth said ‘sheep’!” It was Beth’s third whole word. Well, there would be many more to come, and BlackLizzie would miss most of them, but BrownLizzie would be there, and would tell her everything she wanted to know. She’d know what BlackLizzie would want to know, wouldn’t she? They were both Lizzie. And BlackLizzie had had rewarding day, too, digging out her old data, running some analyses, addressing questions that had been burning for over a year. She started to tell BrownLizzie about them. BrownLizzie was full of eager questions.
This was great. Conversation was flowing more normally between the two now. Both women were starting to get used to seeing the other woman, so uncannily like herself. And they understood each other so well. BrownLizzie asked all the right questions, and BlackLizzie hardly had to complete her sentences for BrownLizzie to understand. And BrownLizzie told her all about her day with Beth, how they’d gone to the petting zoo, and how Beth had said “sheep” twice (well, “shee”, really), but only at the sheep, not the cows, so she really must have known what the word meant.
And for many months the two women were at least outwardly content. BlackLizzie came home each day to hear all about Beth’s growing vocabulary, and BrownLizzie was avid for news of BlackLizzie’s latest ideas and findings. It was, in many ways, like a perfect marriage.
But like all perfect marriages, cracks, hairline at first, started to appear. BlackLizzie would often work late. With the perfect childminder at home, there was no reason to stop when things were getting interesting. And in any case, much as she loved Beth, Beth could tell them apart now, and she was noticeably warmer and more confident with BrownLizzie than she was with BlackLizzie. BrownLizzie did her best to keep BlackLizzie up to date with every little detail of Beth’s day, but, frankly, sometimes BlackLizzie didn’t really want to know. New words, maybe, but every poo in the pot?
And BrownLizzie was struggling too. She wasn’t really keeping up with BlackLizzie’s ideas on what to do with the data, and sometimes she thought BlackLizzie was, well, a bit obsessive. I mean, wasn’t it time she got a life?
The day inevitably dawned when they had a big row. BlackLizzie had been late home again, and BrownLizzie had had enough. “You’re worse than a husband!” sobbed BrownLizzie. BlackLizzie was indignant. “Of course I’m not” she snapped. “I’m you!”. “Well, you used to be” sniffed BrownLizzie, “but I don’t know who you are now. I spend the whole day listening to one-syllable words from Beth, and then you expect me to listen to five syllable words from you. I don’t even know what half of them mean any more. All I want is for someone to bring me a gin and tonic and let me get a bit of peace in front of the telly. And if you were in my place you’d understand that”. “Well, if that’s what you want, you’d be better off with a husband”, said BlackLizzie scornfully. “I don’t even know who you are any more. But I certainly wouldn’t be moping around watching telly in the evening if I were in your place. I’d be trying to keep up with the journals at least.”
There was a stunned silence, as each Lizzie’s words rang in her own ears.
Each reflected on the woman she had become, the woman she might have been, and the woman she thought she’d never be.