[A/N: This chapter includes memories of some of Sookie’s childhood abuse. It could be upsetting to some readers. I would also suggest Kleenex.]
Chapter 06: Electra is Dying, Part 1
“What are you?” he asked again.
“A copy editor,” she said meekly.
He looked like he was going to shake her again, but she didn’t back away. She’d been shaken, slapped, and hit many times before by her mother, and Michelle Stackhouse had been a lot rougher than Eric. So Sookie just waited for any abuse Eric wanted to dish out.
However, Eric’s eyes changed from angry to haunted, and he made no move to touch her. Instead, he pressed the button on the idle elevator so that the doors would open. And then he stepped out. She stayed completely still and watched him go.
He didn’t look back.
The metal door closed and Sookie felt the elevator jar to life.
Reasoning that it had been called to the lower floor since she’d not pushed the button, she knew that she didn’t have much time to compose herself. Luckily, she’d had a lot of practice detaching herself from her emotions. With Claudine, she had been working on doing the opposite—on engaging with emotions good and bad—but Sookie gave herself permission to go numb for a while, given what had just happened. She quickly used the pretty scarf that she was wearing to dry her eyes as best she could. She hated the fact that she was ruining it with her mascara, but she didn’t want to have black lines down her face. She glanced at her mirrored reflection in the elevator doors.
Considering everything, she looked okay, though her scarf was worse for wear.
Sookie closed her eyes to try to banish Eric from her brain. She would allow herself to think about him later; meanwhile, she needed to get home. When she opened her eyes again, she was looking down, avoiding the mirror.
She hated to see her eyes when she cried, for when they were bright with tears, they changed to a blue that matched her mother’s eyes almost exactly. And seeing that blue often made Sookie recall all of the disappointment and anger and distaste that she’d grown up seeing from Michelle Stackhouse. That disapproving glare had ingrained itself into Sookie so fully that she could give it to herself whenever she did something like she’d done earlier—something that placed the words, “I’m not normal!”, into glaring, flashing lights above her head.
Sookie shook her head and blew upward to stop more tears. “You can cry when you get to your room,” she said to herself. “Until then, hold it together, Sookie.”
Sookie hadn’t needed to use such a pep talk for a while, but it still worked, and when the elevator doors opened and she stepped out of the enclosure as others stepped in, her eyes were looking at the floor in front of her so that people would be less likely to notice her. She walked toward the front entrance as quickly as she could go in her black heels, and she was pleasantly surprised when she saw that her coat was already waiting for her. She glanced up and saw Ben—whom she recognized from the year before.
“I had it handy, Miss,” the congenial man spoke.
“Thanks,” she managed.
“Can I get you a taxi?” he asked.
She shook her head as she put on the same gray coat she’d had the year before. If anything, it was even more threadbare, but new suits for work, her outfit for the party, and her therapy sessions had been her financial priorities.
Just as had happened the year before, Sookie found that she welcomed the biting cold of the New York winter night as she left the NP annual party.
Sookie shivered a little as a particularly strong gust of wind chilled her. She quickly put on her gloves and then the hat that she’d stowed into the coat’s large pocket. Then, she headed toward the subway, which would take her to Brooklyn.
Sookie was grateful to find several open seats when she got onto the green line to Brooklyn; the ride would take around half an hour, and—as was her habit—she quickly used her ability to scan the conversations of those around her. Being able to read lips was a skill that she hated most of the time—both because of how she’d developed it and because of times like tonight when she looked like a crazy person because of it—however, it was also useful.
Sookie was astute when it came to figuring people out; out of necessity, she’d honed all the skill and intuition she had to ascertain which people were most likely to hurt her. So in some ways, she had more insight into the human psyche than Claudine did. But she had very little idea of how to successfully “be” around people. And when she tried—as she had with Bill—something eventually happened that clearly showed her that whatever attempts she had been making to be more “normal” were all for naught.
Sookie sighed. After she made sure that no one on the subway was talking about anything suspicious, she settled back into her seat and wondered what she should do about Eric Northman.
Based on what he’d said, it was likely that he thought she was a spy for either de Castro or—strangely enough—his own father. Or he thought that she was just as crazy as Freyda, his stalker. She sighed, once more wondering if she was “crazy fucked up in the head,” as her brother Jason had liked to describe her.
Her encounter with Eric had left her reeling, and she found herself wanting to know what he’d wanted from her before she told him about what she’d seen from the lips of Victor Madden and Felipe de Castro.
Her mother would tell her that any interest Eric had for her was a con, a carefully crafted hoax to hurt her. After all, Sookie had fallen victim to such tricks before. When Sookie was fifteen, Michelle Stackhouse had paid a boy at school to “show interest” in her. Sookie had been a sophomore in high school, and the boy had been a senior, a classmate of Jason’s named Rene Lenier. Rene was one of Jason’s best friends, which should have clued Sookie into the fact that he was not being sincere when he told her—right in the middle of the school hall where several people could hear him—that he liked her and wanted to take her to the homecoming dance.
Rene was popular and handsome, and he was the first boy at school who ever talked to her—without taunting or bullying her, that is. She had accepted his invitation with a nodded “yes.”
Even her mother had seemed to be excited when Jason told her that Rene had asked Sookie out. For the first and only time, Michelle had taken Sookie shopping, buying her a pretty white dress. Sookie had been amazed by her mother’s seeming approval.
She’d dared to hope.
But—of course—what happened next played out like a bad teenage movie. Rene, of course, didn’t show up to get her, but after Sookie had waited an hour on the porch—which Michelle said was the proper place to wait for a date—Rene had called to say that the coach had kept the boys after the game and that Sookie should meet him at the dance. Michelle had even offered to drive Sookie to the school gym.
But when she’d gotten there, the predictable happened. Rene, of course, was there with his “real” date. And all the kids had perfect ammunition with which to bully Sookie. They took turns ridiculing her for believing that anyone would ever want to date “the freak show.” Rene had taken great pride in showing everyone the fifty bucks that he’d gotten to feign interest in “Crazy Susan.” Finding herself the center of attention for all the wrong reasons, Sookie slipped away as soon as she could.
It wasn’t even that the situation bothered her that much. It was “normal” more than anything else—at least “her normal.” She was used to the people at school using her “otherness” as an excuse to bully her. She was used to the name-calling and the mocking laughter. She was used to suffering at the hands of others—especially her mother and brother.
What she was not used to was overcoming the one thing that she’d not felt before: hope. Feeling that hope disappear into thin air had damaged the normally numb girl.
The school was two miles from Sookie’s house, and it took her half an hour to walk home on that cold, rainy night. Her mother had been waiting for her. Michelle Stackhouse had called the experience a “much needed lesson in humility” for Sookie and then proceeded to list all the reasons why no man would ever want her. With the help of her bottle of cheap wine, Michelle got on quite a roll that night. The crescendo had been when she made a shivering, wet Sookie strip off her pretty, white dress and burn it in the fireplace.
It was not the worst thing that Michelle had ever made Sookie burn.
Sookie remembered how the white dress had taken a long time to disappear into ash, and since it was wet, burning it produced gray smoke which competed with Michelle’s chain-smoking that night. If the white of that dress had symbolized hope and new beginnings for Sookie, the dark gray of the ashes and smoke had clearly signaled that isolation and detachment were safer things for her to feel. Thus—she had made herself forget about the hope and sink back into numbness.
As expected, Rene’s trick had been much gossiped about at school, and no boy there ever showed her any interest again—not even after they’d begun to perceive her as “more normal.”
Is that what Eric wanted? To trick her? To make her the star of some kind of game or hoax? She sighed, knowing that she had a good reason to suspect Eric. There was a precedent—even beyond the Rene incident—which indicated that any interest in her was a lie. After all, her relationship with Bill had been merely an intricate and long-term con.
But something within her wouldn’t let her believe that Eric could be cruel like that. Her intuition had warned her about Rene and even Bill to a certain extent, but her instincts told her something very different about Eric. Even after what had happened in the elevator, she wanted to believe in him.
So why had he talked to her? Why had he kissed her? Why had he seemed to bare a bit of his soul to her?
She shook her head a little. None of that mattered now. She had to be practical; she had to plan, and she needed to plan for the worst. If Eric truly thought she was a spy for de Castro, or even if he just thought that she was a crazy woman trying to start trouble, she’d be fired.
Sookie had some money in her savings account, but without her job at NP, she would soon be out of money and a home. She had about two-month’s rent in reserve, but finding work that would pay for her room in Brooklyn would be difficult. She now had her Master’s Degree in English, but she’d gotten her job at NP because of Dr. Dekker’s pity and connection to Sam.
She wondered if she’d be able to get her foot in the door at any other publishing house, especially if she was fired from NP. Her palms grew cold and clammy as she thought about having to make a good impression at job interviews. Of course, the likelihood of her getting interviews was slim. She could just imagine the letters of “recommendation” from Sam and Pam: “Susanna Stackhouse is a good copy editor—if you like your employees to be odd and to alienate the rest of the staff. Oh—and she might also be a corporate spy. And crazy too.”
Of course, all that could be a moot point. What if Eric had her arrested? Corporate espionage was a crime, and she had no money for an attorney. And even if she told her overworked court-appointed attorney all about her ability to read lips, would she be believed? She could imagine hours and hours of tests, gauging her ability. That thought reminded her of the many hours her mother had spent “testing” her and punishing her when she got even a single word wrong.
Sookie knew enough about the world to understand that being innocent of a crime wouldn’t necessarily keep her out of prison. And—even if she could prove that she wasn’t guilty, that her ability explained what she knew—she would still be arrested. She would still have to spend time in jail until she could prove her innocence by demonstrating her lip-reading ability—since there would be no way for her to afford bail. And there was no way she’d ask Gran for the money.
She closed her eyes and tried not to think of being locked into a cell for days and days with only the corner of the room to look into. She wondered if that would finally be what it took for her to truly go crazy. She figured that Claudine might be able to help her, but—then again—she’d yet to tell Claudine about her lip-reading ability. Amelia didn’t know either.
Sookie stifled her tears once more as she remembered the way Eric had looked at her with such anger in his eyes. He’d looked betrayed and hurt. And she’d put that hated look into his eyes.
She cursed the fact that she had what Bill had labeled a “gift.” She’d wanted to help Eric with it, and maybe she had, but whenever she used her ability, there was always fall-out for her.
The so-called “gift” was a double-edged sword.
As the subway lurched to a stop and the doors opened, Sookie noticed two new passengers boarding the train. Their hands were moving animatedly in a language that she should have been able to speak: sign language.
She watched the movements of their hands. Their language was a mystery to her, but it was beautiful all the same. She wondered what the two could be talking about as their expressions changed with their hands.
As she watched them, she couldn’t help but to wonder what could have been.
From the accounts Sookie had been told by her father and Gran, she had been born “normal” enough. Her mother had gone into labor two days before her due date, and Michelle Stackhouse had been in labor for just over six hours. Sookie had weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces at birth, and—according to what she remembered hearing from her dad before he died—she’d been a “good baby” in that she’d slept through the night almost from the start.
Everything seemed normal according to her father’s point of view, and Sookie had felt true affection from the man before he died. However, she had never felt anything but hatred from her mother.
In mid-December, Sookie had tried to list all of the factors that could have led to her own mother’s hatred of her. In the end, her list had three items.
The mental exercise had been precipitated by one of Sookie’s trips to the MET. She’d been studying the pieces in Gallery 171. Sookie had first visited that gallery in late November; it was a huge room, containing more than 4,000 pieces of Greco-Roman art covering a long time span—from the fifth millennium B.C. to A.D. 313. It was the only gallery that Sookie had encountered so far that had taken her more than one Sunday to peruse. But she had been determined to take her time and to try to understand and get a feel for the art and the history in the gallery.
It took her three Sundays worth of visits to finish seeing everything. On the third, she became captivated by a small piece that was identified as a cameo. It was made of glass, and—according to its description—the object likely depicted Orestes returning home. Sookie loved mythology, and her time at the museum, as well as some books she’d edited, had taught her even more of it.
Orestes was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. According to myth, Agamemnon sacrificed the life of one of his daughters to the gods in return for favorable winds for the Greeks, who were sailing to Troy to fight over the abduction of Helen by Paris. Agamemnon was a true politician though, merely using the abduction as an excuse to conquer the Trojans and appease his ambition. And—eventually—the gods favored his side. But Clytemnestra neither forgot nor forgave the death of her daughter, and when Agamemnon returned home, she killed him. Some versions of the story claimed that Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon not for retribution but because she wanted to be with her lover. In those versions, Orestes had to flee as well—to avoid being murdered too.
That was where Electra came into the story. She was another daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, the one who was not killed. According to some versions of the myth, Electra convinced Orestes to help her kill their mother in order to take revenge for her father.
The psychotherapist Carl Jung had coined the term, “Electra Complex,” to describe the conflict that arose between a mother and a daughter for the husband/father’s affection. Sigmund Freud had agreed with some of Jung’s ideas, but not the labelling of the condition. However—as a nice correspondent to the “Oedipus Complex”—the name stuck.
Having a mother like Michelle Stackhouse, Sookie had read a lot about the “Electra Complex.” Whole books had been written about how mothers and daughters would be locked in competition. Many of the case studies talked about how mothers would undermine their daughters, even subjecting them to public ridicule in some cases.
Of course, understanding this phenomenon intellectually and experiencing it as Sookie had were two very different things. The cameo in the museum reminded Sookie of what she’d read about Electra and Clytemnestra. It also reminded her of Jung’s and Freud’s studies.
But in many ways, the cameo was more powerful to her. The object showed two men and two women. The men were Orestes and his friend Pylades, who had returned with Orestes to help him. The women were likely Electra and Clytemnestra. To Sookie, they seemed to be mid-confrontation, though they were grasping hands. One of the women was bending threateningly toward the other. In Sookie’s mind, that was Clytemnestra, trying to make Electra cower. But the other woman was standing straight and tall.
As someone who had studied literature and who was learning more and more about art every week, Sookie knew that a hundred different people might look at that little cameo and interpret its story in a hundred different ways, but that didn’t matter to her. She snapped a picture of it and then went home to begin her list about why her own mother hated her.
The first item on the list was the “Electra Complex.”
The second item was “Grandma Bonnie.” Bonnie was Michelle’s own mother, and she died when Sookie was about ten. Sookie didn’t know everything about her mother’s upbringing, but she did know that her grandmother always had a scowl on her face for her daughter and that she was the one person that Michelle seemed to shrink from. Abandoned by the man who had gotten her pregnant, Bonnie had been an unwed mother during an era when such a thing wasn’t common and was judged harshly. When Sookie knew her, Bonnie was almost militantly religious, and she obviously counted her own daughter among her sins. Sookie had seen Bonnie slap Michelle once, and seeing it had earned Sookie a hard slap of her own.
Still—Bonnie was well-liked in Bon Temps, and those in town talked of her religious devotion. As an adult, Sookie had come to understand that both Bonnie and her daughter were masters at manipulating others. In public, they portrayed themselves as long-suffering martyrs, and everyone pitied and admired them. In private, they were cruel women, especially when it came to the treatment of their daughters. Intellectually, Sookie understood that their cruelty against someone weaker was a sign of their own weakness. But as a child, Sookie only understood that Bonnie looked at her as if she should be taken into the woods and left there. Perhaps, that was why Michelle had followed suit.
Still—Michelle was greatly loved by Corbett Stackhouse, and she may have been able to overcome her own treatment by Bonnie and to become a good mother if Sookie had stayed the “normal” child she’d been born as.
However, that didn’t happen. There was a third item on Sookie’s list: “My disability.”
A/N: Thanks to all that continue to read and comment!