A/N: Once more, I want to warn you that Sookie is recalling her abuse in this chapter. It may be disturbing to some readers.
Though Sookie couldn’t remember when it happened exactly, sometime around her fourth birthday, something changed to disturb the “normal” existence her family enjoyed. Sookie began to suffer from bad ear infections. In fact, Sookie’s first memory was of sitting in a doctor’s office in pain.
Having a chronically sick child had caused several immediate changes to the Stackhouse household. First, though Corbett had some medical insurance, it didn’t cover all of Sookie’s doctors’ visits and medicines, so he had to take on a second job. After he began working three nights a week—in addition to the fulltime job he already had—Michelle became even more resentful of her daughter.
And then babysitters could no longer be found to care for the sick girl who would not stop crying, so Michelle had had to quit her own part-time job at the clothing shop owned by her mother. As might have been expected, this caused additional conflict between Bonnie and her daughter. And it heightened Michelle’s disdain for Sookie, especially when Corbett had to begin working weekend shifts at a nearby factory to make-up for Michelle’s lost income.
Michelle had always wanted an affluent life. She had wanted for Corbett to go to night classes, to earn his college degree, and to get a better-paying job. But—according to her—Sookie’s issues prevented that.
Although Corbett continued to insist that Sookie be taken in for what Michelle later called “useless, expensive tests,” Sookie’s problem intensified, as did her pain from it.
However, Michelle quickly lost all tolerance for her crying child, and began to slap Sookie hard—right over her ears—if she complained or cried or made any noise whatsoever. Sookie was often shut into her room alone during the day when her father wasn’t at home.
At four years old, Sookie didn’t understand why she was in so much pain or why her ears seemed to buzz with static so much of the time. But she soon came to understand that crying would make her mother upset and that any complaints to her father would make Michelle Stackhouse even angrier the next day when he was at work again.
Sookie also quickly learned that—on the two evenings a week that her daddy was home—she was to keep quiet. And if he asked her, she was to lie and say that her ears didn’t hurt. If Corbett spent time with Sookie on his free evenings, Michelle would slap the side of her head the next day. Sookie, to protect herself, learned to distance herself from the only one in the household who showed her love.
While Michelle had no patience or tolerance for Sookie, she had all the patience in the world for the light of her life, Jason. And Jason followed his mother’s lead, treating Sookie like a pariah.
Naturally intuitive and sensitive to those around her, Sookie had learned that being quiet—disappearing even—was the only way to avoid her mother’s harsh words and slaps. So by the time she was five years old, Sookie had simply learned to live with the pain in her ears as if it were a normal thing. For all she knew, it was “growing pains” just as her mother had said it was when Sookie had first complained about her ears.
Soon enough, Michelle stopped taking Sookie to specialists in Shreveport and began to take her to a local doctor, who eventually said that there was nothing that could be done for Sookie. She was diagnosed as having a congenital hearing problem, which would get progressively worse, until she could no longer hear at all.
The doctor was wrong. Sookie had always heard something.
Buzzing and drumming. Whirring and wind. Pressure and percussion.
It was just that the sound in her own ears slowly but surely replaced all other sounds from the outside world. But she became just as accustomed to the new noises in her life as she had to the physical pain that accompanied them.
Of course, Bonnie liked to berate Michelle for having a handicapped child. Bonnie explained the affliction to Michelle as a sign that the child was not “God-loved.” For her part, Michelle refused to accept the idea of having a deaf child. Words like “defective,” “abnormal,” “freak,” and “retard”—the last coming mostly from her brother’s lips—were among the most common that Sookie heard before she lost the ability to hear the words of others. Of course, all of these words were spoken to Sookie when Corbett was not at home, and, as was expected, when he was at home, Michelle and Jason both acted differently—“normally.”
To Corbett, Sookie had been the one who had seemed anti-social and withdrawn, going to bed early or sitting in a corner and reading when he was home. He likely accepted her behavior as a byproduct of her disease. But he still tried to show her love, sometimes even insisting that she spend time with the family on the evenings he was home. He would sit next to her on the couch and try to find out about her days. He would bring her toys. But every kind word from him was countered by fifty harsh ones from Michelle the next day. All toys were only allowed out when Corbett was home, and—even then—Sookie was to sit quietly in a corner and “look like she was enjoying them.”
In truth, Sookie became nervous about receiving anything from her father—including love—and she lost the ability to truly play with any of the objects he brought to her.
So—eventually—Corbett, weary from overwork and likely frustrated that nothing he did seemed to spur his daughter into returning his affection, stopped trying so hard to give it.
Michelle had won; Electra was dying—withering away to the point of invisibility.
As a child, of course, Sookie did not understand psychology or the implications of all the words that her mother and brother used to describe her. And she didn’t have the ability to question their accuracy or her mother’s treatment of her. She just felt their efficacy. As an adult, Sookie knew the being deaf didn’t make a person any less intelligent or any less able to adapt and function in the world. And it certainly didn’t make him or her “mentally disabled.”
However, all she knew about herself was what she had been taught. The biggest lesson was learned from her mother. The only way to avoid increased suffering was to appear as if she was perfectly “normal.” And any outward sign that she could not hear was met with “punishment.”
Luckily, Sookie had been developing quickly before her first ear infection. She had already been speaking quite well, and she was even reading some elementary-level books on her own. When she really pushed her memories, she could vaguely recall her daddy reading to her in the early days of her sickness—while he still had hope that the hearing problems could be fixed.
Given the fact that the hearing loss started slowly and it took almost four years for Sookie to become completely deaf, she was able to adapt so that she was almost “normal.”
In fact, it was difficult for anyone to “hear” a problem based on Sookie’s speech. She sounded like anyone else where she was from. And Sookie adapted in other ways too. She began watching people—watching their lips and their faces to tell what they were saying when she couldn’t hear them.
As soon as the town had learned that the little Stackhouse girl was going deaf, the pity had started. Sookie hated it, but Michelle thrived on it. In public, Michelle would lament about the difficulties of raising a “handicapped” child. In public, Michelle didn’t show her disdain for Sookie’s “handicap.”
However, in private things were different. While Sookie still retained partial hearing, she was yelled at because Michelle wanted to make sure that Sookie could hear it. And the little girl was also slapped or spanked or shaken almost daily. But no one ever saw the evidence of it; Michelle was too careful for that. The only people who ever witnessed the abuse were Bonnie and Jason. Bonnie would look on approvingly, and Jason was told that Sookie deserved it for being so abnormal.
Sookie had kept silent about the physical and mental abuse. It was normal to her, after all. And she didn’t want to be punished even more. Thus, Sookie had stayed in the shadows as much as she could, trying to appear like any other child—at least in her language skills.
In fact, it was a while before Sookie’s school teachers or her father figured out that she was completely deaf. Sookie remembered hearing her last “outside” noise, the scrape of a chair on the floor, when she was around ten years old. But it was another year before anyone other than Michelle knew that Sookie heard nothing from the world anymore.
When they did figure it out, her teachers suggested that Sookie learn sign language. Michelle had put her foot down, citing the fact that Sookie was obviously perfectly capable of functioning without a language that would just make her seem more abnormal. Plus, no one else in town knew how to sign.
Corbett tried to convince Michelle that they could learn sign language with Sookie, but Michelle had cried and complained that they already had so little time to spend together as it was. But when Corbett suggested that he cut back on work now that they no longer needed to take Sookie to doctors, Michelle lamented that she still couldn’t go to work because of having to help Sookie so much with her schoolwork to make up for her handicap. In truth, Michelle just liked having the extra money. And she didn’t like having to work for it herself.
Thus, instead of learning to sign, Sookie was entirely dependent upon reading lips. To do that, of course, she had to look at people closely. And as her skill to read lips increased, so too did her skill to read people’s expressions, at least the ones they wore around their mouths.
“Different” was not a synonym for “unique” in the small town of Bon Temps, especially since Michelle Stackhouse was always going on about Sookie being “abnormal” or “handicapped” to all her friends, who—in turn—didn’t want their own kids to play with the “odd” girl.
In school, Sookie tried to be as “normal” as possible so that her teachers wouldn’t have to contact her mother about any problems. “Problems” meant that Sookie would be punished in her room during the afternoons, nights, and weekends that her father worked. Sookie wouldn’t have minded the punishment so much if her mother had let her read. But Michelle didn’t. A chair was set facing the corner, and Sookie was left to study the drab paint—most often without having any idea about what was happening in the world behind her. She would lose all sense of time as she sat in that corner with only her thoughts of worthlessness to keep her company. It was yet another hell that she was forced to get used to, a hell that she never spoke of for fear of more repercussions.
Her brother would sometimes “help” with her punishment and would come into the room and kick her chair from behind—thus the sounds of scraping wood. Sookie learned quickly that any noise or reaction out of her would be met with a longer punishment.
And punishment meant more days staring at the corner. So she just sat in the chair—as still as she could be, hardly even breathing.
After Uncle Bartlett had been left with Sookie several times, the little girl endeavored never to misbehave—to do anything it took to appear normal, just so that she could avoid staring into that corner.
Uncle Bartlett would come up behind her while she was sitting in her little chair and watching the corner. He would touch her as she sat there, trying to be still and quiet and to disappear into the paint of the joining walls. At first he would only touch her shoulders. And then it was her breasts, which were still flat against her chest. Then it was her other private parts, though always over her clothing. Finally, it escalated to the point that he would take down his pants and make her touch him—all as her eyes stayed glued to a spot in the corner. Thankfully, it never escalated beyond that, though Sookie was certain that it would have eventually—given the fact that he had been doing more and more each time he babysat her from the time she was eight to the time she was ten.
Even at her young age—before Uncle Bartlett was incarcerated for molesting Sookie’s cousin Hadley—Sookie had known that what he was doing was wrong, but she’d never spoken of it. Not even when her father asked Sookie about Uncle Bartlett after the pedophile’s arrest did she say anything about what he’d done. That would have angered her mother, so Sookie lied and told her daddy that she’d never been alone with Uncle Bartlett and that she’d only seen him when she was with her mother and Jason watching cartoons in the living room.
Of course, almost everything about her story was a fabrication, given the fact that Sookie was not allowed to watch television when her father wasn’t at home—unless, of course, her mother was “testing” her lip-reading ability. The only true thing about the story was that she hadn’t seen Bartlett in her bedroom—because her eyes had been fixed into the corner.
By the time she was eleven or so, Sookie had become so good at appearing normal in her classes that her teachers no longer found anything to complain to her mother about. That was also why she’d perfected what became known as her “crazy Susan smile” so that her teachers wouldn’t call her mother to say that they thought she was maladjusted. “Maladjustment” got Sookie slaps and the corner and the chair. And two notices from the same teacher meant that she would receive a spanking with the belt as well. So Sookie learned to smile so that she could fool the person who was potentially her worst enemy—a teacher who actually cared enough to want to talk to Michelle Stackhouse.
Beginning in Kindergarten, the other children in school were wary of her—as children often are of “different” things. More and more, Sookie had to read their lips to “hear” them, and their reaction was to make fun of her for “staring like a retard.” Eventually, she learned to watch without being seen, by using her peripheral vision or by just sitting in the back corner of the room.
At twelve years of age, she even made a friend, a girl named Tara Thornton, who was also made an outcast by the other students. Tara’s mother had been put in jail for public drunkenness, and that had set off the kids’ radar to tease her.
But Sookie had been brave one day and had stepped in, giving the kids a “better” target to taunt. So they’d left Tara alone. Whenever she saw Tara being teased during lunch or recess after that, Sookie would step out of the shadows and into the line of fire. At first, Tara had joined in with the other kids’ taunting of Sookie, but Sookie was used to the abuse, so she didn’t mind. Even as a pre-teen, she recognized that Tara was teased less when she was one of the teasers. Sookie couldn’t blame the girl.
A few months later, Tara stopped participating with the others. And a few months after that, Sookie received a note from the girl—a note offering friendship. After that, the two girls had secretly met in the woods during the weekends since their houses were close to each other’s. Sookie would grab books and snacks from the kitchen and would leave the house on Saturdays before her mother woke up. She’d stay in the woods until her dad was due home, and Tara would often join her at the big boulder that Sookie liked to sit on in order to take in the sun.
Sookie hadn’t even minded that Tara didn’t want to be seen with her at school. After all, the kids had finally “forgotten” about Tara’s situation, and Sookie was always fun for them to toy with, given the fact that she could hear nothing that they said behind her back.
As Sookie got older, Michelle stopped making her endure the corner punishment as often; instead, Michelle would make Sookie do most of the cleaning and the cooking, but Sookie didn’t mind that so much, especially since Michelle was often out and Jason was always with friends.
Between the time that her uncle went to jail and her fourteenth birthday, life became a tolerable routine for Sookie. However, the day before she turned 14, her father died of a massive heart attack. Michelle blamed Sookie for her father’s death, saying that she had been the one responsible for all his extra stress and work.
And for two long years after that, Sookie’s life was pure misery. She went to school and to church, but other than that, she was trapped at home—this time with her mother present. Sookie was no longer allowed to leave the house on Saturdays. Instead, she was forced by her mother to take care of all the cooking and the housework, since Michelle no longer needed to keep up appearances when Corbett was home. Meanwhile Michelle drank away Corbett’s life insurance money.
During this time, Michelle would often yell at Sookie while shaking her so that she could “hear” her words. And, of course, these were the years of Michelle’s “special punishments.” The incident with Rene was just one of them.
Another was the day that Michelle forced Sookie to open and then burn the birthday present that her father had bought for her before he died. It was a charm bracelet. After it was charred and partially melted in the fire, Michelle made Sookie put its remains in the trash.
Meanwhile, Jason grew up loved and confident—arrogant even. He was a wonderful athlete and beloved by everyone in school. He was the kind of student who could charm a teacher into giving him a passing grade even if he didn’t earn one.
Though very smart, Sookie quickly learned that getting grades that were too good was bad because it made Jason look bad. So Sookie forced herself to be a C student, missing questions on purpose in order to maintain that average. Despite her classmates and her self-imposed mediocrity, however, Sookie loved the refuge of school.
Things changed for the better when Sookie was sixteen. Michelle began dating Mac Rattray, who was more than happy to embrace Jason, but more than a little nervous about being around “Crazy Susan.”
A few months later, Sookie came home to find that her clothing had been packed up and she was being sent to live with Adele Stackhouse, her father’s mother. Adele—or Gran as Sookie was asked to call her—was newly returned to Bon Temps after living in New Orleans with her late husband Earl. Sookie had apparently met her paternal grandparents several times when she was an infant, but she didn’t remember them. There had been some kind of falling out between Corbett and his parents, and they’d not been to Bon Temps for years. Sookie had “met” her grandmother for the first time outside of a grocery store, though she’d not known that they were related at the time.
Michelle had told Sookie to mind the older woman as if her word was the law and warned of the consequences if she didn’t do so. Sookie was to help take care of Adele in her old age and secure the inheritance of the Stackhouse money so that it would come to Michelle.
Michelle also warned Sookie not to “get too comfortable,” threatening that—at any minute—she might be forced to return home. And—of course—Sookie had been told to say nothing about how things were in Michelle Stackhouse’s household.
So, understandably, Sookie had entered Gran’s house on eggshells. And when Gran had shown her maternal love, Sookie hadn’t really known what to do except smile her crazy smile and wait for the other shoe to drop. But it never had. Gran had—with her warmth—eventually helped Sookie to feel “safe” in her home—or at least as safe as she could feel.
There were still sleepless nights as Sookie looked into the dark and imagined her mother waiting to take her away from Gran. There was still the impulse in Sookie to do everything perfectly—to not cause any trouble whatsoever—so that Gran wouldn’t send her away. But her life at Gran’s was exponentially better nonetheless.
The summer she turned seventeen, Gran took her to a doctor in Nashville who specialized in hearing problems. Things moved quickly after that when the doctor said that new technology had been developed which made Sookie’s hearing problem operable. And—even though Michelle had, at first, fought Sookie’s getting surgery because it was a “waste of money”—she eventually agreed to sign the consent form after a long talk was had between Gran and her. Gran had paid for the surgery. And Sookie suspected that Gran had paid Michelle to sign the form too.
Not surprisingly, Michelle had not come to the hospital when Sookie had her surgery; Gran had. So Gran’s voice was the first one that Sookie was able to put into her memory after more than a decade of little more than buzzing, whirring, throbbing noise.
It was a beautiful sound.
By the time Sookie could hear again, Jason was already at LSU on a scholarship for football. Right before her senior year began—right after the surgery—Michelle said that she wanted Sookie to move home, but by then, Gran had intuited a lot of what had happened to Sookie as a child, even though Sookie never spoke of it.
Gran made a deal with Michelle—a deal that the teen didn’t know the details of. But the end result was that Michelle agreed to let Sookie stay with Gran.
Although she was once more among the hearing, Sookie was still stigmatized by the kids during her senior year of high school, though it wasn’t as bad as it had been before. It seemed that old habits died hard for everyone involved. They still relied on Sookie for an easy target, and Sookie still relied on lip reading to “hear.”
Moreover, regaining her sense of hearing came with problems all its own. It took her a long time, for instance, to become used to the jumbled noises of a crowd, and that was what high school consisted of: a never-ending series of jumbled noises.
However, Sookie made it through, and Tara was free to be more of a public friend to her. Lafayette, Tara’s cousin, soon joined their small circle after he came out of the closet. So Sookie found herself with two friends—two!—during her senior year. She also had a new nickname from Gran: Sookie. Tara and Lafayette called her that too. And the new name made Sookie feel almost new—at least sometimes.
Sookie was shaken from her thoughts as she saw that the subway was nearing her stop. She teetered a little on her higher-than-usual heels and walked toward the door, even as she looked at the people around her. Finding no potential threats from the words she saw coming from their mouths, she relaxed a little and then exited the subway. It was only a one block walk to her apartment, but she hurried nonetheless, both because of the hour and the cold.
Sookie was glad that no lights were on as she approached the house. That meant that Amelia wasn’t home. Quickly, Sookie went inside, locked up, and went to her bathroom. She took off her scarf and put it into the sink, along with a little laundry detergent. She said a little prayer that her mascara stains hadn’t set. Then she went into her bedroom, locking the door behind her.
Amelia had become a friend to Sookie—her only one in New York. But Sookie knew that Amelia would question her about the party, and she didn’t really know what to say about it.
She didn’t really even know what to think about it!
Her thoughts went back to Eric Northman. He had kissed her!
And he’d talked to her and he’d held her hand. And then he accused her of being a spy when she shared information that she’d gleaned because of her ability to read lips, an ability that Amelia didn’t even know about.
How could she share any of that with Amelia?
Oh—and, of course, there was the other news of the night—from the conversation she’d “overheard” between Sam and Pam. But it was just more of the usual. Everyone in her office thought she was a freak and wanted her gone, but since she was good at her job, she wasn’t going to be fired—only moved to a private office near the elevators so that no one would ever have to see her. And that was only if she still had a job. Eric might have been planning to fire her even then—or maybe the police were on their way to arrest her for insider trading or spying or God only knew what.
She looked at her bedside clock. It was after midnight, and—even with the time difference—it was too late to call Gran. And what would she tell her even if she could call? “Hello—I might be arrested soon. I just wanted to say goodbye.” In the end, Sookie decided that it would be best not to bother Gran.
She bit her lip. She could call Lafayette, but he was likely working. And she didn’t even have Tara’s number anymore. Tara had broken all ties with her at their high school graduation when Sookie had warned her friend not to trust the man she was dating, Mickey. Tara had been in love with him, but Sookie had “overheard” him speaking to one of his friends about his plans to start “putting Tara in her place” once she finally gave up her virginity to him. When Sookie had said something to her friend, Tara had accused her of lying and being jealous.
And that was it for their friendship.
She’d almost lost Lafayette in the situation too—since Lafayette was Tara’s cousin, but he’d agreed to keep up their friendship as long as Tara didn’t know about it. When Mickey did begin to abuse Tara to the point that she separated from him, Sookie tried to reconnect with her first friend, but Tara had declined the olive branch. That had been more than six years before.
Not having anyone to call about her situation, Sookie sat on her bed and removed the black pearl earrings she was wearing. They’d been Gran’s—given to Sookie when she got her Master’s Degree the year before. Getting them had given her an excuse to get her ears pierced. The earrings were the only truly valuable thing Sookie owned—at least in a monetary sense—so Sookie carefully returned the jewels to their pouch and then placed them into her nightstand.
Next, she slid off her heels and put them into her closet. She took off her dress and carefully hung it up after determining that it didn’t need to be dry-cleaned yet. Her fancy and no-line-generating bra soon met the laundry basket, and she slipped into flannel sleep pants and a long sleeve T-shirt since her room was a little chilly in the winter. She also put on some thick socks and wondered if the police would let her grab a sweatshirt and shoes if they came for her. Deciding they might not, she went ahead and put back on her bra and a sweatshirt. She placed her tennis shoes next to the bed. She contemplated sleeping with them on, but finally decided to go for comfort over practicality in this one case.
She knew that she should have brushed her teeth, but for once, she skipped the habit since she still tasted Eric a little. Heck—to be honest—her lips still tingled from his kiss, and she wasn’t about to waste that, whether she was headed for jail-time or not. She turned off her overhead light and took a deep breath as she looked at her nightlights; she had one in every electrical outlet. She’d never been good at sleeping, especially after her father died. Several times, she’d woken up to find her mother watching her as she slept. Sometimes she wondered if Michelle Stackhouse had contemplated killing her in the dark.
When she’d been unable to hear, Sookie knew that people could sneak up on her. And that thought frightened her more than almost anything. But even after she’d regained her hearing, she was afraid to sleep in the dark.
As she lay back, she allowed her kiss with Eric to replay again and again in her mind before she went to sleep. She decided to worry about the fact that she likely didn’t have a job anymore on Monday morning—or when the police came.
Whatever happened first.
A/N: Thanks so much for continuing to read! I hope that the last two chapters have helped you to better understand the Sookie in this story. She has had a very hard time of things, but she’s a survivor.
If you ever want to check out the art in the story, I have a page that is “collecting” it; you’ll find a picture that will take you there at the bottom of the page.