The Sisterhood needs to figure out some way to discipline our own.
I haven’t been closely following the trial of Jerry Sandusky, retired assistant coach of Pennsylvania State University, who has been indicted for sex crimes against young boys. However, like probably every woman in the country, I’m wondering: Where has his wife been all this time?
It is a great thing that Sandusky’s male victims are beginning to come forward. As I wrote earlier (“The Eleventh Commandment”), perhaps now something more will be done to try to prevent this kind of abuse among all children. Protecting children should be the foremost responsibility of their mothers, but of course they must be empowered as well as obligated to do so. The Sandusky case brings up the question about whether feminine negligence in this matter should be subject to punishment as well.
Dottie is Jerry Sandusky’s wife of 46 years, and she has been at his side in the raising of six adopted children as well as a number of foster children. Knowing what we do, the hair stands on end.
As I mentioned earlier, I have known a number of women who have been sexually abused in their homes as children, and I find it impossible to believe that mother didn’t know. After all, we women have eyes in the backs of our heads where our men are concerned. Perhaps mother was terrified of the perpetrator, was a deviant herself, had been rendered submissive by religious doctrine, was intellectually impaired, or was in a state of profound denial.
Dottie undoubtedly has a story, but would any excuse be good enough? The Sisterhood needs to figure out some way to discipline our own. But that’s for later discussion.
Inspired by one case of sexual abuse in particular, I recently wrote an adult fable about a little box turtle called Pandora. When her golden ring (symbolic of virginity) is stolen in the garden, she departs on a quest to right that wrong. Every person, whether male or female, who stands up against abuse embarks on that same courageous journey. Through them all, the child’s garden may become a safer place to play.
Memory begins during one moment in time, and for Pandora that moment came on a warm summer day in the strawberry patch. In the act of reaching for a brilliant red berry, she suddenly came into full turtle consciousness.
She knew all about her clawed pigeon toes, the bulk and hardness of the shell behind her head, and the exquisite little tail emerging below the skirt of her shell. She also knew that the tail was adorned at its base with a golden ring. How she knew this is something of a mystery. Perhaps on a day before memory began, she was informed by its reflection in the sunken water bowl in the grass. Whatever the explanation, she knew that the golden ring signified something special about her, a gift she wore proudly.
The garden was surrounded by gray stone walls, and it was usually watered with hose and sprinklers by a woman in a straw hat. However, one afternoon the sky darkened and began to rumble and flash to announce the arrival of a thunder storm. A chill wind soon drew a curtain of gray rain across the vibrant colors of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Pandora sought refuge under the canopy of an ancient honeysuckle and withdrew into her shell until the storm passed.
The garden she emerged to explore later had been damaged. The driving wind and rain had toppled stakes with their burdens, beaten flowers down to the ground, and left littered puddles everywhere. At the same time, the day seemed brighter than before, as though burnished by the tumult. An inviting little rivulet caught Pandora’s eye, and so she was focused forward when a second darkness struck from the rear.
Something heavy scrambled upon her back, and she hissed in alarm, her breath bubbling as she sank in the mud. Desperate to escape the weight, she clawed frantically and lunged for a rise on which to support her chest. Exhausted and in pain for the first time, she closed her eyes and escaped into a dark, empty place in her mind.
When she returned to consciousness much later, she was alone and covered with drying mud. Eager to remove every trace of the terrifying experience, she set off for the sunken bowl. Her soiled state was distressing enough, but within a step or two, Pandora realized that something worse was amiss. Alerted by the unfamiliar feel of exposed flesh at the base of her tail, she realized that the golden ring was gone. She froze in place, disoriented by the unfamiliar feel of her own body. In the next instant, she was hurrying again toward the comfort of the sunken bowl. The wizened head of another turtle emerged from dripping lilies, and she cried out in distress, “Someone stole my ring!”
Frowning with annoyance, the elderly turtle surveyed the approaching Pandora coldly. She drew her next words out slowly like a sling shot. “My, you’re a mess,” she said, and then she let fly. “Unfortunate things happen when you’re a mess.”
Brought up short by the reaction, Pandora protested. “But you don’t understand. I wasn’t dirty before. I was forced into the mud.”
“It doesn’t matter,” responded the elder turtle, and she looked away. “The storm has passed. Clean yourself up and forget about it.” Then she slowly turned her domed back on Pandora and disappeared among the battered lilies.
Pandora simply stared until the mud cracking on her tense neck reminded her of her mission, and she hurried forward and plunged headfirst into the sunken bowl. After stirring around to make cleansing waves, she dragged herself out, water streaming off her shell. At the sight of the murky bowl, however, she panicked anew, for surely she would be blamed for this as well. She too escaped under the lilies and tried to collect herself. The day was going terribly awry.
It wasn’t long, however, before the woman in the straw hat appeared to repair the storm damage. Humming as she worked, she righted the toppled stakes, rearranged the tomatoes and beans, and gently shook out flowers weighted by the rain. Undismayed by the sight of Pandora’s bath water, she rinsed the bowl out and refilled it as she did every day.
The next day everything looked as good as new, just like Pandora; but Pandora didn’t feel as good as new. The sun shone, but the garden had darkened for her. As the days went on, she continued to be preoccupied with her sense of loss. She also could not forget the elder turtle’s indifference to her plight and the suggestion that she had brought it on herself. Instead of abating over time, her distress deepened, and it caused her to do something extraordinary. When she found the garden snake sunning in the grass one day, she spoke to him for the first time.
“Forgive me for intruding,” she said, “but I have a question.”
With exquisite subtlety, the snake’s eyes focused. “About the encounter with the hard shell at the bowl?” he said.
Pandora started to speak, but the snake continued languidly. “Never mind.
She’s very old, and she probably doesn’t even remember the time when she had a gold ring or how wonderful it felt.”
“She had a gold ring?” Pandora said. “I thought I was special.”
“You are special,” said the snake, squinting to study her in the light, “but she has no intention of helping you because no one helped her when her ring was stolen. When she said you were a mess, what she meant was that you should have kept quiet.” His face softened into a gentle smile, and he added, “And that’s also what makes you special. Speaking out, I mean.”
“You were watching,” Pandora accused.
“Not intentionally. It was given to me to see,” replied the snake.
“How do you know about her history?” Pandora continued. “You don’t look nearly as old as she does.”
“You wouldn’t know an old snake if you saw one,” was the smooth response.
“What do you mean by that?” Pandora demanded.
“Wait until next spring and you’ll see.” The snake lifted his head and surveyed the shade under a nearby apple tree. “And now if you’ll excuse me,” he said, “it’s getting a little too warm here.” With this, his body began to undulate across the very tips of the blades of grass, and Pandora was left alone to wonder.
Her exchanges with the elder turtle and the snake were only the beginning of Pandora’s effort to understand and adapt to her loss. She had always stayed around the sunken bowl, but now she explored the farther reaches of the garden, including the beds of cutting flowers and the area dedicated to herbs. As a result of her wandering, it wasn’t long before she encountered yet another turtle. Drowsing in the shade, this large creature had bold stripes on his legs and head, which she took as a sign of stature. Surveying her approach with drooping eyelids, he suddenly spoke forcefully. “I didn’t take it,” he said.
Pandora was suspicious. “How did you know what I was going to say?” she asked.
“Word gets around,” the striped turtle responded, “and I can tell you this: You wouldn’t have lost that ring if you hadn’t been flaunting it.”
“I wasn’t flaunting it,” Pandora objected. “It just made me feel special.”
“Acting special is like an invitation,” said the big turtle. “Whoever took it probably didn’t really want to. You made him.”
Pandora opened her beak to argue, but the turtle cut her off. “Right,” he said. “So that’s it.” His head dropped, his eyes closed, and he quickly withdrew into his shell.
As a result of this encounter, Pandora now realized that she was being blamed for what had happened to her so that she could be ignored. Her range of emotions was expanding daily, and indignation now supplemented surprise and consternation. She was also beginning to feel lonely in the garden for the first time, and so she welcomed the sight of the snake at the sunken bowl a few days later.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Not well,” she answered. “No one seems to care.”
The snake’s tongue flicked out to take a little sip of water, and then he said, “You realize that you’re not going to get your ring back, don’t you?”
Pandora thought for a moment before answering. “No, I don’t expect to get my golden ring back. I just want . . .” and then she paused uncertainly. She did not know how to name what she wanted.
The snake’s voice was gently reassuring. “You’re trying to find understanding,” he said, “and that won’t be easy. You haven’t found your own kind yet. One of your own kind will understand and sympathize,” the snake said.
Pandora frowned as she considered this suggestion. “That last turtle I saw was bigger and had stripes I don’t have, so he must not be my kind.”
“Markings and size don’t matter,” the snake said.
“You seem more my kind than the others,” Pandora suggested.
The snake studied her face for a moment and then smiled. “I’ve had a lot of experience with being misunderstood. It makes you more sensitive.” Then, almost as though he had said too much, he dipped his head in farewell. “Good luck,” he said and slithered off without a backward glance.
At the time of her awakening as a turtle, Pandora’s senses had been contentedly attuned to the abundance around her. Refined by exploration, they were becoming more acute. One afternoon, she detected the distant movement of an unfamiliar turtle and advanced to meet it.
Her first impressions were of a gleaming caramel-colored shell and a lovely slant to the stranger’s eyes that made her countenance faintly exotic. By now Pandora had learned to be cautious at first meeting, and she spoke tentatively: “I would be grateful for your help.”
“But of course,” the new turtle said in a husky voice that seemed to drip the juice of the fallen fruit she had been eating.
“Someone has stolen my golden ring,” Pandora explained. “I am very upset, and the snake said that someone of my own kind would understand and this would help me.”
“Well, first of all,” the turtle responded, “you should know just from the look of him that you cannot trust a snake. But you must surely realize,” she went on, “that these things sometimes happen. Those of us who are wise keep it to ourselves so as not to disturb the garden.” Her voice now dropped confidentially. “A time comes when we all need privacy in the garden. Even you will invite it.”
“You don’t have your ring either,” Pandora deduced.
“No.” the turtle answered lightly. “Long gone.”
“And you didn’t mind,” said Pandora.
“Well, no.” The turtle’s eyelids drooped languidly and she smiled. “It was time. I was ready.” Her expression became dreamy, remembering.
“Well, I’m glad you were ready,” Pandora said softly. “I wasn’t.”
“The lovely turtle’s face hardened and so did her voice. “A golden ring is there for the taking. I’m sorry that you weren’t warned, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing to be done about it. Do you think you’re going to change the way things are in the garden?”
“But . . .”
The sleek turtle rose up on her tiptoes and glared. “No buts about it. It’s over. Done with. Nobody wants to hear. Nobody cares. And it doesn’t matter.” With that, she closed up into her shell so soundly that Pandora imagined a snap. She sighed and turned away. This turtle clearly wasn’t one of her kind either.
Her next encounter seemed promising at first. It was another big, striped turtle, and the imposing grid of his thick shell and the sheen of his toenails suggested exceptional success in foraging. As she drew near, he lifted his head and spoke smoothly as though expecting her. “Can I help you?”
He listened courteously as Pandora told about her loss and the distressing indifference of the other turtles she had met. In fact, she confided, she was beginning to think that there was something unnatural about the fact that she cared. Perhaps the snake had been wrong to suggest that she might find understanding somewhere.
“No, the snake is right,” the turtle reassured her. “It’s important for us to understand everyone’s point of view in the garden.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that” retorted Pandora. “Did you just get here?”
“No, I’ve been around a long time,” the turtle said, “and I’ve learned a thing or two.” He seemed to be addressing her from a great height. “One thing I know for sure, little lady, is that it’s a lot better in here than out there.” His striped head dipped toward the white picket gate.
Irritated by his condescension, Pandora suddenly realized that he might have something else in common with the other striped turtle. “Thank you for sharing,” she said politely, “but it occurs to me that you might not have the same perspective.” Now her voice became unnaturally quiet. “You don’t have a ring to take, do you?”
The turtle cleared his throat. “Well, no, but I certainly understand . . .”
“No, you don’t understand,” Pandora countered firmly. “You can’t possibly understand.” And for the first time, she turned her back on a creature in the garden and moved away.
Now Pandora’s attention turned to the gate and the world beyond. To find one of her own kind, she was going to have to leave the only home she had ever known. Beyond the long reach of lawn lay the river where a community of turtles sunned themselves on a downed log. Tomorrow she would go meet with them.
She left the garden next morning by crawling under the gate, her little heart pounding with excitement and a sense of adventure and hope. For safety’s sake, she traveled among the shrubs that bordered the property, and the sun was at its zenith when she finally reached her destination. As she neared the log, she saw that the turtles were longer and flatter than those in the garden, and their shells had a red and yellow border around the bottom. Her heart sank. Perhaps they were not her kind either.
When she was near enough to be heard, she addressed the biggest turtle, the one sunning himself at the pinnacle of the log. He did not turn to look at her as she repeated her story, nor did any of the others who seemed stupefied by heat and glare. Finally a cloud passed over the sun, and the big turtle roused himself.
“Your complaint is most inappropriate,” he said. “What makes you think that you have the right to protest the natural order of things in the garden?”
“The snake didn’t think it was inappropriate,” Pandora countered. “He thought I would find understanding somewhere.”
“Well, there it is,” said the turtle. “You have violated the rule against consorting with a member of a different species. You have been disobedient, and you have suffered the consequences.”
“I talked to the snake after my ring was taken,” Pandora insisted.
“The timing doesn’t matter,” said the turtle. “Look,” he said, “the cloud has passed. See how much brighter, how much larger, how much more important the sun is than the golden color of your lost ring. There is room on this log. Come join us and forget.”
Pandora tiredly eyed the assembly on the log. Perhaps it would be good to get her mind off her loss for a while. As she considered, she became aware of a distant thrum that steadily became louder and louder, and suddenly a power boat roared around the bend. All the turtles simultaneously plunged into the water, and the boat’s wake caused their shells to clatter against the log. Pandora observed their awkward disarray with amusement. So much for that invitation.
As she rested in the shade of some bushes later, she came to terms with the futility of her quest and made a decision. She would return to the garden and let the matter rest; but if any creature—of any kind—ever came to her in a state of distress, she would respond with the understanding she had never found.
Because it was an uphill trek, Pandora didn’t arrive home until the following afternoon. The snake was waiting for her at the gate.
“How was it outside?” he asked.
“That big striped guy was wrong,” Pandora answered as she paused to rest. “It’s the same out there as it is in here.”
“No it isn’t,” the snake said. “You’re in here.”
“What do you mean?” Pandora asked.
“Look at it this way,” the snake began. “Your golden ring is gone, but you aren’t. And because you’ve come back, the garden will begin to change now. For the better.”
In another moment he was gone, and Pandora was left to ponder his last words: “Never forget. You are special.”
Over the following days, Pandora took stock of her situation. Although there were dark moments in the garden, she was not trapped here. Having left once, she could always leave again; and perhaps her presence would cause things to change a little. Nevertheless, her shell seemed heavier than before, as though weighted by the painful experience that had made her a wiser, more compassionate turtle.
One afternoon a week later she was resting in the shade near the sunken bowl when she sensed the approach of the woman in the straw hat. This was not alarming. The woman always moved carefully in the garden as she went about the business of making it ever more pleasant and bountiful. She was carrying something hidden in her arms, and when she reached the bowl, she kneeled down with her back to Pandora and placed the object in the grass. After adjusting it slightly, she stood up and walked away. Pandora could not believe her eyes.
Before her stood a bronze image of a turtle nearly twice her size, head lifted as on a journey. On its back sat a large round ball colored mostly blue but with areas of green and brown. Pandora’s eyes riveted on the ball, whose weight was so vividly imagined that she might have been carrying it herself. How had the woman known what the burden of her memory felt like? Her little heart swelled with such gratitude that it seemed her shell would surely burst.
Of course Pandora never forgot about her golden ring, but from that day forward, its loss mattered less. As she moved about the garden thereafter, she would sometimes find the opportunity to be nearby as the woman in the straw hat kneeled to weed, plant, and collect the fruits and vegetables. Sometimes the activity would unearth a grub or worm that struck Pandora’s fancy, and so the companionship was fruitful. However, she was there for a different reason. More than anything else, Pandora just enjoyed being around one of her own kind.