Chapter 8: Trouble
September 23 found Paul and Cyn waiting together in the back of the Kingdom Hall for Ted. The meeting that night had been depressing because of the announcement of Sandy Wilson's public reproof. The atmosphere was subdued: no loud laughs or animated conversations were heard other than the exaggerated ones directly around Sandy herself where the brothers and sisters went out of their way to make her feel better.
After awhile Jim Stokes came up to them and began talking with Paul. He was in the same boat they were in: he wanted to leave but had to wait for David Nelson to finish talking with Ted in his van.
The night was a little chilly, so David started the engine to warm things up. Unfortunately his voice was at approximately the same frequency as the engine, and many of his words were lost because of it.
As Ted sat there attentively, he felt sleepy from the droning, monotone words, and several times his eyelids began to droop. But he got the gist of what Elder Nelson meant to convey, even if he missed all the subtle reasoning behind it: he was no longer to study alone with Cyn. David had somehow been under the impression that she was Ted's sister, and so had said nothing before this. But someone brought to his attention that a single brother was conducting a Bible study with an unbaptized woman. He put an emphatic stop to it and assigned his own wife, Elvira, to take over the study.
When they were at last reunited in Paul's car, Ted wondered how to break the news to Cyn. As he wondered, he was grateful for Paul's convulsive mouth. "Everyone's telling me to change jobs," Paul said, "and I think I better start listening. The other night I accidentally took home some money, you know, because I'm supposed to empty out the register when I go and bring it over to their other bookstore. But I forgot 'cause I was tired, you know, and I brought it home with me.
"Then last night when I brought it back they're all saying that I'm short like about some fifty bucks! Shit! I could take it and short 'em anytime. Why should I be obvious about it and take it home first? So they're all giving me a hassle about it now saying I better bring it back. And I never took it. And now everyone at the hall is telling me I better get outta there 'cause Jehovah don't like that kinda stuff. But if I don't sell it someone else will just the same, you know."
Ted had worked up his nerve now, and after quickly agreeing that Paul should quit post-haste, turned to Cyn and announced: "Brother Nelson told me that it's wrong for us to continue studying together."
"How's that?" she asked with evident annoyance.
"Well, because it doesn't look right for me to be in your apartment all alone."
"I wasn't aware you were all alone;" she replied, "I thought you were with me."
"Well, of course that's what I meant. People might get the wrong idea."
"Nobody cares," she insisted, "Nobody in my building or in the whole neighborhood is so old-fashioned as to judge a person because of that. They've all gone through a sexual revolution and are free to express their feelings."
The way she emphasized "they" clearly implied that only Witnesses, out of all the people in the world, were restricted in expressing their feelings. Ted felt it better not to comment on this, so instead he told her that Elvira Nelson was to take over the study.
"No," she said, shaking her head, "Don't I have any say in this? I don't want that woman to study with me. I won't have a Bible study anymore if I can't have it with you. Remember, I told you that you were the reason I was coming into the 'Truth'; take that away and what have you got left? Nothing. Iíll just stop studying in that case."
He sat there wondering what to do next. As long as his intentions were honorable and he managed to control himself sufficiently, there was really no Biblical commandment against his studying alone with her; it was just David Nelson's ruling. And if it meant choosing between letting someone drop out of the Truth or obeying a man-made rule -- even if the man who made it was an elder -- the choice seemed clear.
So he asked her, "Is that final? You're giving us this ultimatum?"
"Yes. I will not study under that woman. I want only you, otherwise Iíll quit it altogether. I know most of it now anyway."
"That's just when you need to study the most, when you think you know it all." He meant to smile at this, but he was serious and spoke from his own experience, so he continued to frown.
"C'mon, man," Paul advised, "why don't you keep studying with her? I'm behind you all the way. Why let him tell you what to do?"
"Because he's a spiritually appointed elder, that's why."
"Didn't you tell me," she asked, "that Bob Morrow was going to be an elder too?"
The inference was obvious, so he didn't reply. Instead he pondered what it would be like to take orders from Bob. It was a repulsive thought. But David Nelson was no Bob Morrow, and he deserved the respect of his position.
Divining his thoughts she asked, "If David Nelson is so much better than Bob, then he'll understand and change his position after you explain the situation to him, won't he?"
"Yes, I believe he will," Ted answered in a subdued voice.
They had reached her apartment building and the two of them got out as Paul turned the radio on for company.
"So how's school going?" he asked as they hid behind the familiar tree in the front yard.
"Which one?" she asked. "I really love being with the little kids at Longfellow. They're all so precious and fun to be with. But college is really a drag this year. I've got some antique teachers who haven't had a new idea in fifty years. How's everything with you?"
"I kind of miss those poetry meetings on Wednesdays now, though I hate to admit it. They were sort of fun sometimes."
She smiled at the admission and said, "There's talk of another class like that being formed next semester, but it'll be accredited."
"Well, everything else is the same with me," he said, "same old job that gets more boring every day, elders still challenge my being one of the anointed, still in love with an unbeliever. The only new obstacle is our studying together without elder approval."
"We're going to anyway, aren't we?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes, we are."
"Then kiss me goodnight and be on your way," she instructed, and he eagerly obeyed.
At work the next day he was called into the office. Wondering what he had done wrong, he announced himself, and a busy typist told him to take a seat. He wasn't too worried, as this place didn't really employ him; he worked for the daily labor agency. As he sat there idly, wishing he'd brought a study-book, he recalled how Richard told him once that he was silently praying to Jehovah every other minute some days. Ted had meant to get into this habit, but hadn't up to this time. So he began addressing the Almighty with the usual requests: to guide Cynthia into the Truth (he always used her full name when speaking to Jehovah), to help him know whether he was truly born-again, and to help the brothers being persecuted.
Bill Jackson walked in and Ted quickly ended his prayer with "I ask all this in Jesus' name" (otherwise all that went before wouldn't reach God, he figured). After a word or two with the typist, and after checking some things off his clipboarded papers, Bill commanded without looking up: "Come with me, Ted."
They walked into the break-room, which was empty at this time of day. Bill bought them both a can of soda pop. After they'd sat and sipped, Bill said, "How'd you like to come and work for us and make more money?"
"I don't know," Ted responded in surprise, "I don't want to seem ungrateful for your kind offer, but I enjoy the flexibility of this daily labor business. It gives me days off whenever I want to go out in service, and that's very important to me."
"We could arrange a four-day work week for you. How's that sound?"
He'd been getting a little weary of service now that he had to regard Phyllis (who was still pioneering) as a married woman. So one weekday in service with the pioneers was an attractive idea. "That does sound good," he admitted, "but I think the daily labor place made me sign an agreement when I started with them saying that I wouldn't work for any of their clients up to a year after I quit working for them."
"Yes," Bill said matter-of-factly, "well that's a fairly standard clause on such contracts, but we can safely ignore it. They're hard to enforce and rarely does anyone go through all the trouble of trying to enforce them."
"That's not the point." Ted replied.
"I know, " Bill anticipated, "the point is your conscience. You said you wouldn't do something and now you're going to do it. But if no one really cares, why should you? I can't think that God very much cares whether you work for them or us, or if you break a man-made rule which works against your own best interests, especially since what's good for you, as one of his Witnesses, is good for the spread of his Word."
"Which I'll be spreading less from working more," Ted reminded him.
"But you'll be able to contribute more financially to the cause," Bill argued. "Youíll pay your rent on time and all your other bills which has got to be a good witness to all creditors and neighbors. But the biggest reason of all is that you'll be able to afford to marry Cyn Rose."
"How do you know I want to marry her?"
"Isnít that why you've been working so hard here, thinking of her?"
"No, we're taught to work as to Jehovah, and so we all work extra hard," he smiled, realizing Bill was too smart and saw through all this, "but I guess thinking of her has something to do with it too."
"All right, in the interests of business, I'd like you to think more of her than of Jehovah; I think it'll increase productivity. You'll be working in and out of the office as an errand boy, and we don't want you talking about the Bible to everyone in the process."
"That's rather an unusual restriction, isn't it?" Ted asked. "Doesn't everyone have the right to talk about whatever they please?"
"Certainly, but not on company time. You can preach during breaks if you like. But we don't want you wasting time when you're supposed to be delivering a message by witnessing to someone along the way. Can you understand that?"
"Yes," Ted agreed, "I can limit my Kingdom messages to breaks."
Bill twisted his mouth in a half-pucker and looked thoughtful as if he was debating whether he should really say what next he said; "What's a smart guy like you doing mixed up with them anyway? Haven't you seen through them yet?"
"I've seen through them," Ted responded matter-of-factly.
"Then why waste your time with them?" Bill asked.
"Excuse me, I don't think you understood," Ted answered with an inclination of his head to a forward-right tilt which conveyed his feeling of utter control of the situation as well as having the upper hand, "I have seen through them -- all various personalities from worst to best -- to the bright Truth that stands behind them and shines through them."
"And what truth is that, exactly?"
"The only truth there is," Ted answered in slight surprise at the question, as one dragged from the heights of abstractness to the depths of specificity.
"Quantum physics?" Bill asked with a smile, answered only by Tedís perplexity. "Is quantum physics true or false?"
"I don't even know what it is," Ted admitted.
"Do you need to as long as you have the Witnesses to base truth on? Look, you just said that they have the only truth there is. So do they teach quantum physics or not?"
"Then it must fall outside the category of 'the only truth there is', mustn't it?"
"Well, I don't know."
"You disappoint me. You'd have to know according to what you said about them having the only truth there is. If they don't have this, then it must not be true. Or else you must be struggling to change your definition of what truth they have."
"Yes, well, what I mean is that they have all the most important truths, the truths about Jehovah God and future life and God's purpose."
"Oh, I see. Well, that's certainly more limiting than what you said at first. Do you think it's right to limit yourself in this way?"
"Yes. In this system where we're so far from perfection our minds can't hold that much. So we fill them with Godly truths, 'whatever thing is chaste, reasonable, good for upbuilding --'"
"Yes, I know the Scripture." Bill interrupted, "But do you really know how much you're missing in the writings of the great philosophers, poets, and classic literature?"
"Iím missing the second-best of what the mind of man has to offer," Ted replied. "But instead I'm overflowing with the Word of God and men's spiritually-guided comments on it."
"Did you know," Bill asked, "that Gregory the Great burnt the Library of Rome whilst proclaiming, 'Ignorance is the mother of devotion'?"
"Is that supposed to remind me of myself?"
"No. We don't encourage ignorance and we don't go around burning books. We dispense all our knowledge free of charge. We go out to people on our own time and bring them knowledge of God's Kingdom, the very knowledge Christendom keeps from them."
"I didn't know the Watchtower was free," Bill said.
"The information in it is free," Ted clarified, "the paper and ink costs a little, though."
"I see. And tell me, when you buy one of your little 25-cent books, how much do you pay for it?"
"And you sell it for 25 cents?"
"That's right," Ted admitted.
"So you make 5-cents profit on each one?"
"No. It's not profit because we spend much more than that in gas and time to get to the territories and contact the people."
"I see. So it's not only the paper and ink they're paying for, but part of your gas and time as well. So you were in error before when you said you go out on your own time free of charge to witness to the people; you are in fact reimbursed on some of it.
"But," Bill went on, "there seems to be little practical difference between burning a book and prohibiting its reading. The fact that you are surrounded with the best works that minds can offer and are forbidden to read any of them is a crime. Why do you suppose the Witnesses don't want you reading books other than the ones they print?"
"Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to Jehovah. And the Bible warns us to 'Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of this world and not according to Christ.' But I'd better stop quoting Scripture to you; I don't want your homilophobia to start acting up," Ted said sarcastically.
"I want to apologize about that day," Bill said, "I always get carried away in a group like that. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings; it was stupid of me, and I hope you'll accept my apology."
Ted thought he was kidding for a moment, but he looked sincere, so Ted accepted.
"But tell me," Bill continued, "do you agree with the statement by the poet William Blake that 'Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed'?"
"No, people believe whatever they want to believe," Ted replied.
"Do you count yourself among 'people'?" Bill asked.
"So you believe whatever you want without reference to facts or reason?"
"No. I believe the Truth." Ted stated.
"But don't you know that everyone thinks the same thing?" Bill asked. "I can say I believe the truth too, because whatever I believe must appear to me to be truth. Otherwise I wouldn't believe it. So how are you different? And if you're not, then what purpose do you serve in witnessing if everyone believes whatever they want to? How can you persuade them to stop believing their way and start believing your way?"
"You sure make everything difficult," Ted sighed.
"Well, don't you see the way out of the difficulty?"
"Yeah, let's go back to what the poet said and this time we'll agree that at least some people will believe the truth when they hear it."
"But that wasn't at all what he said," Bill replied, "He said when they 'understand it'. That's the whole point. When you understand something as true, you can't help but believe it. It's like the two terms: 'understanding as true' and 'believing' are synonymous. The problem you meet with at the doors in your witnessing work is not from people 'not wanting' to believe, but from not understanding. Otherwise your work would be totally futile since no one wants to change beliefs."
"I don't agree with that. When people hear about the paradise God's going to make of this world and how they can get in on it, then they want to believe."
"Ah, paradise!" Bill exclaimed in a sigh, "'Wherever the tree of knowledge stands is paradise' according to Nietzsche, and I agree. And knowledge precedes their wanting in the instance you gave; those who first understand what you're saying about paradise, then want to believe in it. But to reach their understanding you have to overcome many obstacles you can't even begin to be aware of. They've lived all their lives with a certain world view which you try to change within five minutes or less with mere words instead of a lifetime of experience spent in reconfirming and strengthening their own view. It's nearly impossible. There are only two ways in which you could possibly make a convert in this manner: either you'd have to have the truth and be able to demonstrate it within the allotted time to their understanding; or else youíd have to meet up with a temporarily unbalanced person, a person on the verge of changing his way of life. But keeping all this in mind, I want to ask you another question."
"Where is all this leading?" Ted asked before Bill had the chance to pose his own question.
"Perhaps to a better understanding of each other and an improved working relationship for you; perhaps only to a number on your Witness time card. But listen. You think you have the truth and you carefully arrange your presentation of it so as to capture the attention of the people you preach to. Yet you hardly ever meet with success. Now, judging from that experience, what danger is there in allowing you to read philosophy books? These, the Watchtower claims, are the empty deceptions of men, not the truth, and they are not carefully arranged so as to be easily understood. And further, you are not some naive householder, ready prey for every misleading writer. You're a Witness, fully indoctrinated in the Truth. If the clear-cut presentation of the Truth fails so often to hook an unwary householder, how can you worry about some vague philosopher snaring your truth-encrusted soul? If these 'worldly men' don't have the truth, you surely won't change your belief, will you?"
"You're right. There's little danger of that happening."
"Then we come back to our original question: why won't they let you read such things? Why do they insist you stick almost exclusively to their own publications? To me, looking in from the outside, there's one very obvious answer: if you were to read such books, you'd believe in them because they are the truth. You couldn't help but change your belief once you understood the truth. Why else would they ban them?"
"Because there's a lot of evil things in those books and we are to hate evil just as God does," Ted explained. "Most philosophers and a lot of poets say that God is dead. Well, I know different, so why should I waste my time on them?"
"If I may be allowed to quote another philosopher," Bill replied, "'Hatred of evil is itself a kind of bondage to evil.' If you only hate philosophy because of some third-hand, distorted account of it, you are in a bondage of fear to it. It really has the upper hand over you. But if you understand it, you are equal to it (if it is true) or superior to it (if it is false). I, for instance, understand your religion completely and am thus superior to it in knowing it to be false."
"I don't believe you," Ted responded in shock, "you can't understand the Truth and not believe it unless you've committed the unforgivable sin against the holy spirit."
"You've covered every possibility but one," Bill said with a sly smile, "the most obvious of all: it simply isn't the truth."
"But it is. It really is," Ted pleaded. "I know I could convince you if you had an open mind."
"No you can't. But whenever you get tired of slaving away for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Corporation we'll talk again, and Iíll convince you that it isn't the truth."
Workers began filing into the break-room for the first break of the day as the two left. Bill ran through all Ted's new duties for the next hour and then left him on his own.
It was a short day thanks to running around on the various errands and quitting half an hour early to fill in an application. Before he knew it, he was on his way home feeling good in spite of the fact that Bill had frightened him a little. He never met anyone who knew the Truth and didn't believe in it. "That's as bad as an 'Evil Slave'," he thought to himself as he walked home from the bus-stop.
Bobby was sitting on the front porch steps as Ted approached.
"Whatcha doin' out here, Bobby?" Ted asked.
"Nothin' but stayin' outta trouble."
From inside they could hear Vonnie's voice raised against Sherri, alternating with less articulate pleas and whines of the latter.
"What's going on in there?" Ted asked.
"It's Sherri; she wants to go to a birthday party."
"Haven't you kids gotten over that stuff yet?" Ted asked unsympathetically.
Bobby looked up at him in dismay. "It's her birthday." He paused, hoping the magnitude of her problem might sink in. But Tedís own birthday had been months ago and he had forgotten any inclinations towards celebrating that he may have had.
"See, this girl she knows from school," Bobby explained, "Laura I think's her name, they always give each other a birthday party at each other's houses. Sherri gave Laura a birthday party last April at our house when we lived with our Mom. And tomorrow is Sherri's birthday and there's gonna be a party for her at Laura's house. But Vonnie and Dad won't let her go."
"Well," Ted advised, "it'll all blow over in a day or two, I think. You kids have to make these little sacrifices to train for the bigger ones we'll all have to go through in Armageddon."
"Soon. Could be tomorrow. We never know, so we always have to stay alert and be good."
"I don't know." Bobby replied, "They've been saying that for so longÖ I don't know." He drew a crude circle in the sand on the step with his sandled foot and stared hard at it, then added, "But I guess I believe -- I don't have any choice but to believe."
Ted, not knowing what to say, went upstairs to greet a yawning and stretching Paul.
"Hey man, how's it goiní?" Paul asked.
"Great! I just got promoted with a raise today!"
"Great, man. I'm goin' down to the gas station down on Washington and 53rd. I hear they need an attendant."
"That's great! Youíre getting out of the dirty book store."
"Yeah, they've been coming down too hard on me every night about that missing fifty bucks. Now they've been saying they're not gonna pay me till I turn it in, so the heck with that; I'm through."
"Glad to hear it. Want something to eat?"
"No, I'll catch something on the way there." looking like a prostitute's manager with his purple wide-brimmed hat and ruffled shirt, Paul walked out the door amidst stifled laughter from Ted. The day had been very good to Ted and he slept soundly that night through all Joey's snoring.
It had been decided that Thursday (the next day), would be Ted's day off. So he went downstairs early and called Phyllis, asking her to pick him up. He felt funny about doing it, but it was the best way to get out in service. After he put down the receiver he noticed that Vonnie had stopped folding laundry and was absently staring into space. He felt he should say something to her. "I hear you had trouble with Sherriís birthday coming up."
"Yes, indeed. The little monster." Vonnie smiled, "She thinks I have to let her go because her mother used to. They've all got a long way to go, I'm afraid, Jeannie's a little dear because she's been brought up in the Truth, but can you imagine being that young and suddenly being asked to give up everything in the world for something you don't completely understand? I just tell them all to be more like Jeannie."
"Don't they resent that?"
"No," she laughed, "how could anyone resent Jeannie?"
"Well, there's Phyllis; I've got to go."
As soon as he got in the car he again felt pressure to make small talk: "How's married life treating you?" he asked.
"Just fine," she smiled, "No one's going to be at the hall this morning for the service meeting. Eric had to do something else and everyone else decided to do return visits. So do you have any territory you want to work?"
"Oh, that's a surprise!" he said. "So it's just you and me then? No, I never check out any territories since I don't have a car. I just help others do theirs."
"Well, I've got some not-at-homes we could do. How's that sound?"
"Sounds fine to me."
After the third house in the area, they had only spoken to one person: an old man who couldn't hear them. Now they stood outside a security apartment complex, pressing buttons and speaking through an intercom to voices that ceased after they announced who they were.
Phyllis pushed the button for apartment 206. "Yes?" came a woman's voice through the speaker.
"Good morning, how are you today?" Phyllis began.
"Fine, fine. What do you want?"
"We're a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses speaking to people today about God's Kingdom and what it will do for them."
"Well, listen," the voice came back sharply, "Iím a feminist and I think all you Bible-pounders are a bunch of sons of bitches."
Phyllis smiled slyly at Ted and asked, "Well, since youíre a feminist, Shouldn't you say 'daughter of a bitch'?"
Ted laughed and, catching the twinkle in Phyllisí eye rejoined: "While you're at it, why pick on the mother, make it 'daughter of a cur'."
"What are you saying?" the voice laughed.
Phyllis wasn't sure if the woman had heard Ted, so she repeated with improvement, "We're saying if you're a feminist you should say 'offspring of a mut' or something like that." By this time they were all laughing at their silliness and the lady in 206 buzzed the door open for them. They opened it and went up to her apartment.
Softened by their joking, she invited them right in. On her door was a bumper sticker with the words "EQUAL RIGHTS N.O.W." with a fist through a circle above a plus sign. A tall brunette in her late twenties opened the door and immediately shook hands with Phyllis.
"Hi, Iím Janet Freeman," she said, and invited them in.
Ted noted that the inside of the apartment looked normal enough.
Phyllis captured Janetís whole attention: she glanced only briefly at Ted when he spoke, and then with contempt.
"Well, I'm glad to see that you people let the women speak, anyway," Janet said, "some religions don't even allow that much! But Iíll bet they don't let you in to the top positions in the church, do they?"
"No," Phyllis concurred, "the elders and ministerial servants are all men as the Bible directs they should be. The woman's place is to be in subjection to her husband and the brothers in general as God commanded way back in the Garden of Eden."
"But that's all a bunch of crap written by men!" Janet informed them. "There's not one word in the Bible written by a woman, so how can it be a guide as to how women should run their lives? Of course it tries to push our heads under men's feet; men are insecure since they secretly know deep down that we are their superiors. So they tried to give a religious slant to treating us as inferior to them so we'd dutifully blind ourselves to the facts."
"What facts are those?" Ted asked.
"Facts such as 'men are flukes'," she replied, giving him a scornful look before fixing her gaze on Phyllis once more as she rattled off her facts: "All fetuses start out as female; all men once had a vagina which, unfortunately, went awry. Nature tries every time to produce a female, but sometimes fails to produce a second X- chromosome. Instead, an inferior Y-chromosome takes its place and a male is the result."
"How can you say one chromosome is inferior to another?" Ted demanded.
"By looking at the facts. A Y-Chromosome is simply an incomplete X. And the results of its incompleteness are catastrophic: Y-chromosomes fail to inhibit any bad traits in the X-chromosomes, whereas another X would cancel these out. This is why, with extremely rare exceptions, only man get hemophilia (the bleeder's disease) and over thirty other congenital defects. Eight percent of men are color blind whereas only one-half of one percent of women suffer from this because their 'XX' composition cancels out the problems that men's 'XY' composition fail to alleviate. That's why from fertilization on the male has a higher mortality rate. Women always live longer than men under the same circumstances. And, all other things being equal, the product that lasts longest is the superior one. Woman is constitutionally stronger than man. It is only muscular superiority that man can lay claim to, and this is a dubious advantage considering his shorter life-span and all the rest he gives up for it."
"How is woman constitutionally stronger?" Phyllis asked with her every-ready smile.
"She can withstand starvation, exposure, shock, and illness better. She has greater stamina and lives longer. This is due to the fact that she has a faster pulse; her heart and the circulation of her blood are more stable and resilient, capable of bending with changes in condition because she's used to experiencing real emotion rather than suppressing it as men have to. Her oxygen transport is more economical, and her muscular metabolism can cope with greater strain.
"Looking at it biologically," she continued, "we find that the most primitive species use one orifice for excreting, urinating, and reproducing. But as we ascend the zoological scale, these various functions become more and more divided into separate openings. Men have two openings for the three functions, and think they're the highest beings on earth. But we women have three, and we know better.
"We are more alive to our environment," she went on excitedly, "with faster reflexes we respond quicker to all physical and mental stimuli. That's why we are better at all clerical work or anything that requires accuracy and speed. We also have greater sensory acuteness for color, so we see more beauty in the world than men. We can feel deeper emotion than men. Evolution has provided us with an extra capacity to love and feel for our children, which we can extend in love for others as well. We have deeper depressions and more euphoric highs whereas men repress their emotions, resulting in a much higher male population in mental institutions. They have more nervous breakdowns and four times as many ulcers. Since he's incapable of controlling his emotions and can only repress them, he finds he must drink in order to be able to laugh or cry or feel at all. That's why alcoholism is much more prevalent amongst them. Men have much lower thresholds of frustration, which is why 'juvenile delinquent' always conjures up a picture of a boy and not a girl.
"This motherly love I spoke of has resulted in something else that even men generally recognize: women's intuition. It's been noted that pregnant women have a remarkable psychic ability as regards predicting a dangerous situation. This helps them take precautions and save the life of the future generation."
"C'mon now," Ted said wearily, 'you've gone on for some time and youíre really getting into some nonsense now. I don't know how much of what you said is true, but none of it matters much or proves that women are superior to men. It's clear that they are inferior since the Son of God decided to appear to men in the form of a man and not that of a woman. Man was created first; woman was just an afterthought, meant to be a helper and companion to man. None of Jesus' twelve apostles were women either."
The woman was quietly laughing over what Ted had said as Phyllis commented, "But I have to agree about women's intuition. I can't say that's nonsense. Remember what happened to me when I was with Eric out in service? I had the premonition not to go up to the door that had behind it a man holding a knife. Eric wanted to take that door."
"That was Jehovah protecting you," Ted corrected. But the explanation bothered him because of the mind's amazing ability to rapidly associate one idea with another far off the topic. The particular thought that worried him now was the conversation he'd had with Cyn that first day. When she asked him why God failed to protect the nine-year-old girl in the Texas church from the collapsing roof. "God isn't acting towards us in such ways at the present time," he had told Cyn. Yet now, in order to disprove women's intuition he was arguing that God was acting in such ways towards them.
"Then why did he convey his warning to a woman instead of to a man?" Janet asked. "Why dirty himself by dealing directly with a lesser being when a higher one was at hand?"
"Look," Ted responded, "you're dealing with things so abstract and vague that nothing can be settled. It doesn't make any difference in the long run how many openings a person's body has. What matters is that men, although they live shorter lives (and must therefore be working harder rather than sitting at home all day watching soap-operas), are smarter, more level-headed, and more productive than women. You said the longer lasting product must be superior 'all things being equal', but that's just it: all things are not equal. An ordinary rock lasts much longer than a chunk of uranium, but the uranium is much more valuable. So too with women and men. Men accomplish so much more in their briefer life spans that there is no question that the quality of their lives far outweighs the quantity of them. All the great chefs have been men. There has never been a woman chess champion. All the greatest deeds in the world have been accomplished by men. 'By their fruits you will know them.'"
"All you just said proves in one individual case how stupid men are," she replied. "Don't you ever know the facts before you speak? Men are not smarter than women! It's the other way around! Girls begin talking and using sentences sooner than boys. They score higher on I.Q. tests, begin reading earlier, and far surpass boys in grade school. It isn't till high school that young women feel our culture bear down on them with its dictum 'IT'S UNLADYLIKE TO BE SMART' and 'COMPETITION IS A MASCULINE TRAIT' so they unconsciously hold back in their efforts and allow the boys to feel smarter. But that's a culturally imposed matter. If it weren't, women would continue to surpass men at everything but brute strength.
"Your idea that men are smarter just couldn't be further off the mark," she said with contempt. "Women take the lead in every kind of intelligence. They have more vivid mental imagery, for one thing. They think logically with both hemispheres of the brain, whereas men do logical thinking only in the brain's left hemisphere. So we excel in logical memory, having twice the capacity. So who has the 'level-headedness' you spoke of? You men are lopsided in this regard, using only half your brain! And who is it that starts all the wars? The so-called level-headed men! You just couldn't be further off the mark in what you say.
"The X-chromosome is a gentle one, according to scientists, and the Y-chromosome is an aggressive one. This accounts for man's aggressive tendencies. A disproportionate amount of criminals of the excessively violent type have an extra Y-chromosome, an 'XYY' composition, proving that the Y is an offensive one. It's up to us women to rise up and take our rightful place as world leaders. Only we can bring peace to the world. You men are genetically ill equipped for such a job as is proven, not only by biology, but 6,000 years of history. And it is only because throughout this history we've been kept down and forbidden to make meaningful contributions to society that you can proudly boast of the accomplishments of men. Women have had to wage a long, hard fight in every area before they were allowed to begin the real work of their calling. But where they did, their names are still remembered for their monumental effects. Such women as Marie CurrieÖ"
As she went on to recount the many life stories of her heroines, Ted began underlining in the current Watchtower, glancing up every now and then in astonishment at how Phyllis was enthralled, soaking up every word. At last, in a lull of historical recounting, Ted looked up from his magazine and got down to business, ignoring all her words and offering her a Bible-study. Both Phyllis and she laughed a full two minutes at him before Phyllis spoke, asking her name and asking if she could return to hear more and exchange ideas. Janet agreed.
As soon as they got back into the car, Ted asked, "You're not seriously going to go back on a return visit to her, are you?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Why not?" he asked in astonishment, "Well, let's just say she didn't seem very receptive to the Truth."
"It'll take time. It always does," she reminded sagely, "just like Brother Olson used to say--"
"Yes, I know what Brother Olson used to say. He still says it as a matter of fact. I don't know why everyone talks about him like he's dead."
"You're just upset because she threatened your masculine ego," she laughed.
They were being far too truthful with each other for the conversation to continue. So they went routinely through the rest of the not-at-homes without extraneous comment.
It was early afternoon when he got back home. It was so peaceful there now that the kids were at school. The Johnson's door was open so he peeked in. "Anybody home?" he called.
Vonnie came around the corner from the bedroom and asked, "All done with service already?"
"Yeah. It was just Phyllis and me doing her not-at-homes today. We ran into a women's libber and she took up a lot of time."
"Oh, one of those," she laughed, "they'll talk your ear off all right. I'm going to start getting out in service more now that my days are free again. Of course I always wanted to take the whole flock out with me this last summer, but then I would've had to palm them off on whoever else went out, and Richard thought that wasn't really fair to them."
"Oh, I don't know. I've always enjoyed working with Jeannie."
"Yes, she's such a dear," Vonnie said with a smile. "It's the rest of them; you never know what they're going to say or do. And I'd hate to have them embarrass some brother or sister at the door. But maybe by next summer they'll be trained enough so we'll all be able to share in the ministry work.
"Have you studied for tonight's meeting yet?" she asked.
"No," he replied, "that's what I was going to do now. I think I'm reading tonight, so I like to go over it real well and look up any words I don't know."
"Iíll bet you do that anyway," she smiled, and then with a grimace added, "scratch that word 'bet'. I've been picking up bad habits like that from the kids. Anyway, bring your book down here and we can study together."
And so went the afternoon. They studied and laughed together until Joey, Bobby, and Jeannie walked in en masse.
"Where's Sherri?" Vonnie inquired before even saying hello.
"I don't know," they all answered in disharmonious unison.
Vonnie ran to the porch and looked down the street in both directions for a hopeful glimpse of the girl. Seeing nothing she hurried back in and picked up the phone. "I was worried she'd pull something like this," she said as her fingers nervously dialed. "Youíre all sure that none of you saw her after school?"
There was no answer and the silence was taken for a negative.
"Hello, can I speak to Richard Johnson please ... If that girl ran off to that party ... Hello, Richard? Sherri's gone. She didn't come home from school today. No she isn't late; they're all supposed to meet at school and walk home together, you know that. I'll bet she ran off to that party at her friend's house. What was her name?" she asked Bobby.
"I don't know."
"That's just great. We don't even know her last nameÖ What if she doesn't? All right then." She hung up abruptly. Anger filled her entire body. "We're not going to do anything till your father gets home. He thinks she'll be back by then. So go get cleaned up for supper."
"I'm sure she'll be back soon," Ted lied as he left.
But the hours rolled on and neither Richard nor Sherri came home.
At 6:30 Richard called to say he was just leaving work and would be home soon. At 6:45 Ted came downstairs with his study-book, wondering if there would still be a meeting. To his surprise all the chairs were already arranged for it and three of the Johnson kids were obediently in their places.
"No Sherri yet?" he asked.
"As you see," Vonnie replied, making her entrance from the bathroom and taking her place.
"Have you thought of calling the school and asking them if they know a Laura that's in any of Sherri's classes?" Ted asked.
"No, we're not going to do anything till Richard gets home, and he's not home yet."
The Nelson's arrived and cordially greeted them all. "An interesting study tonight," David commented, taking the front chair facing them all.
Elvira commented condescendingly: "We all look so nice tonight, sitting and waiting so good in our places," and smiled at everyone so that the children wouldn't feel singled out. Neither of them noticed the absence of Sherri.
Phyllis and Terry Barton along with Martha Dorsey came in with Richard, who still had his overalls on. They were laughing and talking as they entered.
"There's a hard-working man," David Nelson appraised.
Richard said hello to everyone before leaning over and whispering in Vonnieís ear: "Is she back yet?"
Vonnie shook her head.
"Well," he said as he straightened up, "I've got to get washed up before the meeting." And off he went as Bob and Jack Morrow arrived.
Ted leaned over to Vonnie and said in a low voice, "Maybe we should all form a search party instead of having the meeting tonight."
Vonnie let out a screech of laughter which made Ted jerk back in surprise.
"Funny secrets you two are having?" Bob asked.
"Yes," Vonnie replied, "he just said we should all form a search party to go after someone whom no one's even noticed is missing."
"Someone's missing?" Elvira exclaimed.
"Where's Sherri?" Jack Morrow asked.
"She didn't come home from school today," Ted explained.
Some expressed alarm at this, but Richard emerged from the washroom just in time to soothe their troubled souls. "Don't worry, she just sneaked off to a party. It's not like we don't know where she is. She'll come home when it's done."
"I hope you'll punish her," Elvira expressed as David nodded his agreement.
"Oh yes, I've got the belt ready," Richard pointed out.
"If we're all ready, then," David announced, "let's ask Brother Evanston to ask Jehovahís blessing on our meeting."
Everyone automatically bowed their heads but Ted. He was startled at their calm attitude and their planning punishment rather than worrying over Sherriís safety.
"We don't know for sure that she went to that party," he said anxiously, "she might've been kidnapped or raped or something."
The others slowly looked up as it dawned on them that this wasn't a prayer.
"We just can't sit here and have an ordinary meeting when one of us is in potential danger," Ted argued.
"And what do you suggest we do?" David asked in his most patronizing voice.
"Call the police," Ted suggested, "go out looking by car, call the schoolÖ Do something!"
"We have to maintain the proper image of Jehovah's people," David explained matter-of-factly. "We don't ever want to call the police in on something like this unless we absolutely have to. How would it look: the police coming here to a meeting of Jehovah's people? The neighbors would imagine all kinds of goings-on! Besides, there's no one at the school now. The best thing is to wait and have our meeting in the meantime. Now, since Ted doesn't value the privilege, perhaps Brother Morrow would be good enough to ask Jehovah's blessing?"
"You'll excuse me," Ted said, interrupting the proceedings yet again and dramatically rising to his feet, "but I can't sit here and pretend everything's all right under these circumstances." And he walked towards the door.
"Fine," David called after him, "go and sit up in your room and sulk, that'll do a lot of good. Meanwhile we'll praise Jehovah."
When he got upstairs he wondered really what he could do. He was correct, he felt, in leaving the meeting. There was such a spirit of inertia there that he'd never have pulled free if he'd waited for the meeting to get underway. But he had no phone to make any calls. And he realized the futility of walking around aimlessly hoping to find signs of a party in progress somewhere. He decided to change his clothes to be less conspicuous and go for a walk.
As he roamed through the large bedroom closet, he heard footsteps on the stairs. His immediate thought was that it might be Sherri, afraid to face a roomful of condemning Witnesses, sneaking up to his place for temporary refuge. A more likely explanation, he reasoned, was that Paul was coming home. The footsteps had made their way into the living room now, and there were more than two of them.
"There he is!" yelled one of the large, dark figures that ran at him as he peeked around the corner. A sweaty palm fitted itself over his mouth as his arms were pinned behind his back and his chest thrust forward. He felt hardened fists driving into his stomach until he was ready to collapse. Then he was on the floor, feeling the rough bedroom rug slide across his face as they dragged him into the bathroom.
"Is he out?"
"Thisíll bring him out of it," Ted heard, and for a moment half-believed they were friendly voices helping him to consciousness after the thugs had departed. But he found his head thrust into the toilet, his tooth breaking on the porcelain, and his nose filling with water as they flushed the toilet. He gasped and gasped for an eternity.
A sharp boot split into his tailbone, knocking him onto the floor face up. Another boot smashed into his face. "Where's the money you stole, man?" a voice demanded. "Never mind," said the other, "we'll find it. Fill the tub with water." A boot drove into Tedís skull and he welcomed the nothingness of darkness.
The next thing was fear. There was time for it now and it pervaded his being. He opened his eyes cautiously and stared at the colors before him. It took a good half-minute to decipher them as flowers, then flowers on a small table, a small table next to a bed he was in, a curtain beyond that, the sound of buzzers and things clattering together, a TV somewhere with a familiar commercial.
At last he realized he was in a hospital.
He tried to roll over off his side and felt severe pains in his stomach and head. The room swirled around into darkness again.
When next he awoke he found himself staring at the most beautiful sight in his world: the face of the woman he loved. He wasn't fully conscious the moment he opened his eyes and was able to view her from this altered state of perception. It was something wide and high and proud and deep. A beautiful mahogany sculpture, showing the hand of some divine artist. Darker spheres inside brilliant whites, framed with a soft swirling. Smooth hills and jeweled lakes. A mysterious beckoning cave of softness with lips of infinite pleasure.
"Hello," the vision said, "how are you feeling? To ask a stupid question."
"Fine," he smiled as he grit his teeth, "to give a stupid answer. Been here long?"
"No. You just missed the whole congregation practically. They all signed a card for you."
"What time is it?"
"Well, first of all, it's Sunday. And it's, let's see, twelve minutes to two in the afternoon."
"Sunday?" he asked in disbelief.
"You had a concussion," she explained, "and I'm supposed to call the nurse as soon as you come around." She accordingly found the appropriate cord and pushed the button to buzz for the nurse.
"Did they catch the guys?"
"No. But they've got a good idea who was behind it. How many were there?"
"Myriads. And none of them were brothers, either," he groaned, trying to joke and doing the best possible under the circumstances.
"I think they were black," he said. "There were really just two as far as I could tell. I never got a good look at them. But --didn't anyone at the meeting see them leave?"
At this point the nurse entered, "Ah, you're awake! Welcome back to the land of the living!"
"It was that bad, huh?" he asked.
"A concussion is always serious business. But you'll be all right now," she assured him as she took his blood pressure. "You'll feel dizzy for several days, and that stomach of yours is going to feel awful sore longer than that; but you'll survive. The doctor will be in to talk to you tomorrow morning."
"How soon do I get to go home?"
"Ah, you're going to be one of those, are you?" she laughed. "Barely awake and he wants to go home already! It'll be a few days. The doctor will let you know. Sounds like you've got some pretty unfriendly acquaintances, huh?"
"I don't know who they were. But Cynthia was about to tell me who she thinks they were."
"Well, Iíll be out of here in a minute if you want your privacy," the nurse offered.
"That's all right, you can hear this. It doesn't matter," Ted said.
"It was two goons from where your friend, Paul, worked," Cyn explained, "they mistook you for him. He says they were after him for some money he took -- though he says he didn't --"
"Fifty lousy dollars," Ted mused.
"Anyway, he evidently quit without any notice or anything and got a job at a gas station. So they figured he just took off with the money. They messed up your place real bad looking for money. Did you have any in the house?"
"I had some in the beer stein in the kitchen cabinet for the rent. Did they get that?"
"I don't know, probably. They threw all your books and papers into the bathtub, so theyíre all ruined."
"I think we're tiring him out with all this," the nurse warned, "maybe you'd like to get some more sleep and you can talk more later?"
"No, I've had enough sleep if this is really Sunday. Iíll just lay awake brooding over this anyway. Please let her stay."
"All right then," the nurse acquiesced, and left the room.
"Did Sherri come back that night?" he asked.
"Not of her own free will. She went over to her mother's after her party. Her mother called the Johnson's and they came and got her."
He sighed deeply and braced himself internally as he asked, "What did they do to her?"
"He beat her up, of course," she said. "Then they locked her in her room after they moved Jeannie in with them. She's grounded for two months now. When she gets home from school each day they're gonna lock her in her room and only let her out for meals and to go to the bathroom."
"Did he hurt her?"
"Of course. But I haven't seen her, so I don't know the extent of the damage."
"So we both got beaten-up on the same night," he laughed but immediately stopped as it caused great pain in his tender stomach.
"You'd better get some rest now. I'll come see you again tomorrow."
"Okay, thanks for being here now. It was nice to wake up to you."
She bent over and kissed him on his unbruised cheek, whispered goodbye, and quietly left.
Alone with his thoughts he pondered once again his relationship with Jehovah. Had these latest developments strengthened or weakened it? Did he feel that Jehovah had let him down by not protecting him from physical harm? Or had Jehovah arranged it to remind him of his bodily constitution, that he'd better pay attention to that since he was destined to remain flesh-and-blood rather than being heaven-bound?
He knew how Arthur Olson spent his days in bed dreaming of heaven. He tried that. But no matter how he tried he still came up with the erroneous picture of clouds and harps and wings. He should've been able to do better than that if he were really of the remnant of the 144,000 spiritually anointed joint-heirs with Christ. Still, he shouldn't be looking for an additional sign, he concluded, the one he had at baptism should suffice.
The ensuing days were spent in such meditations interrupted by occasional visitors. Monday forenoon Phyllis came to his bedside, shortly joined by Cyn on her lunch hour. The former was talking a steady stream of feminist propaganda that she'd learned from her call on Janet Freeman that morning. Cyn listened attentively when she wasn't winking and smiling at Ted or stuffing her sandwich into her mouth.
"And Jan says you can see man's inhumanity to woman even in the name they gave us. Woman was originally 'wifman'--'wife-man' -- showing that all we were to be was a wife to a man with no individual essence of our own. She says it wasn't until the fourteenth century that the 'f' was dropped to form 'wiman' which later became 'woman'. And Jan says --"
"Never mind 'Jan says'," Ted interrupted, "what about 'Phyllis says'? Did you manage to tell her anything about the Bible?"
"Jan says that the Bible was just written by men so --"
"Yes, I was there when she said it." Ted reminded her, "But what did you say to her about the Bible?"
"Well, I have to let her get all this stuff off her chest before I could begin to talk to her about the Truth. I figure if I show an interest in what's important to her, then she'll pay attention when I start talking the Truth to her."
"That's a good idea," Cyn said appreciatively, "that way she'll feel that you value her ideas too rather than just preaching at her."
"Yes," Phyllis smiled, and then leaned towards her as if to keep the next observation from Ted, though he heard it perfectly well, "and you know what else Jan says? That women are superior to men because we can have continuous sex and multiple orgasms."
Ted howled at this while Cyn remained politely uncommitted.
"It's true," Phyllis chuckled, turning to him, "prostitutes have been known to go through a whole shipload of sailors in a night, wearing them all out."
"Sister,' he replied gently yet firmly, "keeping in mind the values of the fruitage of the spirit as opposed to the reaping of the fruitages of the flesh, how does this make women superior to men? Doesn't it just make them more liable to a life of sin having greater capacity for it?"
"Well, Jan says that sex is the ultimate pleasure in this life and the person who can have this pleasure most often in her short life is the happier and superior person."
"From a worldly point of view that might be true, but we know better, don't we?"
She only smiled at him in reply.
Cyn had finished her lunch and got up to go so Phyllis followed suit, leaving him alone for several hours of monotony, finally broken by the appearance of Bill Jackson.
"Hey, what do you think of a guy who gets promoted and doesn't show up his first day of work?" Bill called out in mock indignation.
"Hello, I didn't expect to see you here!" Ted replied.
"I didn't expect to see you here either. I expected to see you at work. So what are you doing lying around here?"
"Oh, I had a few problems with my brain, they tell me."
"Yes," Bill said, abandoning his jocular tone, "I heard: a concussion. How are you now?"
"They say if there's no setbacks I can go home this week, maybe the day after tomorrow. And, hopefully I can start work next week."
"Sounds good," he smiled, leaning forward in the chair, "so did all your brothers and sisters visit you already?"
"I think so. I was asleep at the time, though."
"It must be nice to have so many people care about you."
"It's wonderful," Ted agreed, nodding and looking out the distant window, afraid to meet Billís eyes for some reason.
"They do care about you, don't they?" Bill asked.
Ted swallowed, "Yes." Everything was so damned transparent to Bill. Why did he have to examine and analyze every little detail? Why couldn't he let a person's illusions alone?
"I mean," Bill continued, "they're concerned about you as a person, not just as a Jehovah's Witness. They come because you're their friend, not because it's a required thing to do for any Jehovah's Witness you know. They'd come even if you were no longer a Witness, wouldn't they?"
"No, I wouldn't deserve their concern if I left the Truth."
"So their friendship is based on your believing the same as them. It isn't friendship for you at all; it's merely dutiful recognition of a set of beliefs which happen to be inhabiting a person known as Ted Evanston."
"You can make every act of kindness seem base," Ted replied in disgust and anger.
"That's because I reduce it to its basic truth. You talk a lot about the truth. But isn't that all pretty hypocritical since whenever you're confronted with the truth you refuse to accept it?"
"I don't do that," Ted insisted, angered to the verge of tears, "I think you'd better go and let me get some rest instead of exasperating me."
"All right, Ted, but outside of your girlfriend I'm the first real visitor you've had."
The routine of the hospital was not again interrupted until the following noon. Then, with Cyn at his bedside, he got a phone call from Richard.
"Sorry we haven't gotten over there to see you yet," he apologized.
"That's all right," Ted quickly forgave.
"No, it's not all right. We should've come and we would've except for Sherri. She ran away again, and she didn't go to her mother's this time. So we've been busy trying to track her down."
"You called the police this time?"
Richard paused, feeling the full effect of Ted's barely intended condemnation for not doing so the first time. "Yeah," he answered slowly, "we've got the police working on it too. They say they always turn up sooner or later. Well, enough of my troubles, when are you getting out?"
"Tomorrow, I think."
"Great! Have you got a way to get home?"
"Not really. Could you ask Paul for me, if he's not doing anything, if he could pick me up?"
"If not, Iíll get a hold of someone to get you. Take care now."
So he turned once more to Cyn, who had rapidly polished off her lunch. "Do you know who was here yesterday afternoon besides you and Phyllis?"
"Who? George Butler Iíll bet, or your mother."
"Wrong on both counts. My mother doesn't even know about this."
"Shame on you! Not telling your own mother!"
"She'd be over here all the time if I had, and I'd never get a moment's rest. But anyway, it was Bill Jackson. Do you ever run into him anymore?"
"Where would I run into him?" she asked. "He's no friend of mine."
"Well, he seems to want to be a friend to me. But he's so strange, always arguing. He makes me mad all the time. He gave me a promotion at work just before this happened. So I'm working for him now instead of daily labor."
"That's nice, but I think he's trying to buy your friendship."
"Why would he want to do that?"
"With his personality he can't get friends any other way. I'd avoid him as much as possible if I were you. I don't want you becoming like him."
It was time for her to go, so she left him once more to his dreams of heaven and soul-searching which left him strangely dry.
Paul took him home the following morning. Disgusted as he was with lying around in bed at the hospital, Vonnie forced him into his bed as soon as he got home.
"At least until tomorrow," she laid down the law: "you stay put. And I'll hear you if you get up and walk around, so don't try that."
So he lay in bed once more. But this time it was his own window and the familiar neighborhood sounds combined with Vonnie's vacuuming which effectively distracted his thoughts from their morbid preoccupation with heaven.
He woke up in the late afternoon to the sound of the same voice he'd last heard. But this time it was screeching in desperate passion.
He looked at the clock and realized that the kids must've just come home from school. Still, her yelling at them was unfamiliar to him. It had an "Iím at my wit's end" feeling about it. Perhaps Sherri had returned, he reasoned, and was receiving her bawling-out.
It wasn't until Richard came home from work that he learned the truth. Then it was, after much more yelling and wailing, that he heard all ten footsteps ascending the stairs. This frightened him for a moment, remembering what happened the last time he heard footsteps on the stairs, but Richard knocked and announced himself. "Ted, it's us, are you awake?" Ted responded and into his bedroom entered Richard, frowning; Vonnie, in angry, confused tears; Jeannie hanging onto her hand with a worried look; Joey, whose face was red-blotched from crying; and Bobby, tagging behind in studied indifference.
"The whole family --" Ted began with a smile, but as the expressions sunk in, he hurriedly asked, "what's the matter?"
"Joey has something he wants to tell you,' Richard announced.
But the hysterical sobbing, which constituted the aftermath of his extended crying, made communication impossible for Joey.
"C'mon, stop that bawling and tell him what you did," Richard demanded impatiently and made a move towards the boy.
"Wait!" Ted blurted out, to the surprise of them all. It was not his place to give such instructions to Richard, but Richard stopped and waited for Ted to justify his request.
"Give him time," Ted requested, remembering all too well what it was like to cry like a child: impossible to just shut off the overwhelming emotions on command, rendering one incapable of speech, something beyond control which shouldn't require additional punishment.
"Give him time?" Richard echoed with a sinister laugh, and continued to menacingly approach the boy.
Ted thought that Vonnie would surely take Joey's part and say what her husband wanted him to say while protectively moving him behind her. That's what the Vonnie of the past would've done. But the new Vonnie had simply been through too much. She thrust Joey towards Richard when he struggled to get away.
"I took the money!" Joey screamed before Richard's back hand slapped against his face, producing a wail of painful shrieks.
Vonnie covered Joey's wide-open mouth with her hand as Richard further explained the situation, taking a roll of bills from his back pocket. "Vonnie found this in his dresser-drawer today while she was cleaning." He held it out for Ted to take, but Ted laid there dumbly.
"It's fifty dollars," he added. But seeing that even this didn't ring a bell, he elaborated: "It's the fifty dollars Paul was missing: the missing money you got beat-up for. This little thief stole it and hid it in his drawer. Thereís no telling how much the others had to do with it. Bobby claims he's innocent, but that doesn't mean a whole lot since he's a liar."
Ted looked at Bobby whose pleading eyes made him speak up, "I don't think it was Bobby." But he couldn't exactly explain why he felt that way.
"We also found a bunch of toy race-cars in that drawer; he and a bunch of worldly kids from school have been shoplifting," Richard continued, ignoring Ted's defense of Bobby.
"Jeannie made me do it!" Joey cried.
"Listen," Richard shouted, grabbing him by the shirt collar as the little boy winced and rapidly blinked in reflexive anticipation of getting slugged again, "nobody made you do anything! And we know Jeannie a little better than that, mister. Didn't Bobby have anything to do with this?"
Joey shook his head no.
"Jeannie has been up here with Joey when nobody was home," Ted told them, glancing briefly at Bobby who was relying on him to clear him and tell all he knew.
"You know, the Bible had the right idea," Richard proclaimed, once again ignoring Ted, "just take your good-for-nothing kids out and stone 'em at the public gate, with the parents throwing the first stone. That's just the way they make you feel: you'd be better off stoning them. Jehovah really showed his love for parents in making that provision. It's almost worth taking back the whole Mosaic Law just to regain that one."
Jeannie began sobbing at this. Vonnie took her hand off Joey's mouth to put both her arms around her as she bent down to comfort her. "Daddy didn't mean you, sweetheart," she assured her, "you're our good girl and we love you very much."
Joey was hyperventilating from his wildly erratic breathing. Ted, confused, felt for him and Bobby. He wished the money had never been found if it meant this much suffering for everyone. Still, he knew it was important to nip such things in the bud lest Joey grow up to be a thief.
"Joey, you and your brother are grounded for the rest of the school year, " Richard sternly announced amidst Bobby's cries of innocence. "You'll both write 5,000 sentences by the end of next month saying 'I will not steal or lie anymore.'"
"But I didn't do anything," Bobby protested, "Jeannie was up here with him, not me. She's the one behind it. Why don't you punish her?"
"That's enough out of you, young man," Richard warned. "We're not sure if you were involved, that's why you didn't get hit. Consider yourself fortunate that all you have to do is write sentences."
But that amount of sentences was not about to be tolerated by Bobby in submissive silence, "Ask Ted;" he pleaded, "he knows Jeannie's behind it all and not me."
"I don't know that," Ted carefully stated under Bobby's imploring gaze, "I heard Jeannie and Joey talking once about money and that he had gotten something from someone at school who 'took them from stores'. I thought it was just playing at the time, but now it appears that maybe Jeannie knew of his possessing stolen merchandise and didn't tell anyone. That's all I really know."
"Well, Jeannie," Vonnie said gently, "you should tell us any time you find out your brothers or sister do anything wrong like this, okay?"
Jeannie responded with an "okay" and received a hug from her mother.
Richard suggested that they all leave and let Ted get some rest, so they filed out with their long faces.
Later that evening Paul returned from work. Now that he was working a day shift the sleeping arrangements had become more difficult.
Ted had wanted him to sleep on the sofa, but he insisted on the bed.
Since it was a queen-sized mattress, they shared it. But Paul's constant restlessness even in sleep exasperated Ted. He lay awake most of the night because of the bed quaking and Joey's snoring.
The next day Ted felt so sick and tired of bed that he got up as soon as everyone left rather than taking advantage of the sudden quiet to sleep.
Dizzy at first, he soon regained his bearings and was nearly as good as new. After bathing and eating, he spent the day studying for the night's meeting, as well as the ones he'd missed.
At the meeting that night in the familiar living room of the Johnson's, everyone was pleased to see Ted back in the fold. But their appreciation of his presence was somewhat diverted when Vonnie ushered a freshly made-up Sherri into the room. She sat down quietly beside her step-mother, and stared dumbly into space.
"Hello, Sherri, dear," greeted Elvira Nelson, "so good to have you back."
"Thank you Sister Nelson," Sherri replied with a polite smile. Her manner almost seemed to mock Elvira's, but it soon became apparent that there was no ridicule intended.
"How nice you look tonight, Sherri," Martha Dorsey joined in, "is that a new dress?"
"Thank you, Sister Dorsey," Sherri replied, "Yes, it is."
David Nelson was straining at his seat to blast forth in reprimands for the wayward soul. His wife gently put her hand against his arm to restrain him. He looked over at her in perplexity, and she softly explained, "Sherri's a proper little lady tonight."
"Yes, ma'am," Sherri again responded mechanically, "Thank you, ma'am."
Richard didn't arrive until the middle of the meeting due to his overtime at work. When he did, he couldn't interrupt the meeting to upbraid his long-lost daughter. So, after a moment of silent astonishment at seeing her sitting there in a feminine new dress answering a question out of the book in a steady, pleasant monotone, he took a seat. The remaining half-hour was enough for him to witness the remarkable change that Vonnie had wrought in her. She was a miniature version of Elvira. A Jehovah's Witness automaton: fully functioning, yet obviously lifeless. In short, she was all that Richard could hope for his daughter to be.
In one short afternoon, between the time the police brought her home and the start of the meeting, Vonnie had somehow successfully broken Sherriís young spirit. She had made of her a "proper lady" and only time would tell if life would reanimate her. If it did, if that youthful spirit were somehow resurrected within her, it would now have to rebel against her own self as well as them. It was an extra safeguard, a fail-safe device automatically implanted when Sherri gave herself up to be molded by Vonnie.
Richard never did upbraid her for running away. He never even mentioned it. He knew that a much worse punishment than anything he could do or say to Sherri had already been administered.
If Sherri stole the show at that Thursday night meeting, Phyllis was the star on Sunday. She drew attention after the meeting by handing out pamphlets on Women's Liberation. She didn't go so far as to say she believed in what they said, but she asked the brothers and sisters to read them and tell her what they thought of them. She talked to Cyn and Ted for a long time about the new things Jan had said.
"Have you noticed that you no longer talk about the Truth, Phyllis?" Ted asked.
"Maybe this is the Truth," she offered with one of her famous broad smiles.
"If that's the Truth," Cyn asked wonderingly, "what about the Bible? Doesn't it say that women are the 'weaker vessel' and that their place is to be submissive to their husbands, and all that? How can you believe both at the same time?"
"It's hard, isn't it?" Phyllis agreed, "But these men who wrote the Bible, maybe they were influenced by existing conditions rather than the objective Truth."
"Wait a minute, sister," Jerry Lindquist interjected from behind the book-counter which they were standing near, "I didn't hear you say that the Bible isn't objectively true, did I?"
"Well, I don't know," she blushed, "but a lot of the stuff in these Women's Liberation tracts sounds right."
"Listen," Jerry countered with a triumphal air, "do you know how much a woman's brain weighs?" Cyn gave a gasp of laughter at this, but he continued unabashed, "It weighs four ounces less than a man's. So you tell me how a woman is equal to a man."
"She's not equal," said Phyllis.
"Well, that's more like it."
"She's superior," she announced, flooring everyone within hearing distance. "If you want to use brain-weight as a measure, you'd have to say whales are much smarter than men since their brain weighs many pounds more. If you take a more reasonable approach and say that the brain weight in proportion to body weight is what's important, then it's obvious that the whale's brain has to be bigger to control such a large body, and very little is left for intelligence. Understand?"
"Yeah, sure," Jerry replied, wondering what was next since she seemed so confident of victory.
"Then if you measure the male and female brain against their body weight, you'll find that since women as a rule weigh less than men, they actually have more brain in proportion to their bodies than men do. As it says in this pamphlet, one ounce of female brain has to control only 43 ounces of body weight, whereas one ounce of a man's brain has to control 47 ounces of body weight. So you see, you can't really use that to prove men are smarter since it proves just the opposite -- if brain size really had any relationship with intelligence at all, which it doesn't. As this pamphlet points out, the largest brain on record was that of an idiot, and the smallest was that of a brilliant French author. In fact, many prehistoric types of man had larger brains than man has today."
Her last remark was her undoing, and she realized it as soon as it was out of her mouth. "Prehistoric types of men?" Jerry and David Nelson (who had sneaked up behind her during this conversation) exclaimed in unison with horror. "We don't believe in any prehistoric men, sister!" David reminded her.
"Oh, that's right," she laughed nervously, "I was just saying what the pamphlet said."
"Well, maybe you should stop saying what the pamphlet says," David warned.
"All right, but just let me ask you this," continued the irrepressible young woman, "How would you go about answering the idea that women are superior to men because they live longer?"
"They only live longer because they don't work all their lives like men. They sit at home and let hubby bring home the bacon," David answered smugly.
"Yes," Phyllis replied, "but they did a study which found that spinsters with jobs lived an average of 71 years, whereas bachelors with jobs lived only 65 years on the average. So how do you explain that if not by a superior bodily constitution on the part of women?"
David became flustered, he had no answer and so replied, "Sister, I think youíd better stop talking of such things. In fact, I'd like you to come to an understanding with the Committee elders about all of this this afternoon."
Phyllis was instantly near tears. She never had to face the Committee before; she was an outstanding example and pioneer, and had been in the truth her whole life. "I thought -- I was told," she gulped, her chin quivering with fear, "we were supposed to ask all the questions we could think of -- all the questions --"
"Yes, sister. We'd like to ask you a few questions about all of this at the meeting. So we'll meet here right after the service meeting today." So saying, David Nelson walked away and the little crowd that had gathered dispersed.
On his way out the door Ted was taken in hand by David. "I don't think you should be talking to Phyllis Barton so much. You must remember she's a married woman now, and she's got some dangerous ideas. I shouldn't really be telling you this," he confided, "but I'm pretty sure she'll be publicly reproved if not disfellowshipped soon. Weíll probably make an announcement Tuesday night. So stay clear of her and you'll stay out of trouble. And, by the way," he continued, never one to stop with one admonition or bit of bad news, "you'd better stop sitting next to that Rose girl until you're engaged; doesn't look right. And whatever you do, don't get engaged till she's baptized! Iíll tell my wife to start going over the 80 questions with her when she starts her study."
"No one's going to study with Cyn Rose but me," Ted said defiantly, and walked out.