Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Ending the silence

I've been working on this post for weeks.

Something bad happened recently, and I feel completely inadequate to comment on it myself. Articles and blog posts about it are all over the internet. I keep hoping to find something about it from Christian therapists and writers.

I wish one of them would write about it, so all I'd have to do is link to their article with a few comments. But either I'm not looking in the right places, or they're remarkably silent.

Bill Zeller (photo: The Daily Princetonian)
Just after the first of the year, Bill Zeller took his life.

Zeller was 27 years old, a PhD student at Princeton, a computer application developer whose projects included Graph Your Inbox and myTunes.

From all appearances, he had everything: youth, talent, education, and a promising future.

But the suicide note he left on his blog tells a different story.

The pain and rage in Zeller's note are palpable. Set aside some time — and some kleenex — if you read it. (I won't post excerpts here, out of respect for Zeller, since he asked that it only be reproduced in its entirety.)

In the note, Zeller wrote of the torment of living with a monster that followed him every day. Zeller calls the monster a "darkness," but animates that nebulous term with the pronouns "he" and "him."

The darkness that stalked Zeller was the result of having been raped repeatedly as a young child.

He also wrote of having cut ties with his parents, and their church. He clearly lays blame for his life's defining event on them. And this may be the linchpin of the whole letter: Zeller believed his parents and their church — and maybe by extension, God — are to blame for the horror that stole his life.

The note does not reveal the name of the one who raped him.

Whoever he is, he isn't the enemy.

Satan is the enemy, and secrecy and silence are his minions.


A couple of weeks after Zeller's death, This American Life ran a story on a man with a similar history. Called When I Grow Up, it features David Holthouse telling the story of being raped as a seven-year-old child and his resulting decision to end the life of the rapist.

The audio version of the story, posted below, begins at the 8:20 mark in the broadcast and ends at 31:00.

Holthouse, once a writer for a Denver newspaper, tells the story in Stalking the Bogeyman.

It's a hard story to hear. But he ends on a hopeful note.

Would that Bill Zeller had found a similar hope.


Much as I'd love to wrap this post up neatly, there's no amount of statistics or personal stories or Bible verses that will do it. It's a messy business, no matter how you look at it.

But we're going to have to look at it.



  1. In a culture like ours... where sex is advertised as entertainment... it is easy to forget the 'power' at play. Though it may be enjoyable to two consenting parties, it is humiliating to those who are raped- especially at a young age. Not only is something taken without consent... there is a feeling of powerlessness that no amount of fame or fortune can replace.

    I feel for Zeller. Thanks for sharing this, Pam.

  2. Gina, you're right. Power is a huge theme here -- not only the abuser's power over the abused, but (in Zeller's case) the power held by his parents and by the church.

    And I'm convinced these two stories, though dramatic, represent what can happen when the abuse victim decides to take the power back.


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