Please be aware that this story contains harsh language and some sexual content.
Mom doesn’t get home until really late, and the streets of Harlem are a shitty place to grow up and learn about the world. The neighbor’s garden, if you want to call it that, is cramped inside of tiny plots of land that are poor excuses for what my science teacher would call ‘natural’. Growing up inside of an apartment in Harlem is like a weed growing up between the cracks in the sidewalk.
My mother bought me a computer with the money she saved from work. “Take good care of it, I worked hard for that.” She told me. Of course, I didn’t know what that meant.
But when I started getting on the computer, it was like that crack in the sidewalk slowly started widening. It wasn’t a crack anymore, it was like the two slabs of cement were moving away from each other, and the space in between was growing. I fell deeper and deeper into my computer, into the internet, discovering all the glorious forums and piracy sites and programs and apps. I found porn a week after my 9th birthday. All I knew was that it was really crazy and made me feel weird, and that I shouldn’t be looking at it. But mom didn’t come home until really late, so I knew I was safe. But after a couple of weeks, I didn’t want to anymore. I found hacking.
Hacking was fun. It was exciting. It made me feel sort of special, and a little weird, sort of like porn. But it was a little different, too. It gave me power. Every time I logged in to the computer, I felt like I was digging deeper and deeper into that chasm in the sidewalk. I started coding for hours and hours at a time. Even when I was in school, I would write code in my notebooks, and come up with ideas for how I could hack things. The other kids thought I was weird, but I didn’t care.
The first site I hacked was a small, stupid forum about gardening. I spammed all of the threads with some of the porn pictures that I found online. I laughed and imagined the faces of all the computer-literate gardeners logging on to garden-talk.forum.net, only to find pictures of naked women.
It made me feel like I’d done something important and secret, like George Clooney from Ocean’s Eleven. I’d trample back to our cramped, shitty apartment in Harlem after school, and rush to my computer, then code until I fell asleep. The next day, garden-talk figured it out and tightened security, and that pissed me off. So I decided I’d try something bigger.
There were a couple of good candidates for hacking: An e-commerce site that sold a thousand shoes each week, a site of a mayor of a small town in Ohio that got a decent number of views each week, and a forum about a tabletop role playing game. I hacked each of them, and kept them locked up with pictures of naked breasts all over the pages for a week.
It took me a while before I realized that what I was doing was a kind of terrorism. I forced something into somebody’s life that they didn’t want to be there. It was a weed sprouting up from between the sidewalk. Somebody out there was just trying to buy a pair of shoes and they saw a pair of something else entirely. But that didn’t stop me. I found a bigger site: An online bidding site, like an eBay knock-off, and hacked that too. That one made the news, and that made me feel really cool.
The next week, I found some other hackers who helped me spam a bigger site, a news site. It didn’t last very long, but it was a big deal – There was no headline news story for that afternoon, just a picture.
The other hackers liked what I was doing. We chatted late one night, planning a vile and terrific spam on another news site the next morning.
Never once did I question what we were doing. At least, not for the reasons that most people might. Never once did I think that we should stop, or that what I was doing was wrong, or that I should feel guilty, or bad. But when they sent me the image we were going to use in the spam attack, I did.
They sent the picture to me. I clicked on the link, and saw the naked body, exposed, violated, and humiliated.
It was my mother.