“You don't love someone because they're perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they're not.”
Jodi Picoult


Even when I worked at the school for handicapped kids, I still talked to Donna for hours every day. I spent all my free time on the phone with her. Sometimes we talked until the sun came up and I went to work without having slept at all.

By now I had lost all interest in the illegal hacking scene, so Lucifer had retired. But I still continued to run my software company as Goliath and we had produced a few popular video games. Some of them were distributed by a German software company that later became part of Electronic Arts.

I was only 20, but I had already made a nice amount of money with those video games and I ended up flying to New York whenever I had a chance, to spend time with Donna. During one particular three month time period I ended up flying to New York six times. Sometimes just for a weekend.

The handicapped kids I worked with were always sick. Long time teachers are used to it. They have a pretty strong immune system and they don't get sick all the time from being around sick kids. But I hadn't been around these kids for that long, so I wasn't as immune as the other teachers were, and I caught every cold those kids had. One time I caught the chickenpox from them. I figured, while I was on sick leave, it was the perfect excuse to hop on a plane and go visit Donna in New York for a few days again.

I can't believe they actually let me on the plane. I felt like patient zero. I could have had the swine flu or Ebola or something. During the flight, my chickenpox got worse and worse. By the time I got off the plane, I looked like a leper. I was seriously afraid the customs officers at Kennedy Airport would take one look at me and quarantine me or something. But they let me right through. So much for border security.

A few weeks later I caught pneumonia. Not sure if it was the result of having caught 3 consecutive colds from the kids, or because I had spent so much time in freezing phone booths, talking to Donna. Either way, I collapsed at my parents' house with a very high fever.

For days I had this really bad cough that just wouldn't go away. Then, while brushing my teeth one night, the bathroom suddenly turned black and white, and everything seemed to move away from me. Obviously that was just what it looked like, because the blood was leaving my head, so my eyes were playing tricks on me. But it really did look like the whole room turned black and white and moved away from me. I think that's why people see a tunnel of light when they die. I think it's simply the blood leaving their eye balls and their field of vision narrowing to a pinpoint.

I was able to call out for my mom and my stepdad right before passing out. They called an ambulance and I was rushed to the hospital. Turns out I had pneumonia for a while already, before I finally collapsed that night. The doctors told my parents they weren't sure if I was going to make it. For the first few days in the hospital, there was a pretty good chance I might die. But I got through it. After I got out of the hospital, I was on sick leave for a few weeks. So of course I hopped on the next plane and flew to New York again.

When I had first started talking to Donna over a year earlier, to convince her to make her bulletin board the exclusive online headquarter for my hacking crew, she had mentioned that she had a roommate. This guy Jeff, who worked as a technician in an electronics store, and spent all his time fixing broken TVs and VCRs and stuff like that.

Whenever Donna and I talked on the phone, I often heard her yell at Jeff to get out of her room, or to go let her dogs out, or get her cigarettes. She was treating him like shit. Like he was her personal servant or something.

As the weeks and months went by, and we talked every day, we got closer and closer. Donna and I started having phone sex. This was before the first time I flew to New York to visit her.

One night she asked me on the phone if I masturbate. Well, yeah, doesn't everyone? Then she asked me how often. She asked me to describe in detail how I do it. Then she asked me to do it on the phone with her and let her listen to me cum. I was shy at first, but she kept whispering all sorts of sexy things into my ear that got me hard. From that point on we had phone sex almost every night. That's why I always locked my bedroom door, so my parents wouldn't suddenly walk in on me. And because I was locked in my room all the time, they started to think I was on drugs.

Donna asked me how big my dick was and asked me to take pictures of it before and after she made me cum, and mail them to her. And she sent me naked pictures of herself. It was pretty exciting to have a girlfriend in New York, who got a kick out of making me cum on the phone every night.

But I could tell that something was bothering her. I asked her what was wrong. Finally Donna told me she had a deep dark secret. She said if she told me what it is, I would never want to talk to her again. It was obvious that her secret really was weighing on her conscience, and I kept asking her to tell me, and I promised her that she would feel so much better once she gets it off her chest.

I told her that I know from experience that carrying around a dark secret has a way of making you feel trapped and alone: "I know what it's like to put up these invisible walls in your head that you hide behind, and you don't want to let anyone peek inside those walls and see the real you, because you're afraid they won't like you anymore once they know your secret and they know the real you. But it's a really good feeling when you find someone you can trust. And you can share your dark secret with them without fear of being judged or that they will like you any less. And then, when you can finally let it all out, that secret suddenly no longer has any power over you. Sometimes things seem really bad when they fester in the dark, but once you drag them out into the light, and you talk about them, they aren't so bad after all."

I tried to reassure her that no matter what, I wouldn't love her any less. But she just wouldn't tell me. That just blew my mind. We had gotten so close. Every day she told me she loved me. She had sent me naked pictures of herself. She had told me many times on the phone that she couldn't wait to finally meet in person and touch me, kiss me, and feel me inside of her. At this point she should have been able to tell me anything. What could possibly be so bad that she felt she couldn't talk to me about it?

Of course when someone says they have a dark secret, your brain automatically starts imagining all sorts of worst case scenarios: Maybe she's in a wheelchair? Maybe she has cancer and she's on chemo and she's bald? Maybe she used to be a prostitute? And that's were I hit the limits of my imagination. I couldn't think of anything that would be worse. Anything else, no matter what, would be less bad than those three scenarios.

For the next few sleepless nights, I tried to play out each of those scenarios in my head. I tried to be honest with myself about how I would feel if she was in a wheelchair, with everything that entails. We would never be able to travel or go out to eat or go to the beach like a normal couple. The wheelchair would dominate every aspect of life. Everything would be a hassle. Everything would be complicated. And sex with her probably would never be the way I had pictured it in my head when we had phone sex.

But ultimately none of that mattered to me. I read somewhere that falling in love with someone through letters or on the phone is the truest form of love, because you are in love with the actual person, with their true essence. You are in love with their mind, not their body. And I really cared about Donna after all the time we had spent talking to each other. I figured I would be a pretty shallow asshole if I would let a disability change my feelings for her. That's not the kind of person I want to be. And I'm not. So I was going to stick by her, wheelchair and all.

But what if she had cancer? Do I really want to get attached to someone who has a terminal illness and who may die soon? I thought about that saying, "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." That made a lot of sense to me. None of us really know how long we have left to live. You may be perfectly healthy, and then get hit by a bus tomorrow.

It doesn't make any sense to say no to love, just because it may end in a few months. Every day with that special someone in your life is a gift. If it ends up lasting a lifetime, that's perfect. But even if it only lasts a few months or years, nobody can ever take those days away from you afterwards. They will forever be a part of you and your story. So I decided that even if Donna has cancer and she's going to die soon, I won't let that stop me from loving her and spending as much time as possible with her now, for as long as possible.

But what if she used to be a prostitute? No matter how liberal I may be about most things, when it comes to love and sex, I am pretty traditional. I'm not into free love. I'm not into fucking around with just anybody.

Love is really just a word we use to describe a deep bond between two people. And the thought that the girl I love has sex with someone else is unbearable to me. I think of sex as the most intimate thing two people in love can share. It's the ultimate bonding experience. I can't have sex a bunch of times with a girl and not bond with her or care about her. And I can't handle the thought of the girl I love having sex with someone else and sharing that kind of intimacy with another person besides me.

So if Donna had been a prostitute while she and I were talking to each other on the phone every day, I wouldn't have been able to handle it. I would have told her to stop doing that or I wouldn't be able to talk to her any more, because it would hurt me too much to get attached to her any further, while she is having sex with other people.

But if she had been a prostitute in the past, before she and I met, I figured I would be able to deal with that. I wouldn't be happy about it. It would bother me a lot that every guy in town had his dick inside the girl I love. Disgusting! But as long as it's in the past, and she's loyal to me now, and we have a strong bond that nobody else can break, then I would be able to forget about it and focus on a future with her instead of worrying about her past.

While growing up in Germany, I read a book, called Zoo Station, about a teenage prostitute. It was a true story. Her name was Christiane F. She had grown up in a broken, abusive home. She started doing heroin at 13 and ended up as a teenage prostitute at 14, tricking on the streets of Berlin, near the Zoo subway station.

That book was a huge hit. It sold millions of copies and was made into a movie that ended up being one of the highest grossing films in German movie history. Christiane F made so much money off her life story that she ended up being a millionaire. Her book was required reading in most German schools.

Growing up, that book was the only thing I had ever known about drugs or addicts, until I moved to the States years later and met actual drug addicts in person. I think I was 14, when I read Christiane's book. And I felt really bad for her. I could relate to her, because my childhood wasn't all roses either. I was just lucky that there were no drugs around me while I was growing up.

My father was a violent alcoholic. What's your very first childhood memory? Blowing out the candles on your birthday cake? Playing with your favorite doll? Your toy truck? Well, my very first memory is sitting in the backseat of the car. My mother was behind the wheel, as usual, and my dad was sitting next to her. He didn't have a license. They were arguing about money. She earned a lot more than he did. He wanted money from her to get drunk. She told him she couldn't give it to him, because she needed to pay the rent and bills. Suddenly he grabbed her by the back of her head and slammed her face into the steering wheel.

During my childhood, it was normal to me that my parents always argued and that my dad would disappear on drinking binges for days at a time. My mother knew that he was not just out there getting shitfaced, but that he was also cheating on her with barflies. Even as a little kid, I understood how much the things he did hurt her. She wanted to leave him, but he always threatened that he would kill her and me, if she ever tried to leave him.

Finally, after years of emotional torture and physical abuse, she had the courage to tell him that it was over. I guess she figured he was going to kill us sooner or later anyway, so she might as well take her chances and try to escape while she still can. She told him he had to move out. He actually did! He moved in with my grandmother. But the daily terror didn't end there. It just got worse.

Whenever my mother and I watched a movie in the living room, we cringed in fear, if we heard the front gate at the end of the driveway creak in the wind. We thought it was my dad, opening the gate and walking up to the house to kill us.

One night it wasn't the wind that made the front gate creak. It really was my dad coming to kill us. He opened the gate, walked down the driveway and banged on the front door. My mother had changed the locks, but that didn't stop him for long. He broke the glass door on the back patio and got into the house. We just quietly sat on the couch, holding our breaths, until he walked into the living room. We were in shock.

My dad was drunk out of his mind, and gave this big speech about how he was going to make my mother watch while he kills me, then he was going to kill her, and then he was going to kill himself. He seemed proud of himself for having come up with this grand plan. It was the perfect crime in his head. He kept repeating himself, relishing every detail of how he was going to kill us one by one.

I was just a little kid. What could I possibly do to stop a grown man from trying to kill my mom? I remembered that I had a Swiss army knife in my room. I decided to make a run for the knife and try to stab my dad to death before he could kill my mom.

I jumped off the couch and ran out of the living room. My mother was terrified and yelled, "Don't leave me alone with him!" and came running after me. We locked ourselves in my bedroom.

In Germany, doors are solid wood. Not the hollow crap doors they have in the States. So my bedroom door put up a pretty good fight, while he was trying to break it down. After a few minutes of throwing himself against the door, everything went quiet. We thought he might have given up and left. But then, after the longest minute ever, we heard his voice, right there, on the other side of the door: "Oh come on, guys, I was just kidding. Open the door. Everything is fine."

Of course my mother didn't fall for it. With a shaky voice and tears in her eyes, she begged him to go away. That only pissed him off more again. He went and got a hammer or a crowbar or something and started smashing the door with it.

In the Stephen King movie The Shining, Jack Nicholson plays a custodian who spends the winter taking care of an empty hotel in the mountains. His wife and kid are with him, and they watch in horror, as he slowly loses his mind, until he tries to kill them. At one point the mother and her kid lock themselves in the bathroom, while Jack Nicholson's character is trying to break down the door. After he broke a splintery hole in the door, he sticks his crazy-eyed head through it and says in this really creepy voice: "Here's Johnny!"

I lived through that exact scene in real life. My dad even kinda looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. He bashed my bedroom door until there was a hole and any minute now he was going to be able to reach through it and unlock the door and kill us.

Suddenly all my fear was gone. I just sat there on my bed and watched what was happening at the door, as if I was watching a movie. Nothing seemed real.

Years later I found out that that's pretty common when people go through traumatic experiences. When their mind can't handle what is happening, during a horrible rape for example, the mind shuts down and just goes away, to some safe place somewhere else. Suddenly the world around them, and the horrible moment they are in, doesn't seem real anymore. Psychologists call it dissociation, depersonalization, or derealization. Those are symptoms often found in people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

While I was sitting on the bed, perfectly calm, my mother grabbed my arm, opened the window and dragged me out. We ran to the nearest phone booth and called the cops. My mom got a restraining order against my dad. A few days later he hung himself from the big cherry tree in my grandmother's backyard. It was the best thing he ever did for me. Otherwise he would have just continued to terrorize or even kill my mother and me.

If someone had told me back then that swallowing a little pill or snorting some powder would make my problems and worries seem less important for a little while, and would make me feel better for a little bit, of course I would have tried it. And then I probably would be an addict now, too. That's why even now, many years later, I don't judge addicts or look down my nose at them. I know that I could have just as easily ended up in their shoes.

Christiane's book Zoo Station did a really good job explaining what it's like to be a drug addicted hooker, who hates her life and feels like she is all alone in the world, because not even her own parents really care about her. And she felt that if her own parents don't even love her, why would anyone else ever really love her? It seemed so obvious to me that drugs were just a substitute for love. She had been abused and abandoned as a young child, and that left a huge gaping hole in her soul that she tried to fill with drugs.

I felt so bad for her when I read her book at 14, I wished I could get in touch with her and just let her know that she's not alone, and that someone does care about her and the shit she had been through. After reading her book, I told myself if I ever met Christiane, or someone like her, I wouldn't make her feel like shit, but be kind to her and treat her nice and with respect, because it might actually make a difference in her life.

All these things were going through my mind, while trying to figure out how I would deal with the situation, if Donna told me she had been a prostitute in the past. I decided I wasn't going to let that stop me from loving her. We have all done things in the past that we are not proud of. It's not fair to judge someone for who they used to be. Everyone deserves a second chance, and to be treated for who they are today.

Finally I told Donna that I couldn't stop thinking about her deep dark secret. I explained that I had come up with three worst case scenarios, and that none of them would be a deal breaker for me. She was touched, but she said it wasn't any of those things. It was worse. Wow.

Meanwhile I had heard rumors in the hacking scene that Donna was not who she claimed to be. I had asked her about it, and she said that the stories I had heard about her were lies that had been spread by her enemy Tammy, the other famous female hacker who ran the competing online board in California.

The rumors I had heard about Donna seemed so silly, I didn't pay any attention to them. She was really hurt by the things people were saying about her, but I was used to people in the hacking scene talking shit about each other on online forums all the time, and hating me for the things I wrote in Sex and Crime. It was called ragging or waging an online flame war. Since I was famous under two different names, I was a big target. Members of other crews always tried to get under Goliath's or Lucifer's skin. Especially since some people suspected, despite my best efforts to keep it a secret, that I had not really retired from the scene in the past, after those FBI raids, and that I had been using two different hacker names all along, and that I was really Goliath and Lucifer.

I had gotten so used to people trying to get under my skin, that I became an expert at defending myself in these online flame wars. Once I had realized that online bullies have no power except the power you give them, I became impervious to their attacks. There was nothing anyone could say that would hurt me, because I knew that if I didn't allow them to get to me, they had no power.

Attack is the best defense, as they say, so I became a notoriously vicious online bully, or "flame warrior." Every time a competing hacker tried to pick an online fight with me or my crew, or tried to spread rumors about my girl Donna, I would relentlessly barrage them with hatefully sarcastic diatribes, until they ended up crushed and defeated, with their tail between their legs.

All that happened many years ago, but some of those people still hate me to this day, 20 years later, because my words cut so deep and left permanent scars, and their feelings were genuinely hurt after I trolled them online.

For example, when one of the old scene mags on paper interviewed me as Goliath, they published a photo of me along with the article. In the photo, I was at the historic Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, with my hands in my pockets, squinting off into the distance, like I was doing some sort of Robert DeNiro impression. It was a pretty good picture.

A hacker from the competing crew Legion, who was loyal to Tammy's online board, and hated my guts for the things I had written about his crew in Sex and Crime, began to spread the rumor that that wasn't really me in the picture. He claimed that it was a picture of a male model from a fashion catalog. He didn't even seem to realize that he was actually flattering me in his attempt to insult me.

He had some kind of heart condition, and he had received a heart transplant. In retaliation for him trying to spread rumors about me, I spread the rumor that his new heart was actually a pig's heart. He died a few years later, at a pretty young age. And to this day the one thing many sceners still remember about him is that he was the recipient of a pig heart transplant.

Not one of my finer moments.

Anyway, since other hackers couldn't get to me with their online insults, they attacked Donna instead, and tried to get to me that way. Things got really ugly, but I always stuck up for her.

Then one day Donna told me that the rumors they were spreading about her were actually true. I was speechless. As it turned out, her deep dark secret was that Jeff wasn't really her roommate. He was her husband. And she wasn't really 22 like she had told everyone in the hacking scene. She was actually 32. Twelve years older than me!

OSense O-Sense