Ms. H’s class was a cool place to be in the fifth grade. I was a natural at using the Thesaurus feature in Microsoft Word for all of my papers, so she was of the belief that my vocabulary was quite developed at that tender age, when really I used Thesaurus as my final step before Spellcheck. This was blatantly apparent when I turned in a paper about taking care of your health and your body, and included a sentence that started something like: “If you take care of your cadavers…” She showed my paper to the school principal, which at the time I believed meant that she was proud of my exquisite work. Now that I view children in my adult mind, I realize that they probably just laughed hysterically at my poor word choice, hopefully over a glass of wine. She appended a sticky note to this part that I’ll never forget: “Careful! A cadaver is a DEAD body!”
It was in Ms. H’s class that we had three or four computers. This will come as a shock to anyone under the age of 15, including my own children someday, who will not be able to recall such a time. I also was born into an age without cell phones, without widespread commercial Internet, without constant contact awaiting my anxious fingertips.
I digress again. Strange how sin distracts.
We were charged with online research for our projects about American government. We were learning about the various branches of government and their roles. It was a memorable lesson, and not for any reason you’d think. The reason I will never forget this lesson is because there, at age 11, I stumbled upon my first porn site.
We had Bess (anyone?) in our school county, the Internet filter designed to keep us safe. There was an adult present. And yet, I innocently typed whitehouse.com and saw my first glimpses of something I was far too young to understand.
Hilarious (slash not)… I just Wiki’d “whitehouse.com” and found this nugget:
Part of the controversy about whitehouse.com was that users (especially minors in most cases) wishing to visit the website of the White House (www.whitehouse.gov) could easily go to the adult website instead. Although .gov, a top-level domain (TLD), is available only to official government sites in the United States, .com is a much more common TLD and is frequently entered by mistake. In addition, many web browsers add ‘.com’ to the end of an address if no suffix is entered, so simply typing ‘whitehouse’ into the address bar would lead one to whitehouse.com. Because of the explicit and commercial content of the site, it was frequently cited as one of the most egregious examples of domain name misuse, up until the domain was sold.
Many school children in the late 1990s inadvertently saw adult content via the website.
It was around this time as well – I’m not sure which came first, honestly – that I attended a sleepover at a friend’s house. There was no prior reason for my parents to believe that this would be an unsafe environment. This was a Christian home. Things don’t happen in Christian homes. Most of us were in fifth grade, but the boy who lived across the street was in eighth grade. He was way cooler than all of us, of course. He could skateboard really well. He used cool words like fuck and pussy, which were quite foreign to my Catholic-elementary ears. It had been decided in the group that we should play a game of Truth or Dare, that wholesome game that always ends well. The dares and truths started out mild as they always do, and culminated in the eighth grader being dared “to dance on the ping pong table naked,” and my friend to “wrap duct tape around your dick,” and truths like “Do you think about fucking anyone in your class?” The answer is no. I’m 11. I don’t know what fucking is.
I closed my eyes most of the night. I was horrified. I just wanted to go home.
I told my mom the next morning when she picked me up. She called the house. There were awkward moments, I’m sure. What will I do when my 11-year-old son comes home from a seemingly innocent sleepover to tell me the things I told Mom? The scariest thing of all is that I have no. fucking. idea. Beat that kid’s face in comes to mind. Move to a secluded village in Namibia. Take up space pioneering. Because my son is mine, and how desperately I hope he does not become entangled in this poison.
It wasn’t long afterward that my curious mind was intentionally searching for these new things on my home computer. I knew nothing about computer history in those days, and went on my merry way. I don’t remember how I started this journey, but I imagine it was something like “boobs” or “sex.” Mom and Dad sat me down to ask whether I had looked at something I wasn’t supposed to. I denied it, and they weren’t sure whether it was my sister or me. I eventually crumbled under the pressure after 2 days when she threatened to beat my ass if I didn’t tell them it was me. She didn’t want my stain on her record. She was bigger than me. That was the first time I was caught.
The second time, oh how much older and smarter I was, a sophomore in high school. I had parental controls on my AOL account, but there are simple ways around those. I knew all of them. I installed a keylogger on Mom’s computer, a spyware program that tracks every key typed. I easily obtained her password, and changed my own parental controls whenever I got the urge to act out, then changed them back. The only downfall is when you’re 15 and think you know everything, inadvertently dialing sex lines through the Internet modem and accruing strange international call charges on the phone bill, not to mention using Mom’s e-mail address to sign up for certain websites. Genius! The cards were stacked. Going to get busted a second time and…
I bust someone else…? What? Someone else. In my family. I knew this person was also looking at porn, and had personally seen evidence of all of it. Not only did it assuage my own conscience (everyone does it!), but it gave me that out, that perfect diversion to deflect attention from my own demented self to someone else. I destroyed that person. I had an opportunity, one to confront my demons, apologize, and be a man. Instead, I decided to take someone down with me. I will forever regret that day. Everything about it. I hear the tapes in my head every other day, over a decade later. The things I said. The things I did. The ensuing fights. The drama. I am the cause. I am at fault. Depravity. Despair.
Meanwhile, six years later, still hopelessly addicted to porn, this person and I got into a fight. A bunch of stuff was said, most of which is irrelevant, but culminating in “You outed me!!” I stand accused. I am guilty. I have no words. How can I ever conceivably be reconciled?
It was only last year (11 years on) that I wrote this person an apology letter. It’s sitting in an envelope, addressed, stamped, packed among my many things at home. I am terrified to send it. Terrified to bring up old memories. Horrified to step out in the light and own my piece of the pie the fucking pie.
What an awful experience, one that robs me of my joy frequently, one that sends me down a spiral into nothingness, banishment, defeat. I’ve heard it said that a life is defined by a few precious moments, moments when we’re placed in a weighty situation and have an extraordinary choice to make. Will we take the weight, like Christ beaten and bruised walking to his death? Or will we crumble under the pressure, and look for anyone, any other person, to tear down, destroy, consume, and bring with us into hell? Naturally I chose the latter. I had life, goodness, mercy, before me… and I chose death, relationship-killing, evil.
One would think it stopped then. And one would be wrong. This addiction has followed me for most of my life. For many years, in high school and college, it was simply my only way out. Piled under homework, tests, stress, whatever it was, this was always something I could turn to. I’m not proud of it. Please don’t misunderstand me. Half of my life has been wasted in these pursuits.
It’s a bit hard to explain, my mindset concerning this issue. I grasp at many feelings all at once. I am so fucking angry that this exists in the world, and that already-broken people are shoved in front of cameras to do unrealistic and unimaginable things to each other, destroying their dignity and sexuality. I simultaneously have zero credibility or voice in a stand against something I consumed for years. I am so guilty to the point of death. I hate other men for this problem, pointing fingers in my mind that conveniently lead in all directions but inward. I want to curl up and never see anyone again, knowing that I could be known in this way. Everything about who I am want to be screams violently against the injustice of this business. In 10th grade, I wanted to know the names of the CEOs of all the major porn sites. I would fantasize about a “hit list,” so I could one day exact my justice on their enslaving me. But it wasn’t them. They’re not to blame. Neither is:
The founder of whitehouse.com
County school board Internet control managers
My friend in 5th grade
His 8th-grade neighbor
The sexual revolution
I did this.
I looked at it.
Sixteen thousand times.
I take responsibility.
I am a sinner.
The light hurts.
God forgive me. Friends too, if you’ll still be mine.