Writing about my experience with cyber-crime and what might have been an attempt at identity theft – has been a strange experience. I was focused on my dissertation being destroyed because that was such a traumatic experience. But the real question is why? I learned a long time ago that if we ask enough why’s eventually, we’ll get to the source of any issue. And as more pieces of the puzzle comes into view, I am beginning to think that the motive behind this cyber attack was far more complex than I had originally thought. And now, I’m left to ponder, how does one prepare for the unknown? This question takes me to a fundamental commitment that I made to myself a long time ago – that in this life, I will have a say in how my life story is written. There may be different versions, but one will be mine.
When I packed my bags on New year’s day and left 100 Forest Place, 13th-floor apartment – where the Chicago city skyline marks the backdrop of life that until December 30th I still shared with my husband, KB (aka) Leo – the need to get a bird’s eye view perspective of my life felt critical. I had spent the last three years working full time while enrolled in an accelerated PhD. program. And it was clear that I had stopped paying attention to areas of my life necessary to maintain the level of independence and self-efficacy that I implemented as a young divorcee.
I hadn’t seen my friends in years; leisure was non-existent, I worked and even studied through time with my boys. Leo was long retired and had all the time in the world to do whatever he wanted. Still…because of specific conditions that existed – it was a relationship that needed far more time, attention and professional expertise than I could provide. I did the best I could trying to manage an impossible situation. After a few days away, far enough to examine our lives – I saw my marriage through lens that forced me to accept that I was not qualified to deal with my husband’s mental illness. It took me longer than it should to come to that conclusion- but that’s because I was not paying attention. But leaving changed that. A closer look at my husband led me to lies, secrets, debts, bankruptcy…and other shocking discoveries that had me asking, who am I married to? And which resulted in me terminating of our apartment lease and filing for divorce.
My decision to call out racial discrimination at work in September 2017 was not a difficult decision. As a Black person, I cannot be silent when racial remarks the likes of (monkey references and dumb nigger bitch) are made that negatively affects us particularly in a space that should be protected. I did not think that the situation would have led to my firing – but even if I did know, I would’ve still spoken out. If we are ever going to end the racial strife in this country, we cannot afford to stay silent about race-issues that perpetuates destructive mindsets. Silence does not create the space to have the conversations necessary to learn about ourselves and each other. Sustainable change will require collective effort. These situations can be a learning, growing experience for everyone – if handled properly.
October 2017 rolled around, and it was clear that I was in the eye of a category 6 hurricane that I didn’t see coming. I realized that I was hacked before I discovered that my dissertation was being destroyed. I have struggled to convey the depth of violation that comes from not being able to access my bank accounts; maxed out credit cards, my passwords hijacked no matter how many times I changed them. My personal, and family photos were sorted through and organized as if someone was creating a map of my life. My phone was accessed, and the contents copied, my private thoughts, emails, social media accounts, websites, the boys SSN …everything was out there. And then issues with my mail became evident…, credits cards and important mail doesn’t arrive. I later realized that my address was being removed from my bank account, credit cards, school account… and my phone numbers on these accounts were being replaced with numbers that did not belong to me. And then one day, I discovered a mysterious file in the recycle bin on one of our computers labeled Elisa Lapine. And even though the file was in the recycle bin – I could not delete it. Leo joked that someone was watching and collecting information on us – I said if that were true, they would be bored to death. I got up every day and studied. That was my life. Leo painted and wrote and whatever else he felt like doing – but it was clear that no one was hacking him – I was the target. But why and who was Elisa Lapine?
It is because I still do not have an answer to these questions or fully understand the scope of the situation or what long-term damage may result from this situation that I have decided that this experience is not one to keep silent about. Someone out there has my SSN, bank accounts info, pictures, my writings, everything…and I have no idea what they plan to do with the information. And so, I do the thing I promised myself I would – I write my life story.