Personal Essay: Basement Blues

by Abigail Malik

basementThe suspicious feeling in the back of my mind insisted every now and then that living in my friend’s basement was too good to be true.

The monthly rent was more than fair, the house was in a nice, side-walked neighborhood, and the adjacent garage had ample room to store all my boxed- and bagged-up belongings. Besides, as my previous landlord, as well, my friend had decided to sell that house, and I needed to find a new home quickly. This temporary landing pad gave me time to search and her a few extra bucks.

And so for the first couple of months, when friends asked how the living situation was going, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to answer with “It’s great! Can you believe it? Things are great.”

Until that weekend I went out of town and returned Sunday evening to find my friend perched on the living room sofa waiting on me.

“Hey! You need help with your things? Hey, so. You’re either going to really love what I did or really hate what I did.” She spilled it out in one long breath, smiling tightly.

“Okay…” I replied, instantly worried she’d taken on a weekend wallpapering project. She lead the way as we trotted down the basement stairs.

“I was down here cleaning, earlier today,” she began. “And I moved your bookshelf to vacuum. Then I saw your clothes on the bed, so I started folding them, then when I noticed your books still packed, well, I thought, I should unpack those for her…” Her words became just a buzz as I took in the basement and realized what she’d done.

The neatly stacked boxes and bags filled with my life were no longer safely stored in the garage where I’d left them. Now, all of my belongings were unpacked, and she’d gone through every item, placing them around the basement where she though they belonged. Like a parent touring a preschool for the first time, I followed her from station to station while she explained why she put which item where.

We both knew, I thought, that me crashing in her basement was never a permanent living situation. So I’d decided in the beginning to unpack only the necessities. But my books, previously tied up neatly in plastic grocery bags, now lined the shelves. She had rearranged the little living-room area I’d created, and clothes folded in stacks on the bed two days ago now hung in a closet on hangers that didn’t belong to me. My DVDs, unpacked and mixed with some of hers, were lined up on a shelf in alphabetical order.

Then she told me that she put away the basket of laundry sitting on the floor. She folded what needed folding, hung up what needed hanging, and put away underwear that she decided now belonged in a nightstand drawer labeled with the typed phrase “Underwear, etc.”

All of the laundry in that basket was dirty. And the nightstand that was beside my bed when I left for the weekend is now what holds my dirty underwear.

“Wait,” I muttered, as I fumbled through the drawer. “If my underwear is here, then where is my…?”

Everyone knows that the top drawer of a woman’s nightstand is the goody drawer. She has been in my goody drawer, and she has seen, touched, and moved my goods.

The word violated flashed across my brain. I felt sweaty and weird.

By this time, she had gone back upstairs, leaving me to explore this brave new world she’d created. Before she left, she said by way of explanation that once she started going through and unpacking my things, she just couldn’t stop herself. And before she knew it, this had happened, and she waved her hand around the room as she scurried up the basement stairs.

Grabbing my phone, I burst through the basement door that leads to an outdoor patio. Pacing like a caged tiger, I called every friend I had.

When I finished sharing, in near whispers for fear she might hear me, I reluctantly went back inside. Everything felt slightly off kilter. That voice in my mind knew the basement was too good to be true. Curling up on the couch, I couldn’t make myself sleep in the bed on which she’d, for some reason, changed the sheets and comforter and added some throw pillows.

Things weren’t really the same between me and my friend. She’d seen too much in her basement, and I had, too.

I moved out as soon as I found another place. It was probably time to leave, anyway. No self-respecting 26-year-old woman with a full-time job should live in someone’s basement. Nothing good happens to anyone in a basement after, at most, the age of 17.

But I always hoped that maybe spying my goody drawer inspired her to get her own. If anyone was ever in need of something to occupy her hands on the weekends, it was her.