My Basement Saved My Marriage

My partner and I have been together for a while—a long while. We met in college and moved in together after graduating. We got married four years after that, when we were 26. We’re both currently 58 years old, so yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty long time. They’re my best friend, my closest confidant, but wow do they get on my nerves sometimes. You know how when you begin a relationship and certain things piss you off, but you expect your frustration to just fade with time? Well, it doesn’t fade. I love them more than anything, but every once in a while, we really do need our own space.

When we moved into our current home, we both had one new requirement. We’d always sought out homes with large windows, updated kitchens, and built-in shelving. This time, however, we wanted an extra living space. Here’s what the idea was: one of us would take the living room as a private space, and the other would take the additional living area as a private space. That way, we’d have the ability to have private time when we wanted to escape each other for a few hours. We were expecting to just get a place with an extra bedroom, but what we found was even better.

We found… *drumroll*… a basement. A finished basement. We didn’t think it would be possible with our budget, but it happened. They took the basement as a den/office/gym, and I have the living room as a studio. I don’t know what we would have done without this space; honestly, I think not having these areas would have killed our marriage. Regardless, I am so happy to report that the basement worked out perfectly.

I can honestly say: my basement saved my marriage! Sure, basements can be spooky, scary, and isolating, but to some they’re the perfect space for independence.

A Dream Come True

Let me start this by saying: I’m not sure if this is the type of story that can be featured here. There isn’t much coverage of stories like this on the site, but I hope this one is published. Of course, basements are scary (some of these stories made my skin crawl!), but for some of us, they are a point of pride and realized dreams. You’ll see what I mean.

My husband and I have been together for twelve years. I know, that sounds ridiculous for two 30-year-olds, but yeah, we got together when we were both 18. Money was always really tight for us; both of our parents cut us off financially when we graduated from high school, and though we were able to handle the expenses of attending in-state universities, we always struggled to make ends meet. We worked multiple jobs while studying, never having enough time to enjoy the fruits of our labor—small but well-kept apartments.

We’ve shared more studio apartments than I can even count. It was really rough for a really long time; they were always meticulously decorated, the room always carefully designed to maximize space. But two twenty-something-year-olds in a 450sqft area is never a good idea. Regardless, we persevered.

Things didn’t get easier when we graduated from school. Though we were able to leave debt-free, we both struggled to find well-paying jobs in our fields. Regardless, we both set aside half of our paychecks for savings. We continued to live in studio apartments and spent the bare minimum on food, fun, and entertainment. We still enjoyed a night out every once in a while, but we really prioritized savings.

Then, after eight years of working full-time and saving as much income as possible, we did it: we bought a house. We had saved enough to put down a really generous down payment, and our credit scores were good enough to get great interest rates. We’re essentially paying the same amount in mortgage fees as we did in rent, only now, we have a two-bedroom home… with a basement!

The idea of having a basement—finished or unfinished—is mind-blowing to me. For years, we did whatever we could to minimize our belongings—we just didn’t have the space for them! Now, we have an entire floor of our home devoted to storage. Heck, we might even finish part of it and put in a pool table or home gym. I get it—basements can be creepy. But for some of us, they’re a sign of having ”made it” in some way. I freaking love my basement.

 

Urban Explorer

I used to consider myself an “urban explorer”–someone who loved going into old and abandoned structures, such as hospitals, apartment buildings, and warehouses. I was always drawn to the sense of adventure and discovery in these vacant buildings, and I loved to see what people had left behind. A few years into my urban explorations, a friend said he’d found a place around an hour out of town—an abandoned farmhouse. It was an isolated site, and we’d have to go pretty far out of our way to check it out, but we were told it was worth it. We knew some crazy stuff had happened there—my friend, Josh, had mentioned it was previously owned by a cult—so we wanted to see it for ourselves.

Last October, we drove up to the house. That last few miles of the trip were over a muddy, rocky dirt road surrounded by rows and rows of trees. The house emerged in front of us, a two-story Victorian with a beautiful roof. It looked like a beautiful, peaceful building—somewhere I would have loved to live after putting a few months of hard work into it. It was in pretty bad condition, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of graffiti and litter. The windows and front door were boarded up, but the back door was open, banging around in the wind.

A photo of a separate exploration.

We walked around the exterior of the property, finding a few sheds and the corpse of a truck. There was a collection of white stones scattered around the ground, forming a spiral pattern. I bent to examine one of the stones, discovering that patterns had been etched into its face. It was weird, but we didn’t think much of it; maybe the nearby college was using the property for an art project.

We eventually made our way into the house, moving from the entryway to the living room. The space was filled with dust-covered furniture, the coffee table turned on its side and rodents visibly moving under the couch cushions. The place was a mess, but it was the thing I loved to discover. We found a few family photos—ostensibly, the people who lived there before the place was abandoned. I stepped back to examine the photos altogether, noticing something odd. Their faces had been partially scratched out with spiral shapes similar to the rock formation we’d observed outside. “That’s weird,” I remembered myself saying.

We moved from the living room to the basement, descending the craggy steps carefully. Not carefully enough, apparently—five stairs from the bottom, the wood gave way and I plunged through the material into several inches of tepid water. Initially, I didn’t completely realize what happened, but then my legs started burning; I dozens of splinters were stuck into my legs, making movement both agonizing and very, very difficult. The pain began to spread up to my torso, and I began to feel woozy. Before passing out completely, I looked around to survey the room. Something moved in the corner, and I could have sworn I saw a face. It must have been a combination of fear and pain, but I blacked out.

When I woke up, I was in an ambulance. Josh had called 911 as soon as I fell—the right call, despite the illegality of what we were doing. After a few hours of stitching and more than enough vaccinations, I was out of the hospital. I still think back to what I saw before passing out—a ghostly face. Was it a member of the family who had lived there? Was it a homeless guy squatting in the basement? Or, was it something more sinister—there had been more than enough creepy shit in and around the house. What were those spirals? I’ll never know, but I still think about that day from time to time. Basements are creepy, man.

 

The Note

My wife and I have always left notes for each other—on the bedside table, on the refrigerator, on the door, pretty much everywhere. They’re as touching as they are helpful, service as brief reminders that we’re in each other’s lives… but, also, that we might be out of milk. We recently moved from the city to a more rural area to purchase our first house. The house structure is a bit wonky, so we end up exiting the building from the basement. It leads directly into the garage and includes a finished, vestibule-like area for shoes and coats. We put a whiteboard in that space to record messages to each other—your mom called, I have book club tonight, the car needs, gas, et cetera.

After a few months of living in the house, we settled into a schedule. We got to know each other’s new habits and hobbies, eventually starting to abandon the basement whiteboard notes. Every once in a while, a “I didn’t get a chance to grocery shop” would show up, but those messages were few and far between. Suddenly, however, that changed.

It started with weird erasure marks. I’d get home to see that morning’s message defaced in some way–“I didn’t get a chance to grocery shop” would be changed to “I didn’t get a chance.” Small things that I normally wouldn’t have noticed without the weird deliberateness. I asked my wife about it, but she didn’t think it was anything to worry about—”You probably brushed it on your way out.” I wasn’t convinced.

After a few weeks, new messages began to appear. They were always vaguely threatening—one that sticks out in my memory read, “Why didn’t she call?” It was something that my wife very well could have written (the handwriting was strange, but similar enough to hers), but she never knew what I was talking about when I brought it up. The messages began to become even more aggressive–“Is life worth living?” And “I don’t know what to do.” I was confused and scared.

Eventually, we ended up calling the police. The came, searched the building, and couldn’t find anything. They told us to call if anything else popped up. The messages paused for some time after that, and I got more comfortable telling neighbors about it in passing. That’s how we ended up solving the mystery.

I’d been telling my neighbor, Dave, about the strange messages and how they randomly stopped. He was intrigued and asked to see a picture. “I’ll do you one better,” I said. “I’ll show you the actual white board.” I brought him into the basement so he could read the last message for himself. “Are you kidding me? I know that handwriting,” he laughed. I was shocked.

As it turns out, Dave’s son had been struggling in school. He’d been bullied so badly they had to choice into a new school system—right around the time the messages disappeared. Dave called his son right there, and he confessed to writing the notes on our board. He said it felt good to get these thoughts off his chest, even though he knew it was at our expense. I should have been angry, but to be totally honest, I was just relieved. The house wasn’t haunted, we didn’t have a malevolent intruder, and we could go on with our lives.

 

The Lost Glove

My grandparents met in high school—my grandfather played baseball while my grandmother played softball. My dad used to tell me about how they met; though they went to different schools—both single-sex Catholic academies—they had practice in the same park. Though they never spoke, there was always a weird tension between them—and between the teams in general. I guess that’s just what happened when your practices align.

Anyway, the men’s and women’s teams, though playing on separate diamonds, left their gear and water bottles in the same general area. This is how the teams became acquainted, through quick jokes and brief asides while grabbing a snack or drink. Still, despite this closeness, they didn’t speak… that is, until my grandmother forgot one essential piece of equipment.

At the beginning of her junior-year season, my grandmother forgot her glove. This was, apparently, a bigger deal than I thought it’d be. It was during pre-season training, which is essentially try-outs. She wanted to make the varsity team to include the detail on her college applications for the following year, but without a glove, she wouldn’t be able to even try out. According to my dad, my grandfather noticed her crying, asked what was wrong, and generously donated his glove for the day.

Unfortunately, the boys team was also in the middle of their try-outs. After finding out he didn’t have a glove, the coach kicked my grandfather off the team for “not being prepared,” or something dumb like that. Luckily, he was able to fight his way back onto the roster when a player had to quit a few weeks later. Still, the potential sacrifice is touching, and that brief communication sparked a lifetime romance.

They both died a few years ago—within months of each other. The other day, I was helping my dad clean out the family house, and it was my duty to clear the basement. I found both of their gloves, stacked together on a shelf toward the back of the room. I miss them dearly, but I love their story. I keep the gloves in my own basement, now, sometimes going down to use them while playing catch with my own son.

 

Intruder

This story took place two weeks ago. I’ve had a fear of basements since I was a kid. Though the fear has diminished with age (I just turned nineteen), I still feel a pang in my chest whenever I turn to ascend the basement staircase, looking back to ensure there’s nothing behind me. I still get butterflies when I’m in a basement alone.

Well, I found myself alone in the basement just two weeks ago. I was home from college—spring break—and my parents were out with friends. I wanted to spend the night by myself—living in a 13’x13′ space with a roommate, a relative stranger, had taken a toll, and I wanted some time to be on my own. During my first year of college, my parents finally got around to finishing the basement. It was now, rather than a dingy laundry room, a beautiful second living room complete with a television, gaming system, and refrigerator. I was journaling and listening to music with headphones on.

Even through my headphones, I knew I heard a noise come from behind me. It was a thump. I took off the headphones to examine the back of the basement—there was nothing there. I could have done some more investigating, but I didn’t really feel the need; I knew that my perennial fear of basements could be to blame, so I slipped the headphones back over my head and continued to journal. I didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about.

After a few minutes, I heard the noise again. This time, I was sure something had made the noise. It wasn’t just my imagination. I tore off the headphones as the noise happened again—a low, metallic clang. I walked slowly to the back of the basement, phone in hand ready to dial 911. What I found was, actually, not that surprising—an air vent.

I suddenly realized that this, the metal air vent, was creating the metallic clanking sound. I got as close as I felt comfortable and peered through the vent’s slats. With horror, I saw a shadow moving in the darkness.

A hand appeared.

I gradually stepped backwards, mouth agape, shaking my head in denial. The hand tried to grab the slats, but they were too thin to facilitate a solid grip. I screamed and ran upstairs, grabbing a knife on my way. I called the police, and they assured me that help was on the way. My panic escalated as I heard a door bust open downstairs.

A few minutes later, two police cruisers pulled up to the driveway. They came into the house, immediately apprehended the man, and knocked on the door to the room I had chosen as a sanctuary. Apparently, the man who had snuck in was a business associate of my father’s—my dad later explained that they were both up for the same promotion, so he likely snuck into the house looking for dirt on his opponent.

Even though I can rationalize the break-in and understand the reasons for its occurrence, I will never spend time alone in a basement ever again. I’m back at school in a dorm which, thankfully, has no functioning basement, but I can only imagine the trouble I’ll have trying to do laundry in my first apartment building…

Rocky

When my grandparents passed away, my parents let me live in their house—I was of moving out age, anyway. I only had to pay the taxes and day-to-day expenses, which I could easily handle on my part-time/college kid income. At the beginning, I really enjoyed living alone. The freedom was completely new to me, and I relished in the ability to invite anyone over at any time. To me, it was paradise.

However, as most young adults come to understand, living alone came with its own challenges. Bored of the freedom I had once cherished, I began to feel quite lonely. I worked to quickly bandage this superficial need, adopting a 2-year-old German Shepherd named Rocky—named for Rocky Balboa. He was a very calm German Shepherd, which I’ve been told is very unusual for the breed. I set up his bed in my bedroom, just beside my nightstand so I could go to sleep and wake up to his adorable little face.

German Shepherds are very active dogs; while I would sleep through the night, Rocky liked to get up and move around. To help him out, I left my bedroom door slightly ajar—he could roam through the house as he pleased, getting water, food, and toys.

One night, around three weeks after adopting Rocky, I woke up to his barking down the hall. Still half asleep, I got up to see if he was okay, stumbling to the other side of the house to check on him. When I fully opened my eyes, I saw Rocky clawing at the basement door, barking maniacally. I didn’t know what to do—when I lived with my parents, I would call my dad to deal with something like this. For the first time in my life, it was on me to deal with the problem at hand.

I quickly realized there was no chance of me entering the basement alone—Rocky had to come with me. As soon as I opened the door, he bolted into the blackness, continuing to bark as he descended the stairs. I flipped on the lights, following behind. Weirdly, Rocky had stopped barking.

When I got to the bottom of the staircase, I looked around for him—he had vanished from my line of vision. I finally found him, frozen with his tail between his legs, looking up at a corner of the room. He looked at me, and his tail raised slightly as I approached where he stood. I quickly realized that Rocky was standing in front of a closet door. All I could think was, What’s in there? Who is in there?

Instead of opening the closet door, I brought Rocky back upstairs, bringing him into the bedroom and shut the door behind me. I still don’t know if I made the right choice, but I went back to sleep.

Nothing like this ever happened again, but I think about it sometimes. Maybe someone had broken into the house, assuming it had been abandoned when the original residents died. Maybe there was nothing in the closet. I don’t live there anymore, but I’d be curious to ask the current residents.

Expiration Date

In 1986, my mom decided to move our small family into a new house. New to us, that is—we were moving from an ancient cabin on the outskirts of town to a home built just a decade prior. At that point, it was just me, my mom, and the dog—she hadn’t yet met Steve, and Mary hadn’t been born. At ten, I was happy it was just the two of us; she was my best friend.

The house was newer and bigger than the one in the woods. I had my own room for the first time, and I spent a lot of time reading and playing alone. From what I remember, I enjoyed the first few weeks of this newfound independence—I held court among my dolls, played hide-and-seek with the teddy bear, and raced myself in circles around the bedroom.

From the day we arrived, I knew I wasn’t alone in my room. Growing up in isolation, I knew what it felt like—the bedroom was different. Sometimes I would hear footsteps and knocking noises, but I shrugged them off. Doll court was more important.

Weird things started to happen about a month after we’d moved in. The banging got louder, and I’d shout, infuriated by the interruption, “Shut up! I’m trying to read!” Mom was moderately concerned, but assumed I was playing with an imaginary friend. I didn’t realize it, but she couldn’t hear the banging.

A few weeks later, I started to experience weird dreams—I relived foreign but commonplace memories in the house. I would remember, in vivid detail, walking between the laundry room and my mother’s office. I remembered sitting in the basement, amid construction (it was being finished), playing with toy cars. One morning, after waking up from a cellar dream, I asked Mom when it had been finished. She was surprised—the basement had, in fact, always been finished.

Another week later, I woke up, suddenly, standing in the center of the basement. But that’s all that happened. Really. I woke up confused and shuffled my way back to bed. Eventually, the dreams stopped, and the banging dulled and became sporadic, disappearing altogether around the time of my 12th birthday. I don’t know what it was, but I’m convinced there was some type of presence in the house. I know this isn’t how these stories generally end, but I guess it moved on, letting us live our lives.