The Basement Window

For me, it might as well have been a gate between heaven and hell.

For everyone else driving by, it was simply a lit-up window sitting on the earth like a glowing snail. A luminous blip of symmetry on your way to the nearby park, church, McDonalds, or school. A bright square dividing the siding. An architectural necessity. An eye of yellow fabric on a typical suburban tapestry.

Growing up for me as a kid was difficult when it came to relating to people. I was incredibly sensitive and emotional, byproducts of having severe depression chiseled into my person by some villainous genetic artisan. Throughout my young life, and into adulthood, I struggled with the very basic interactions with my friends. I could never tell if I was teasing them too much. I could never tell if they were teasing me too much. I could never control my emotions in an argument. I could never healthily confront people. I could never let anything go. I could never control my temper.

Overall, there were many things I couldn’t do, which made me feel alone, isolated, and freakish. I would make friends, and we’d be close for years, but then some small change would throw me off emotionally, and I would shut down and never speak to them again. It wasn’t that I hated them or was starting to dislike them as people, it was that inside my own personality, there were emotional collisions happening. I was constantly feeling inferior or doubting myself.

This warring thunder made the faraway asteroid belt look like a game of ping pong.

The best way to describe this depression is that every morning when I wake up I’m surrounded by a fog of bladed shapes. They’re faceless, abstract, and mixed with a formless mist. I know what attracts them, baits them, or makes them love me. I fashion my life around their existence, to avoid them at all costs. If I brush against one in this phantom forest, they hiss and cut me. It can be deep. It can be shallow. It can be long. It can be short. If I let them, they’ll hack at me all day. A gaggle of lost butchers looking for their blocks. Soon, I’m a whittled stump of blood and tears. A quivering spine, empty of any sinew or meat, wanting to sleep and dream my demons away.

I have always had this inside of me. When I was kid, teenager, and young adult, I lacked the discipline and patience to deal with these problems, so instead I took them out on the people around me. Now, in my 30’s, I have finally started to control some of these emotions. It was a long road. I’ll never reach the end. An eternal wasteland with a sliver of concrete always piercing the horizon. Never looking too far back. Never looking too far forward.

On this journey there have been a few people in my life who have helped me get through these bouts of unhappiness and negativity. One person who I seldom mention in my nonfiction is a friend I had by the name of Matt. My depression was wildfire when I was a teenager. It was like a climatic explosion from an 80’s action film stuck on repeat. I was constantly making, losing, ignoring, remembering, forgetting, and isolating friends.

During some rifts between me and other kids from my neighborhood, who were front-row for this moodiness, I began to spend a lot of time with Matt. He was patient and kind, but most of all he was intelligent about dealing with people’s emotions. He understood that you don’t judge people when they’re struggling. You don’t laugh at them, or make a mockery of their reactions. I had countless friends growing up who enjoyed making me upset. They thought it was a funny, a game, something to do while bored.

Matt was the owner of the basement window.

Through middle school and high school, I would spend almost every Friday night of the school year or summer at Matt’s house hanging out in his room. He introduced me to anime. He loved Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mega Man, Tekken, Mario Kart, Heroes of Might and Magic II, and pretty much everything. He was a computer whiz (back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s this meant a lot more). He was actually recruited by the NSA out of high school to work in computer science. He taught me how to write HTML script so I could build my own website about all my nerdy vices.

Matt’s house was just a few blocks away. He lived with his mom and stepfather, and two freshly born stepsisters. He played piano, scored a near perfect on his ACT, went to Space Camp, and played the sheriff of Nottingham in a school play. To earn the title role in that audition, he shamelessly sang the opening theme song in Japanese from an obscure anime. He was one of the most impressive people I have ever known, because everything he did was honest and stuffed full of passion. I kept in contact with him during his first few years of college, but he was two years older than me, so when he left for school it was hard for me to stay in touch. Once we both got started in college, we truly went in different directions. 2004 was the last time I saw him. In 2008 I tried to get a hold of him through some old email addresses, but my life was too hellish to recommit to communicating with him. I know he moved off east somewhere to work for the government, but that is all.

Though he is gone, I still live close to where I grew up, and sometimes when I drive to my parent’s house to pick up my children after being babysat I purposefully go by his plain brown house just tucked beside a black driveway. Most often it is at night. The only sounds are the tired howls of my air vents and the concrete groan of the nearby freeway. Occasionally, someone in that basement bedroom has the light on, glowing like a torch trapped in some nostalgic dungeon. I stare at it. Let a few memories put their hands on my shoulders. They me pull me back to those years growing up. I even talk to myself like Matt were in the car with me. Then, after realizing how gone he is, I tell my children about him and point to the window as we go past.

“You have no idea, no idea how much that one window saved your dad’s life,” I’ll say.

I regret never saying goodbye to Matt, or making better attempts to stay in contact. I’ve tried to find him via social media or Google. Ironically, all I could find was a website he created from this very time period in our life, on the very same server he showed me how to use HTML. It is like a little time capsule from our teenage lives. A digital record to a time and period I know existed, but with each passing day, hour, minute, and second, feels more and more like a summer-sunlight dream.

Now, when I drive through neighborhoods, some known or unknown, I wonder how many other windows cutting between light and dark have their own stories. I wonder if the people living there using that bedroom have any idea. I wonder if other people look at windows the way I do. I wonder if Matt, wherever he might be, knows how much I needed that friendship, or how important it was to me.

So much time has passed.

All I can do is wonder.