The Man In My Basement
by C.S. Humble
The human vessel has been compared to countless nouns and suggested to exist in even more states. Some of the analogies or beliefs are simple in phrase, yet titanic and revolutionary in concept. Plato told his philosopher brethren that the human soul was bicameral – existing in the realms of good and evil, light and shadow. Others have compared our consciousness to Ancient Greek plays, animal guides, Primordial elements, colors, and even aspects of dreamed up gods. The Song of Solomon depicts the human form using powerful agrarian analogies (my lover’s breasts are as two fawns, etc.), while modern conventions such as Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of THE SHINING compares the journey of the mind as if it were Theseus navigating the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Others say the human soul, mind, or consciousness can be compared to anything from a sailing ship to Shakespeare’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
The comparisons are as infinite as the sum of labels the human intellect can imagine or observe in the natural world. But, for us dear friend, in this particular journey of both confession and attempt at healing, let us borrow our particular analogy for these things from American Cinema.
Life is a house-
Built up over time, crafted from crude human materials such as emotions, experience and determined purpose of the human heart to experience something more powerful than mere survival.
Life is a house-
The foundation of which is not chosen by the home’s occupant but the final architecture is. Different gifts and disciplines are varying tools, which mean that no house may ever be completely similar or wholly unique; for we are influenced and we influence. There may be furnishings or patterns we see in others, and thus we work them into the wood, brick, and mortar of ourselves. And this element of the building ranges from the beautifully inspired adaptations of art seen in others, to the bland and shoddy work of the copycat builder.
Life is a house-
In that as it takes shape, it grows in both size and scope. Some homes are crafted with many rooms, which can be filled with dozens of friends or family members. Others craft a tiny, more intimate abode which can overflow with a single visitor. Some are palatial, others are forest cabins furnished with only the inherited beliefs and heirlooms of the house’s foundation-maker. Some have moats, drawbridges, which keep away The Other. There are also those which have no need for front door, gate, or latch to hide a single space; a house of pure hospitality.
Life is a house-
In that inside these safe places reside the Attic of the Mind, the Hearth of the Heart, and the Basement of the Soul. Inside these private and guarded places – and by guarded you may think I am using a pejorative – but is the Attic not in need of the stairs of understanding and introspection that they might be safely navigated? Does the fire of the Hearth not need a grate to catch the popping embers of all life’s hot and dangerous flame? Does not the soul require the quiet solitude of the safe place, where neither the chill of the human winter or the roasting fury of life’s summer may sully the treasures kept within?
Life is a house-
My attic, I choose to keep filled with tedious details, antiquated stories, both classic and obscure. My attic looks much taller and more broad from the exterior, for I greatly desire that people should see it. Part of me needs people to admire its sharp Victorian edges, which I have placed more effort into the filigree, than I have in the beams which support it. Seeing the attic from afar would suggest I am an intellectual, a ponderer, perhaps even a scholar. To come inside would arrest those false conceptions. For upon climbing those slender, twisting steps you would see how the passage narrows and where the wood is warped. The door to the attic would look as though it were the portal into a Hobbit house; entry inside would prove much less fantastical.
I have invested in many bookshelves, but many of them are barren, covered in dust, serving as a holding place for intellectual cobwebs rather than tomes of wisdom.
Light would find purchase in the form of a single, glowering beam providing just enough light to see, but not examine – inquire but not investigate. And upon a full, quick viewing of that place, you’d likely say, “Oh, this is nothing like I thought it would be.” And quickly followed with, “When was the last time you cleaned up this dreadful place?”
“I’m getting around to it,” I’d grumble, knowing I should have let you see from afar but never inside. Because then you’d realize something true about me, and say, “Oh, you’re just an over-compensating coward, a paper-thin version of John Steinbeck with no real work of great story to claim as your own.”
Life is a house-
In that I’d invite you into the den of my emotions, where I keep a roaring fire blistering year-round. The hearth is made of large, unpolished stones, quickly mortared together in a seemingly violent, but passionate fashion. Though the home of the fire is crude and harsh, it is fully capable of handling the flame of life at its top. You’d see a hearth that contains a desire hot enough to melt iron into wax, burst stones into magma, and either brand with great affection or incinerate with flashing ferocity. The mantle of the hearth would be decorated with a pipe collection, a pen, and pages from a love letter written by the creator of all things. There would be a few chairs, enough for a select fellowship, but not nearly enough for a large company, though surely the room could endure if but only a few more seats.
And there would be a stack of the coal of sacrifice beside a mountain of rotting wood, for a fire so colossal requires both a great, careful maintenance and a willingness to endure corrupting solitude.
You’d ask to sit. Depending on my care for you, I would either offer you a chair or warn you that very few are allowed to sit so close to the contained conflagration; for it has burned many called friend and even more pathways known as bridges. And then, depending upon how much you care for me, you’d take a seat or say, “well, it is rather stuffy in here.
Then, something altogether strange would happen. You would hear a thundering blow crashing from down the circular cut hallway which leads to the back of the house. A maddened, cursing howl would cry out. The sound of calloused fists, smashing into a solid steel door, something akin to the noise a mallet makes when tenderizing meat, would fill your perked ears. The screaming voice would rise to a fever-pitch, eventually blaring out all other sound or raised voice of caution.
“What the hell was that,” you’d ask.
“Thank you for coming, but I’m afraid I must invite you to leave,” would be my quick rejoinder. And despite your valid protestations, I would either by flame of hearth or manipulative con, usher you out the door.
“Thank you. Please, call before coming again.”
You’d likely never call or visit again, because whoever can house a sound and fury so monstrous must either be a deranged jailer or a monster themselves. Perhaps both.
My Life is a house – And there is a man in my basement.
He’s an angry man who grew up inside me; he is part foundation, part maturation, and he is wholly corrosive. He is a personal Frankenstein monster that has been stitched from the hatred in me, the selfishness sewn in me. Part alcoholic endeavor, though more the long fermentation of the dark and prominent rage at the nucleus of my soul.
He is a prophet of destruction.
He is an abominate force of unbridled wrath.
He is the thorn in my flesh.
An usurper of a soul which wants to desire love above all other things.
He breaks things – friendships, hopes, and joy.
The man in my basement is Rage, not childish petulance mutated into anger, but dark and destructive wrath; the Old Testament kind.
And he’s down in the basement of my soul, screaming for me to open the locked door that keeps him from scouring my home with his lunatic frenzy.
In the past I’ve mistakenly used him as a weapon; and he has proved to be all the gun I’ve ever needed in physical confrontations with other men, but he’s also come up short when the man he assaults just happens to be meaner and tougher than he is.
With him I’ve given out broken noses, black-eyes, beatings, and because of him I’ve endured all the same, and worse. I’d love to pretend he’s an animal I keep caged up, or a beast of the primal mind, but that’d be a lie. He isn’t a beast, he’s a master and I’m all too often made a slave to him.
Sometimes I can keep him locked up. Other times, he breaks free and the maniac in me is set loose on the one’s I love.
Life is a house –
My house. There is a man in my basement and it is time for us to meet face to face. Because one of us has to go.
So, now that you’ve exited, I’ve decided to head down into the basement and finally have it out with this son-of-a-bitch.
I make my way down the now silent hallway, all the world an empty path before me. I think about going to the attic first, perhaps to gather my tools of logic. But I know they are impotent to repair that which is completely illogical. I pass by the hearth of my heart, and for a moment my bravery swells within me. Perhaps I will craft a torch and take it with me, but then I remember how much he loves passion and fire. How he uses it against me, to raze and burn and scorch. I realize that to take a weapon of any kind will only serve him.
So I take nothing.
I strip off the clothing of my gifts, charms, and social tricks. I remove all tokens of confidence, guile, and all rings of commitment.
For if I go down into the basement, I trod there alone.
Today I decide to remove all the chains he’s wrapped around me. I choose to be fettered to him not one more day.
Naked within myself, I approach the cold, silver door. I unhinge the seven deadbolts, which were supplied by God the Craftsman of All Good Things; they are Prophecy, Service, Education, Exhortation, Charity, and Mercy. Each one clatters open, leaving only a thick beam, which is braced against the center of the door. This beam, cut from the Tree of Life, which is rooted in God and drinks from the deathless wellspring of Love that flows through all reality. Power and majesty drips from the beam in the form of divine blood.
When I first lift the heavy slat I am surprised how light it is, and marvel at how something so fragile has jailed my monster for so long.
I set the beam aside, the crimson salve now covers my hands. I do not feel as though I need to wipe them clean, something about this sacrificial balm emboldens me.
Beam and bolts undone, the door creaks open. The weight of the frame causes the foundation to moan.
The aperture, like a maw, opens into a gaping darkness, swallowing light, warmth, all.
I see that the man in my basement has been busy during his quiet hours. He has torn away the walls, broken into the private spaces of my soul. He’s ransacked the Study of Joy, the wine cellar of merriment, and he’s robbed the vault where I once kept the currency of my self-worth.
This isn’t a basement anymore, it’s a labyrinth. A maze inside my own soul, of which I have no compass, map, or Virgil to assist in navigation. Stepping into the cleft, my feet touch rough, wet stones. He’s torn up the flooring, anticipating that if this day ever came, he’d hold every conceivable advantage. He’s smarter than I thought; probably examined the volume in the Attic which is dedicated to the strategy of War.
We both knew this day would come, I think, and he’s prepared for victory.
I, on the other hand, am naked and alone in a once familiar land which is now altogether alien. But my legs do not tremble, my footfalls are without trepidation, and my blood-soaked hands are capable. For though he has changed the landscape, this underground soul is mine – and I refuse to have its ownership torn from me.
The path twists and turns, the echos of my past haunt me. The same ghosts what oppressed Odysseus, the same patriarchal spirit that drove Hamlet mad, and even Dickens’ wraiths of Past, Present, and doomed future whisper from the dark, hollow corridors. Some of them tell me to turn back, “For here there be Dragons,”. Others press me forward with small consolations of love and confidence. I shut out all of them, closing off the mechanisms of both fear and pride.
My cowardice diminishes.
My hope, however, does not.
I do not encounter any traps or hidden pitfalls because the man in the basement doesn’t want to stop me short, he wants to crush me in the center of all things.
The bending maze, finally navigated to inevitable awaiting conflict, opens up to a golden hall. The man in my basement is sitting upon a throne of bones, the trophy carcasses of friendships he killed, losses I afforded him, and murdered loves he’s collected from decades of potent warmongering.
There is an empty fireplace behind him, for I have kept my heart away from his flame long enough to ensure there would be no fuel for his dark fire.
A long table squats in front of his gory throne. It is filled with a ruined feast of rotted memories, his past victories, and black tankards filled with the blood he has spilled. On these tankards are the inscribed names of the men I’ve beaten with my fists, the people who I’ve manipulated and lied to, or wounded with my words.
Torches of an unnatural fire line the cobblestone walls, kept burning by the greasy oils of pride, vanity, and self-love.
The man himself is nothing like what I expected. He is handsome, if but in a dark fashion. A regal brow and confidence-man smile greet me with the first words I’ve ever heard from his lips.
The moniker he places on me swells the rage within. He closes his eyes in what can only be described as a sexual crudity. He gains from my anger, and I am further diminished.
After his pleasure subsides, he smiles again and says, “You like what I’ve done with the place?” He then gestures all around the room with an upturned palm.
Without considering his question, I realize that I am speaking to him, and to my horror, I call him by name-
“Hello, Seth,” I say.
“Hello, Seth,” he returns. Then, slowly and methodically, he rises out of his iron seat. He’s taller than me.
Because of course he is. And he’s stronger than me too, I know, for his forearms are like cables of tensile steel, his legs like pillars carry with them booming footsteps. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“So have I,” I say.
“Liar,” he says, as he takes one of the pewter tankards into his thick, embattled hands, and then drinks the dark wine of red vitality stolen from the veins of my neighbors, friends, enemies, family, and lovers.
“Of all the men you have chosen to face, you have avoided me. For in the upper chambers of this house, you have hidden from me in your fear of me, and in your times of desperation you unleashed me,” he says. And he’s closer now, stopping his progress to perch upon the edge of the table in front of me.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I say.
“When will you learn that your lies are no defense to the truths you keep hidden away from all others? When, Craftsman, will you accept that you are bound to me, forever yoked to the strength I provide. When will you finally understand that I am your war-like shield? Embrace me, and I will make you strong. Fully yield to me, and I will take away your weakness, your false modesty, your strained, meager endurance.”
“I will not yield,” I say.
“You will. Or, so I swear, I will eventually break down your paltry gate in all my majesty, with enough power to bring down this place you call home. I will break all your love, crush your hearth with the sole of my boot, and topple the little ivory tower you hide from me in,” he says.
“I will not yield,” I say again, the words more bold.
“Then all of you is forfeit,” he says, with grim satisfaction.
“No. No longer will this ghost of you haunt me. No longer will I make war. No longer will I be a slave to such a primative thing, such as you are,” I say, as the tips of my bloody fingers slide along my trembling hands.
He laughs again, the sound of death’s rasping cackle resonates within the throne room of my soul.
“And what, little storyteller, makes you believe you have a choice in the matter?” He asks.
I gather my heart and mind together in that moment, not as weapons, but as penetrating light. “I have the choice because the free-will of this vessel is mine to claim. For even though I have wounded others and spilled their blood, I am now marked with the blood which was spilled for me,” I say with growing measure and lift my palms to face him, that he might see that the blood of sacrifice is higher than the blood of selfish gain. “I choose and no longer obey. I do not yield because you are not the master of this house; you are a resident, that in my youth and foolishness I leaned on because to have victory was more important than to know the fullness of life’s deep and abiding fruit. I choose others over myself. I choose love, Seth. And I choose it now, forever.”
Suddenly, he is about me, fast and terrible is the wrath of the man in my basement. His hands grip my throat, and he crushes me down into the hard, unforgiving earth beneath us.
“And what of these hands, weakling? What of the fists that have protected you from the harm other men would have wrought upon you? What of these, O’ Peacemaker, these weapons? These capable fingers that have broken bones, written cutting remarks, and held the sword of discipline your weak mind could never wield?” He screams, and his breath is the rank of a death tomb, his spittle a vitriolic acid that sears into my brow and mouth. His grip is cyclopean in strength, his malice a pure froth about his lips. With all that is within me I want to beat him back. I want to cast him off me, and throw down wounding blows that he once taught me in the desperate midnight hours of my life.
But, instead, I see the blood on his hands. And I feel the blood on mine. Through choking gasps I manage – “I am done with your strength.”
Shock smooths his once wrinkled maniac face, and he recoils from me. For now he shows his own fear.
I stand, over his diminished form, and say to him now, and to you dear reader, for forever, as I lift my palms covered in the zoe of Christ’s crucifixion-
“These are no longer mine own hands. My heart is no longer set upon my own devices. My mind, no longer a grave. For I have discovered the One who can quell the raging sea inside of me. These hands shall make war no more, these hands will never again be raised in the horror of wrath. I choose goodness, I choose life sewn into the lives of others. I choose kindness, meekness, and above all I choose love. For now, and until the day of my death, these hands shall be the hands which comfort the sick, hands which heal the leper, pull the lame up to their feet. My voice shall no longer make destitute the heart of another, because I choose no longer to curse the name of my neighbor. I choose to be a herald of that eternal Gospel which in its symphony gives life abundantly.
I choose love, Seth.
I choose to put to death all that is hatred, wrathful, and cruel within me. And with that sacrifice, the sacrifice of all the crude weapons or hollow victories you’ve given me. I choose cross-death, over your throne. I choose sacrifice, Seth. And I sacrifice you, that I might never wound another heart so long as I draw breath.“
Honestly, I thought that in this victory over him, the man in my basement would disappear; vanish into oblivion.
He did not.
He looked at me defeated. The throne room around us had changed, however, for it was no longer a monarchs ruling chamber. For victory over him in his titan labyrinth, had transformed the room into a small, but brightly lit tabernacle.
A Holy of Holies erected in the temple of my soul.
He was defeated, but offered one final word, “You can never be rid of me, Disciple of the Lamb.”
To which, as I turned to leave, said, “No, because you’re forever a part of me. But your power is broken, your influence shattered against the Rock of Ages. I know you’ll always be here, but I need no longer bolt the door to this church. Because in unshackling myself from you, I have set you free from me. And perhaps one day the portion of you that is in me will be transformed into something good, loving, and pure.”
And so, my dear friends who have endured this journey of mine, I say to you in closing –
Life is a house –
And through great love and sacrifice we choose not only the architecture, and furnishings of our inner workings, but we also choose its occupants. I pray you’ll come visit my home, to see the newly renovated areas of myself, for within this place that I call home, I believe I have a new found love that I’d like to share with you. And you, with me.