Love Letter: In Heartfelt Memory of My Crappy Vancouver Basement Suite

Four twentysomethings move into a hundred-year-old basement suite in Kitsilano. Chaos ensues. Also, friendship.

I grew up in Richmond, famously at sea level, so the only basement I knew of was at my friend’s rich stepdad’s house in White Rock. Their basement had foosball, a Wii for playing Guitar Hero and one of those old-school basketball arcade games. I remember walking down their giant staircase and thinking, wow—when I grow up, I want a basement. In my early 20s, my wish came true. But like with any good fairy tale, it came at a price.

Four of us split the $2,400-a-month rent—a steal of a deal in on the west side—to live in a basement that originally had two bedrooms. Sometime in the house’s 100-plus year history (we looked it up—it was built in 1912) the owners had made a third bedroom by completely walling in the living room, and a fourth by splitting the kitchen in two. This meant we had no real common space outside of the kitchen, so our only couch was crammed between the fridge and the “new” drywall. If you sat just right on that scratchy red sofa, you could have a conversation with the roommate whose bedroom was on the other side of the wall.

I lived in this basement for two years, but it’s been in my “friend family” for five. In the last half-decade, seven of us (in various combinations) have lived within these walls. Here are 6/7 on a random Friday in 2019 (I’m in the top left).

Because our house shared an alley with a thrift store, there was always a wealth of ugly art, broken kitchen appliances and moist furniture left by jerks who abandoned “donations” outside of the drop-off times. We embraced the free decor, covering our walls in tasteless line drawings and kitschy paintings of sheep. We illuminated dark corners with fairy lights.

We’d sit around our Ikea pine table eating ice cream and doing deep dives into career crises, relationship woes, the burden of the patriarchy and our sex lives. When we got bored of that, we’d discuss capitalism, whether “Mr. Brightside” is a bop or a banger, and other people’s sex lives. We’d cry. One night, after three of the four of us had an emotional breakdown at the kitchen table, we made roommate #4 talk about her feelings until she cried, too. It was only fair.

Me with another roomie, Luke the cat. Here’s an I Spy game: Smirnoff Ice can, “Send Noods” wall art, clock that has never shown the right time, toaster artfully placed on top of microwave (bunkbed-style).

I don’t mean to glamorize what living in a $600-a-month room in a basement suite looks like in Vancouver. I’ve swept dead mice into a dustpan while trying not to gag. We were evacuated for mould. We had a break-in, prompting the landlords to put bars on our windows, which really added to the underground aesthetic. One Friday evening a hallway lightbulb burst, and we realized the cause was ice-cold water from our upstairs neighbour’s toilet flooding. Soon, toilet water was pouring out of cracks in the kitchen ceiling, running over the hood fan and dripping into the pasta my roommate had boiling on the stove.

Our back fence was mowed over twice by two different cars, two years apart. No one knows why or how.

The biggest basement mystery: why everyone loves driving through our back fence (past the concrete block, you’ll notice). These two images were taken a year apart —you can see the “new” gate in the photo on the right.

Still—here’s where the romanticization comes in—I loved that place. This kind of living situation could tear friendships apart, but, crowded in front of the bathroom mirror, swiping on mascara and wearing each other’s clothes, we became inseparable. My basement wasn’t pretty, and it maybe wasn’t ideal. But for two years, my highest highs all happened underground.

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