The Prayer Room

The Prayer Room

In my early twenties, I lived in an adobe house. It had been built in the late 1800's, and was one of those houses where they'd never really installed a heating system. Instead, they had some sort of allegedly functional heater in the basement, and then they'd cut holes in the floors, put ornate gold colored grates over the holes, and left it with, heat rises.

This was in Montana, and frankly, not enough heat was rising to really make the house warm. I remember during a particularly brutal cold snap, for two weeks the average temp was -25 F, sitting on the couch in long underwear, an ice climbing jacket, hunkered under a down sleeping bag.

And while the the aspirational heating situation annoying, it wasn't really the worst part about the house. The basement, where the thing masquerading as a heater lived, was much more upsetting.

First, the basement wasn't finished. And I don't mean it needed dry wall. I mean it didn't have complete walls. Part of the basement was just crumbling dirt. Like, there was a shelf and then a big pocket of dirt.

But beyond the fact the basement didn't have walls, it did have a weird little room. The room was tucked away in a corner, and you entered it through an ornate door which could have been at home with Bilbo Baggins in the Shire. It was a little, expertly made, hobbit door.

But this door didn't go to Middle Earth or Narnia or anywhere else you actually wanted to be. Upon opening the door, the first thing you noticed was the giant pentagram painted on the concrete floor. The pentagram took up the entire floor.

After getting past the pentagram, you looked at the curved walls and saw they were painted with images from various religions. An attempt at a Hindu God mashed with some geometric, presumably Islamic, patterning, and of course there was depiction of a Buddha and then a cross.

On a small end table made of wood and stained glass sat a wooden cross, of the size you might wield during an exorcism, some rosary beads, a Buddha, and some wooden stars and crescent moons.

Then there was a half finished canvas painting of the last supper, half the canvas white, the other detailed in bright blues and reds. It sat abandoned on the floor, resting against the painted wall.

This hadn't been on the tour of the house when we looked to rent it. We reached out to the land lady, a small weary woman with white hair who seemed absolutely over everyone's shit.

"What's that little room in the basement?" We asked.
"That's the prayer room."
We waited, but no explanation came. Finally, "What's a prayer room?"
"It's where I locked myself while raising kids. I would go down there and be alone and pray."

I went back down there and sure enough, there was a lock on the inside of the door but not the outside.

Over the years I've tried to figure out if I would have found it more creepy if the lock had been on the outside, but no matter how I think about it, I always find the image of this woman, locked in this confused room, fervently praying while her kids did God knows what in the house around her, entirely unsettling. Her locking herself away from them is somehow so much more sideways than her putting them in a time out.

It really makes you wonder if the prayer room was the last line of defense.