I’ve lived in a few different places so far in my life. Not a lot of places, but a few. My first venture out of the house where I grew up was into a newly renovated college dorm. It had shiny new floors, sturdy beds, central air conditioning and a semi-private bathroom. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the future at that point in my life, but I definitely had no idea that the future of my housing situation would forever pale in comparison.
My sophomore year of college wasn’t much worse. I moved to a different dorm with larger rooms but older facilities. There was no elevator, window-unit ACs and radiators that I never fully figured out how to use, and paint that chipped off the walls and fell into my bed, revealing the asbestos-filled underlying structure. But it was fine.
As the end of my second year in a dorm approached, I was counting down the days until I had my own apartment: more importantly, my own bedroom and bathroom. Sure, my friends and I signed a lease in the apartment complex that had the worst reputation in Chapel Hill since at least the 1980s, but I wasn’t worried. It had a shorter walk to campus than any other apartment complex, and, with four people sharing a 3-bedroom, our rent was basically nothing.
The floors in Townhouse 6H were warped and slanted toward the center of every room; there was rarely hot water; the internet never worked; each room had a ten degree temperature difference from the one beside it; and we were pretty sure we had a ghost living there who constantly opened all the cabinets in the kitchen, but it was our home. Those two years in Townhouse were two of the best years of my life so far and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
There was one thing, though, that made me contemplate leaving Townhouse and never going back.
Every time I got into my ridiculously small shower (after waiting 20 minutes for the water to get hot), I was joined by not one, not two, but an entire family of cockroaches: very clearly a mother, father, two and a half children and what I can only assume is a live-in mother-in-law.
I’m not sure why me being in the shower coaxed them to come out every time – maybe it was their idea of some sort of tropical vacation into a steamy rainforest or something – but it never failed.
Now, let’s get one thing straight while we’re still in the beginning of this story: I do not fuck with bugs. Of any kind. I think they’re rude for thinking they can hang out anywhere humans hang out without being invited and they have got some damn nerve to exist and travel in such large numbers.
Typically, I make someone around me kill any bug that comes near me. And there lay the problem with my shower visitors: I was the only one around. Unfortunately, I almost always shower alone. Even if I hadn’t been painfully single, there was only room for one person in that shower, so I was always going to be on my own to face Mr. and Mrs. Roach. Most of the time, I was quick enough to smash one or two of them with my shampoo bottle before the others ran back into the small crack in the grout where they came from.
Killing a bug is never the end of the terror for me, because there’s still a carcass to be disposed of. Usually I gag the entre time as I find a way to simultaneously be as far away from the deceased bug as possible while also moving it to a trash can or incinerator or whatever receptacle is closest. This is the one and only positive thing about my daily shower battles with the cockroaches: all it took was a swift sweep of the murder weapon to push the departed down the drain. On one occasion, the drunk uncle that they brought on vacation with them was too large to fit through the openings in the drain cover, but I managed to take care of that too (after a few minutes of screaming for my roommate to come help, to no avail).
One night during the summer before senior year, my roommate (I’ll leave her name out, but let’s call her Krazy) and I were getting ready to go out just like we did every other Tuesday night. She was in her room changing into her fourth outfit possibility while I was going into the kitchen, T Pain blaring from the speaker on my phone, to take the first of many shots of Aristocrat vodka to be taken that night.
As I was standing there dancing alone, shot glass in hand, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Just a quick movement on the corner of the counter where our dishes rested in the drying rack. I was hesitant to turn and look, fearing the worst. When I finally turned my gaze, there he was: a cockroach the size of a small dog. He and I made eye contact as he waltzed slowly out onto the open counter on two feet and posted up on the corner and lit a cigarette. If there’s something I hate more than seeing cockroaches, it’s seeing cockroaches walk leisurely around MY HOME like they pay rent.
I hope for your sakes that those of you reading this have never experienced a cockroach up close; and for those of you who have been so unfortunate, I really hope you’ve only seen them running full speed. A relaxed cockroach is an image you can never burn from your memory.
I was alone with this giant, so I had no idea what to do. He was still a few feet away from me, but there was nothing within my reach to crush him with or to just throw at him. Plus, there were dishes all around, so any stray swing could cause severe damage. I made the coward’s decision and immediately ran to Krazy’s room.
“Krazy!” I screamed. “You have GOT to come in here! Help!”
I’m sure she knew what was coming, but she still asked. I knew if I told her that a bug the size of a party-size bag of Doritos was setting up camp in our kitchen, she wouldn’t come to help. After a few minutes of insisting that she “just COME,” I told her. We ultimately agreed that two of us against the cockroach was a better idea than just one, then crept up to the kitchen doorway. We peered into the room and saw no sign of the freeloader, so we stepped in cautiously.
Presumably smelling our fear, the previously chill cockroach made an aggressive appearance, sending us screaming and running out of the room. The screaming continued down the hallway and back into Krazy’s room, where we closed the door and agreed to stay in there and pretend nothing happened.
Only about a minute later, I got a call from our friend Aly, who was at our front door ready to go out. I ran past the kitchen to the door to let her in and she asked, eyes half-closed “were y’all just screaming? I could hear it when I was walking over.”
After I told her what happened, she didn’t skip a beat; she took off her sandal, sauntered into the kitchen, found and killed the cockroach in less than thirty seconds. She came back into Krazy’s room where we were still hiding and we just looked at her, mouths open with surprise and disgust.
“Whatever, dude,” she said in her typical surfer-girl affect. We went on with the night and eventually our lives like nothing had happened, but I still feel like I owe a large debt to Aly.
Shortly after the kitchen cockroach debacle, maintenance at Townhouse finally did something about all the complaints. I’m sure they were coming from everyone in the complex, but I doubt anyone complained as much as we did. That is what we do best and most, after all: complain.
Senior year started out pretty bug-free; the only interaction worth noting wasn’t even at my apartment. I was at a friend’s house getting ready to go out (if you’re sensing a common theme here, you’re not wrong), listening to Katy Perry’s newest song, when I saw what I thought was a small bug crawling out of the bathroom toward us. As it came into clearer view, I realized that it was not a small bug, but a medium-sized cockroach, which is still too big. It was making a beeline for us, so I had to act fast. Without speaking a word or making a sound, I planted my hands on Maggie’s shoulders and pushed her while I jumped back in the opposite direction. She stumbled back, caught her balance, and just stared at me in confusion. I immediately realized that simply telling her that a giant bug was running towards us probably would have been just as effective, or even more effective since she could’ve jumped into action and done something about it. Instead, there we were, standing five feet apart, staring at each other, and the cockroach had already found another hiding place.
Maggie forgave me for assaulting her when I told her that it was basically a matter of life and death, and then we got back to Katy Perry and forgot about the cockroach. Out of sight, out of mind.
Not too long later, it made an appearance again and, true to form, I threw Maggie into action and then immediately jumped into a chair. This fight was a slightly longer and louder one than the one between Aly and Kitchen-Cockroach back home, but ultimately Maggie came out the victor. All I did to help was video her screaming and post it on Instagram.
After Townhouse, I moved to an apartment in Key West that was filled with cigarettes and other unknown drugs that our deadbeat roommates cycled through the doors, but there weren’t many bugs. I think Key West is too hot for even Satan’s messengers.
When I moved back to North Carolina, I moved into house with a college friend and her roommates. I didn’t see a single bug in that house in the six months that I lived there. My room was consistently 42 degrees even into the summer, the doors were difficult to open and a squirrel once died in our chimney, but at least there were no bugs.
After that house, I moved into another apartment in Chapel Hill that rivals Townhouse in terms of quality. Glen Lennox had also been a Chapel Hill staple since long before I was born, had warped floors and plumbing problems. The main difference is that instead of college students, we were surrounded by families with children and pets. The main similarity, though, lie within the walls…