Health + Wellness,  History + Community

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: My Experience Living with Cockroaches

The first time I ever saw a cockroach was when I moved into my first apartment. I was a bright-eyed hopeful, ecstatic that I had found a place so close to U of T’s campus with plenty of space, two balconies and huge windows that let in the light. Up until that point I had only seen roaches in movies, and while the building manager did technically warn us there had been roach problems in the past, they strongly emphasized it was no longer a concern. And I, being a naïve new renter, believed them.

On move-in day my roommate and I were greeted with a pretty messy apartment, cat hair painted into the walls, spots of black ooze inside the oven, and clumps of litter and cat food scattered inside the front-hall closet. But we were confident we could get the place clean and in working order quickly. Fast-forward five hours later, I’m finally out with my lovely volunteer moving crew getting food when I receive a call from my new roommate.

“Our apartment has roaches,” she says. “I just got back, turned on the light and there was a mass of them having a party in the living room.”

I was devastated. I started despairing at how I’d failed so miserably on my first try picking an apartment and furiously googling if it was possible to get out of a year-long lease due to cockroaches. I hadn’t even seen a roach yet and I was already picturing all these horrible scenarios based on years of watching movies where roaches are portrayed as disgusting, dirty creatures the size of your thumb.

The first night I left all the lights on, praying it would repel them, however this made it difficult to sleep. When I finally gave up and went to turn out the light, I saw a shadow flit across my water bottle (it was clear so I could see through to the other side). I got up, hoping like crazy that it was just my imagination and not a roach. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that lucky. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I do know it involved a lot of flailing a Kleenex box around and screaming as I got increasingly desperate. Roaches are incredibly hard to kill, especially when you’re trying your best not to touch them. For the rest of the night, every time I closed my eyes, I pictured myself in an episode of Fear Factor, stuck in a tank with buckets of roaches being poured down on me, until I eventually passed out around 7 a.m.

It sounds pretty horrible, but knowing a roach could show up anywhere, at any time, wasn’t even the worst part—the worst part was that they could climb. That meant at any given moment, you could turn around and have a roach at face level, or worse, on the ceiling above you. I distinctly remember opening the cupboard one morning to get breakfast and being greeted by a roach resting on the lip of the cabinet. Eventually my roommate and I developed a routine where, whoever saw the roach first got to stand quietly traumatized in the corner, while the other person remained calm and went in for the kill. I don’t know why this helped, but it did.

You would think that eventually you would get used to having roaches around. You don’t. In fact, the anxiety follows you even when they’re not around. Every time I went to visit my family during the holidays, I was terrified one would stow away in my suitcase and infect my childhood home. Every speck of dirt on the wall, every smudge was a potential roach, and every time I came back to the apartment, I would have to sleep with the lights on for a few days until I accepted that this was my life again.

A full year of my life was spent in like that, living with this constant nagging discomfort in my own home. The day I was finally free to move out was probably one of the happiest of my life. Now, all I can say is if you are ever looking for an apartment and there’s even the smallest mention of roaches, don’t stick around and ask questions: RUN. You’ll thank me later.

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