The following story is not for the faint of heart. It is a true story that happened to me and has forever shaped my life.
I graduated early my senior year of high school. I was ready to begin my adult life with my accounting job I had lined up, a new truck and my own apartment all by myself.
This was 20 years ago and I was going to make $10 an hour with my new job. It was a lot of money for someone with no formal training yet not enough that I could afford a fancy apartment.
I scoured the newspaper for apartments but it was pretty hard to find one for less than $500 but I finally found one in the country. It was a former old school that they converted into apartments. It was a dump but was only $250 a month.
My mom went with me to look at it. The moment we walked in the door, the smell hit us. The odor was so bad it could have brought a dead rat back to life. We continued to look around. Everything was dingy. The linoleum on the floor was stained and torn in places. The stove was covered in grease and the carpeting throughout was a putrid olive green. The place was big though; a living area plus 2 rooms, a bathroom and a storage room.
After 5 minutes of looking around my mom looked at me and said, “Why don’t you keep looking? Maybe you’ll find something better. You can stay at home until you do.”
But I was determined. I knew there was no other apartments for that cheap plus I could see potential in this place. It just needed a good cleaning. I signed the lease that day.
The following week my mom and I headed over to my new apartment to start cleaning before we moved my furniture in. We hit the kitchen first and got the stove looking like brand new. We scrubbed the linoleum and got it looking a whole lot better. Next we moved the refrigerator.
We screamed. We nearly fell over. We stood frozen not sure what to do.
There were hundreds of cockroaches. Hundreds.
Once again my mom spoke up, “Maybe it’s not too late. Perhaps you can get out of your lease. Just stay home a little while longer until you find something nice.”
I shook my head and we headed to the hardware store to get cockroach powder.
After a week it seemed as though the powder had put a huge dent in the cockroach population.
But there was another problem.
The door to my apartment was constantly getting stuck. You would have to tug and bang to get the darn thing open from the inside.
One morning I was already to go to work and for the life of me I could not get the door to open. I tugged. I banged. I kicked. Nothing worked. I was not going to be late for work. I had to do something. I sat for a moment to think and then I did what every girl does who is ready to go to work in their peach colored blazer with shoulder pads and big pearl buttons with matching peach pencil skirt, cream colored nylons and off white pumps…..
I crawled out onto the roof and jumped the 12 foot down to the muddy ground.
I made it to work on time just with mud on my knees and jacket.
As the months wore on, I would get glimpses of cockroaches crawling here and there scurrying into holes or behind furniture but nothing too bad to alarm me.
One night, I got a call while I was in bed. I walked out to answer it and flipped on the light switch. It was my sister calling to see how the new apartment and job were going. I sat in my kitchen chair trying to sound upbeat and saying how cute I was making my apartment as I watched 10 cockroaches crawling up my kitchen wall. Apparently, they were night critters.
My neighbors were friendly people. They always said hello when I bumped into them in the hallway. One of the ladies even came and knocked on my door one day asking if I would like to attend the party she was throwing on Saturday. I asked what it was for and she said her husband was getting his ankle bracelet off after his 5th DUI arrest. I told her unfortunately I couldn’t attend the party because I had to work. My 18 year old eyes were beginning to see a whole new world.
And I did work a lot. I always put in overtime and worked weekends to keep up with my workload. All of my friends were still in high school talking about the papers they had to write, senior dances and all the other school activities.
I worked so much I rarely had time to make it to the grocery store. One night, I came home exhausted from a long day and looked in the refrigerator. The only thing in it was a generic diet lime soda. I annoyingly grabbed it and went to sit on the couch to watch my television that only got one fuzzy channel that continuously flipped. I opened the soda and began to drink. It tasted horrible. I think it was from my parents because they didn’t like it either.
I took a few more sips, set the half full can on the coffee table and just went to bed.
The next morning I woke up ravenous. I had never felt so hungry in my life. I checked the refrigerator one more time just to make sure I had not missed anything the night before. It was still empty.
I sat back down on the couch and spotted my half full soda from the night before. I decided it was better than nothing. I was that hungry. I took a big chug. The taste was worse. I couldn’t even taste a hint of lime anymore. As hungry as I was I couldn’t drink it. I went to the sink to pour the rest out.
Something came out of the can.
Something came out other than soda.
It was a cockroach.
The realization hit me instantly. I had just drunk out of a can containing a cockroach. I got weak in the knees. My stomach lurched. My eyes welled up. I gripped the kitchen counter with white knuckles.
I walked away.
I walked away from the sink and tried to erase that memory and walked away from that apartment soon after. I had saved up enough money to get a nice apartment. It was newer and didn’t have cockroaches.
My first apartment forever changed my life. I have kept its memory in the back of mind. I never want to live in those conditions again. Therefore, I live thrifty. I do not buy something unless we need it. I buy second hand. I live without a lot. I know that I can survive on very little. I appreciate everything I have.
I often ask myself if I would let my own children live in an apartment like that. The answer is absolutely. It was a learning lesson. It helped me grow up. I learned how to manage money and when I was 21 years old I was able to buy my first house all by myself.
I will just warn them to never drink out of open soda can that has been sitting out all night.