There Was Something In My Soda Can

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.

Me on my 18th birthday, a month before I moved into my first apartment

Me on my 18th birthday, a month before I moved into my first apartment

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.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of my first apartment. These are pictures of my 2nd apartment

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my first apartment. These are pictures of my 2nd apartment

KitchenDining RoomBedroom

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.



65 responses

  1. BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECK! I love your second apartment. But your first apartment story was awesome. What courage to go out on your own like that. And the lessons are fantastic. And I see a picture within your picture that I HAD. 🙂

  2. 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….. This had me in hysterics 🙂

    Oh my goodness this was so funny and so revolting at the same time! Mel you a brilliant I loved this. You looked soooo young in that pic 18?? Sorry my initial thought was 13 or 14..which in a way is a good thing…yes? *nods* Cockroaches ewwww you poor love, but I admire you courage and determination, bless your mum still saying you can live at home each time! Precious! We have them here – cockies we call them the brown ones are the ones that carry the germs, the big black revolting ones don’t..believe it or not. Either of them get half a can of spray on them if I see one. 🙂 xx Bless ‘ya tenacity to see it all through.

  3. as soon as I saw the title of your post I knew it was headed into cockroaches!!!! having lived in Manhattan for 10 years in my younger days I’ve had loads of awful experiences with roaches and mice and even rats…ugh!!! you sound like a tough cookie 🙂

  4. I never got to see either of those apartments…That second was nice, where was it at? I lived in a couple myself that might’ve come close to your 1st one. I, too, am thankful everyday for what I have now because of where I have been before. Humble, cockroachy, starts aren’t a bad thing… They are harbingers for quests to move forward, to do the work that will move us forward, and when we get there, it keeps us from going back. And if we are wise, we wind up not cursing those earlier times and places, but instead, we now possess grateful, thankful hearts for the path that led us to our blessings…

  5. As a native Floridian who grew up with palm trees in the yard, I am quite familiar with cockroaches, particularly palmetto bugs who are like the “lurch” of the roach family with their 2-3 inch bodies and massive wings. I do not wish that on ANYONE! You are much braver than me. We only occasionally got them because they live in palm trees so there’s no avoiding them, regardless of cleanliness, and I am still petrified to this day (literally have chills just typing about them). What a life lesson! It’s amazing how we learn from the scariest and grossest things! 🙂

    • Yikes! I’m trying to picture a cockroach with wings…that does sound completely awful! Things have to be pretty bad for us to get cockroaches in Wisconsin plus it was winter time so they should have at least been hibernating…these must have been of a very hardy bunch!

  6. OH PALMETTO BUGS! Sorry for the reaction, but reading embracingtheinsanity’s comment took me back to those Florida days.

    Being a Navy brat-we moved often and guess what? Those housing units were often cockroach havens.

    I never had my own apartment, just my dorm room at school. It was something I always wanted to experience but never got to! Great story!

    • Thanks Sarah! Yeah, reading embracingtheinsanity’s comment sure makes me glad my cockroaches didn’t have wings (I can’t believe I typed “my” like they were my little pets)!! Maybe you can get a secret apartment now to get away from the husband and kids from time to time!!! haha!!

  7. OMG! I used to have the exact same green entertainment unit. EXACT. That is too funny. We had the matching coffee table and end tables too.
    My first apartment was also a nightmare. Full of cockroaches. One day, someone on the 25th floor interrupted a robbery and a hostage taking ensued. SWAT had to come. Another time, someone tried to break down our door. They were yelling someone’s name. My roommate and I, in tiny nervous voices, said, “you have the wrong apartment” and, believe it or not, the guy said, “sorry” and stopped flinging himself against our door. lol. Unfortunately, I also got chased down the stairwell on one occasion. Thankfully, I was faster than my pursuer and made it to the busy bus stop outside. We moved after that. This apartment is DEFINITELY a learning experience.

  8. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I think I just puked a little. You poor thing. That is so sad! Our first rental was bad too. I got bit by a brown recluse spider and had to go to the hospital.

  9. I think my favorite part of the whole story is that you hated it, but you’ve got the broader perspective to know how much you learned from it…and even better…you wouldn’t shield your own kids from having the same experience. I totally agree with that. The best thing we can do as parents isn’t to protect them and make life perfect, it’s to let them experience life, and learn from it…good and bad.

  10. This post is going to help so many young, younger, old, and older people. There is so much lessons to be learned from this story. You made good points for example buying what you need. I have also learned about being content, making use of what I have, improvising, stretching every dollar, and being creative, most of all serving GOD, reading his Word, and being helpful in anyway I can towards others in need. Great Sharing, and thank you for doing so. Be BLESSED, Mtetar

  11. I kid you not, I have a friend who is going through that very thing now. She needed a place to stay, was driving through a neighborhood she used to live in, and saw a house for rent. She had visited that house once, and it was nice. Twenty years ago. She signed the lease sight unseen. Got the keys, went in, and found hundreds and hundreds of roach carcasses, mold, grimey walls and carpets. She’s living in there now.

    That second apartment sure is cute. It reminds me of my apartments from that time. You sure did well for yourself. $10 an hour is not too shabby even now!

    • Oh boy, I’m trying to think what that apartment must be like now that I used to live in…I’ve driven past it a few times and it’s still up and running…I hope they remodeled! Tell your friend I feel for her!!

  12. My family & I are in our first apartment together right now. A Dump! But, like you I am working very hard to change this. I cannot wait to get out & get better:) Thank you for sharing!

      • Yea, I know 🙂 The saving part is the hard part!! LOL! But, we are slowly working on it! I have a lot of changes that I want to make! I just have to write them down as I think of them! I followed your blog to keep in touch. I hope you keep in touch as well !

      • Yea, my problem exactly. So I am going to try to save by recycling more, using less, eating less, things like that! Maybe I can save enough by myself. Without really having to take from them 🙂

  13. I never saw a cockroach until I moved to the East Coast. They freak me out! I scream and make my husband kill them. I’ll gladly spray bug poison all around and inside my house to keep them out. Of corse keeping the dogs and little man far away from the spray until it’s dried completely. You are one brave woman.

  14. OMG! I would’ve run out screaming at the site of the first roaches, the soda can made the blood run from my face and I feel faint. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  15. Melissa, I would be traumatized too! Not sure if I’d ever look at a soda can the same again. But more importantly, I love the message here. To multiply whatever you have. I’m quite certain this life lesson will be passed down to your children. It might be a lofty goal in today’s economy, but maybe they can aim to purchase their own home by age 21. What an accomplishment! You’re awesome, lady!

    • Thank you Anka! I sure hope I can pass this down to my kids but I’m sure it is one of those things that they will have to learn themselves. I can set an example but they will need to experience all these hard lessons themselves I’m sure!

  16. Yikes! I would not have lasted long in that apartment. I actually started to feel nauseated just reading your post. That is really impressive that you got your own apartment at the age of 18!

  17. Isn’t it funny how somerging so yucky shaped your life?! I can only imagine! So young and innocent! Wow! Honestly if someone would have given me the option to drink cockroach soda at 18 and from that learn financial responsibility I may have taken it 🙂 however I think you had that savvy in you from the beginning! You seemed to have been well-rounded already!

  18. Great story! It’s amazing the things we learn – the stuff that will stay with us forever – from those times when things are not so easy isn’t it?
    We were just talking about our first house the other night. Oh my word I’m so glad I didn’t realize there were bats in it at the time…. 😉

  19. Pingback: Ear Gunk-Eating Insects, Polite Criminals, and A Teeny Tiny Washing Machine | The Embiggens Project

  20. Oh! after reading this, I don’t know how I will be looking at another can of soda again ouh! ah! poor you, but wow, I do admire you, you are so determined, so brave too and your mother so lovely to want to you to go back with her 🙂 I’m glad you are now with your beautiful family and you can be so proud of yourself for coming a long way. Love your 18 year old pic too!

  21. Oh gross! This is making me get goosebumps. One of my first apartments had cockroaches, too, you should have seen me and my roommates screaming like the sissy little girls we were. We moved out for a few days while the landlord took care of the problem because we couldn’t stand it. I still get the creeps just thinking about those huge, nasty bugs!

  22. This is such a great story and brought back some rather unpleasant memories of my own! Like you say though, having that experience is so valuable in teaching you how to live and survive without much in the material sense.

  23. This was sooo great! And the fact that you have pictures is amazing! I have a few of my first. Why didn’t I think to take one of every room? I took pics of this house when we first moved in! What a treasure that you will always have! My first place was so great. It had a craftman’s style step up closet, hardwood floors, a balcony with french doors and glass door knobs… the kitchen had yellow tile with a red stripe which I thought was so old fashioned then but I think I would love it now! And an ironing board in the wall! If only we could go back and appreciate things like we do now.

    • Oh boy, I sure wish you had photos too! I’m just imagining the french doors, doorknobs, tile and of course the ironing board in the wall. I would absolutely love that! I’ve always loved antiques, I started collecting when I was 16. We now own a 70 year old house that is furnished with mainly antiques but thank goodness no cockroaches!! Thank you so much for stopping by!

  24. This was a good read, but you know, it infuriates me that landlords don’t take more care and respect of the humans to pay money to live in their place. It’s infuriating.

    Daniel & me got a house in Nedlands – a good suburb, surprisingly affordable. I was lying in bed & something was flying above me, I turned on the light and was HORRIFIED to see cockroaches. It was FOUL. Ugh.

    I’m glad you moved out. I’m glad you’ve moved on. You’ve done great.

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