True stories inspired by Infestation by Steve Anwyll (check it out).
All The Things
When I went to college I lived in the dorms my freshman year. My sophomore year I rented a 5-bedroom house, the former house of one of my future room mate’s boyfriend and all of his buddies. It was a bachelor pad and was the barely livable, but what did I know?
The shower hot/cold knobs came from a pipe in the floor and had to be adjusted before getting into the shower. The carpeting was worn thin, the lead paint flaking off like the worst case of dandruff. Within our first few weekends there was a bat in the upstairs bedrooms, twice. Unclear how it got in. There was a squirrel nesting in the drop ceiling above my bed. I’d hear it chittering to itself (and its friends) and scratch scratch scratching on the foam tiles above me. I probably could have pushed one of those tiles up and let the rabid thing have at my face. I chose to pretend it didn’t exist and say small prayers that it wouldn’t fall through right onto my head in the night.
The other problem was the room mates. I started dating the 1 room mate’s former boyfriend, the one who had previously lived in the house for several years. It wasn’t my most conscientious of decisions, but what are you going to do? I was 19, I fell in love. Not on purpose, but there it was. She found out by reading a private online journal I shared with my best friends. I hadn’t figured out how to break it to her quite yet and shit had already hit the fan.
After the cat was out of the bag, or the squirrel was out of the ceiling (except only figuratively) things got pretty bad for me. The other room mates hated me. Maybe thy had just cause, but this happened at the start of a 1 year lease and I had a solid 9 more months to make things work with them. I made cookies and put them out for everyone to share, I never brought old boyfriend over, I did my best to respect room mate’s broken, mangled, and quite honestly betrayed heart. They never spoke to me or acknowledged my presence.
They put a dart board right next to my bedroom door.
They’d have parties unannounced. I’d get out of the shower, wrapped in a towel and would have to tip toe weave through a pile of boys and girls sitting on the floor, buckets of Rolling Rock and snacks at their feet.
They watched Mean Girls on repeat.
They would threaten, passive aggressively, always speaking to each other (never directly to me… ) that maybe they would put all the dirty pots and pans on my bed when I was at class. What would Lauren do then? Maybe they would just pile them up big and tall onto my sheets, straight from the sink, wet, with old pasta and sauce stuck to their sides. Do you think Lauren deserves that? Probably.
I started keeping my tooth brush in my bedroom, afraid they would dunk it in the toilet. They probably did before it occurred to me, I don’t know.
When my parents came for a visit, they installed a doorknob with a lock.
Except the lock did nothing for the constant thwacking of the darts bouncing off the dart board. Sometimes I was trapped in there while they played, often missing and hitting my door. Thwack. Thwack bounce.
It was ok. I deserved it. I was a bad person. I did my best to be home as little as possible. I half moved into my the old boyfriend’s apartment, cleaning his and his room mate’s filthy floors, cooking meals, helping with laundry, doing the grocery shopping.
I got mono right before Chistmas. It lasted 4 months.
One time while I sat on the front steps of that house, on a warm evening, chatting on the phone, I was bitten repeatedly by spiders, all over my wrists in the dark. I never saw them, but the bites exploded. I was completely covering just below the base of my hand and expanding for 4 inches, down my wrist and all along my forearm.
Even after I moved out, after the old boyfriend had broken up with me a few weeks after the school year had ended, I was only maybe a block away from that old house. I used to worry about running into them on the street or in a class. One time, a year or more after graduation, I ran into one of them totally unexpectedly at a mall while I was visiting Chicago. I knew she saw me but it was still as if I didn’t exist.
My first apartment in San Francisco was in the basement of a building of other apartments. You had to walk through the garage to get to its front door. I moved there without ever seeing the place, without ever even visiting San Francisco. I had no idea if my furniture would fit in the room, but my parents made sure I had nearly every piece of it out of their guest room.
The apartment was 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It had a backyard with a tented wanna-be patio thing that included lounge chairs I used exactly twice. My bedroom window was just maybe a half a foot above the ground. If I left a pair of jeans on the floor overnight they were damp and cold in the morning.
I thought it was quaint and safe.
My room mate was 19, I was 21, but it felt like there were 10 years between us. She was dating a 33 year old French man. They used to fuck in our shower while I was home. The shower never drained well and water was always sloshing around at my feet. One evening I heard her sobbing on the phone to a friend, telling them how he had pulled her hair and thrown her against a wall. How it was really over this time. They broke up for a little while.
The mice started, I think, because my room mate, who I was paying directly and who was on the lease and who was in charge of certain things I was not in charge of, never mowed the lawn in the back. The grass grew and grew and grew and grew until it was more than a foot high.
The mice started, I think, under the sink. One of us would open it to get a cleaning supply or throw something away and there would be a mouse. I would slam the cupboard shut and prance around in my barefeet on the linoleum, as one does when things had the potential to scurry up a bare leg. The landlord came and shoved some steel wool around the sink piping, thinking that would stop them. Thinking that’s where they were coming from.
When they started scratching in the wall my headboard rested on, I was certain the steel wool had done nothing. At night I could hear their little feet scurrying across the floor. I would flip my light on fast and see 1 and then another scampering away under my bed, scampering out my bedroom door, scamper scamper scratch scratch scratch. Incessant scratching all night long
I started sleeping with the light on. The light cut down on the scampering, but did nothing for the scratching.
Every day I would come home from work or school and check on the mice traps. One day I noticed that one of the sticky traps was gone. “Good,” I thought, “stupid room mate took care of it and we got one.”
A few days went by before I saw her, I congratulated her on catching 1 of the seemingly hundreds of mice that plagued the apartment every day. She didn’t know what I was talking about.
“I thought you took the trap…” she said.
My anxiety got so bad living in that dark, wet, mold and mice covered hole that I started restricting my diet because I was so grossed out living there. I started surviving on canned green beans, eggo waffles, and bags and bags of soy crisps.
When I finally moved out I abandoned my box spring. I left it propped against the side of the building and drove away. While trying to load it into the moving van I was overwhelmed with the smell of pee. The mice had been living and shitting and peeing in there. Good riddance.
I drove by once a few days after I moved and it was still there. Part of me had guilt as there was a “no dumping” rule in the city and signs posted, but with the amount of crap set out on the curb in San Francisco, I don’t think anyone noticed 1 pee stained box spring, 1 of many.
On A Loop
Next there was the room mate’s cat that would refuse to get out from under my bed and who eventually nested in my bed covers, dropping hundreds and hundreds of fleas.
The ants that crawled up 5 floors to wander aimlessly through the apartment for months and months, despite our best efforts to put all food items in the fridge. Kleenex in the garbage and my retainer on the nightstand were not safe and were often swarmed by teensy black ants.
Or the time my car housed an entire ant nest and I watched as a line of ants carried eggs up my door frame into the engine. The ants had dropped from a tree during a wind storm.
Or the book lice that followed us from 1 apartment to the next, thriving on the moisture in the foggy, condensation soaked window wells until 1 day I found their hold out and nearly burned the place down.
The black widow plus a nest behind the book shelf on moving day.
The crazy neighbor who took off his clothes in the parking lot and left leftover pancakes on our doorstep. Who chained smoked so badly it filled our bathroom with visible smoke clouds. Who flicked a cigarette butt at me as I walked to the train.
The chronic karaoke-ers – room mates below us for a summer while they attended some drama school in the area and had late night drunken sing-alongs for months at a time. That was the summer of Someone Like You and Adele. On repeat.