I was warned. More than once I was told, “watch out for the cockroaches.”

I avoided thinking about it as much as possible. My experience in Brazil with cockroaches was enough for me to know I wanted nothing to do with them, and that included giving them a spare thought. Plus, I was preoccupied with all the officially sanctioned warnings about mosquitoes. Stock up on repellent – both toxic and natural kinds -, seek out citronella candles, make sure my mosquito net was the first thing I unpacked. Maybe if I focus on mosquitoes enough, the roaches won’t appear.

I saw the first one a few days after I arrived. As I was getting ready for bed, I noticed a dark mark the size of bottle top in the middle of the living room floor. “What could I have dropped?” I wondered as I approached it, squatting down to get a closer look. Startled by my presence, it scurried away under the kitchen counter while I shrieked like a small child.

Two nights later, another, this time running around the kitchen before it hid under the refrigerator.

I began to research natural ways to keep them away. I learned that cockroaches are clever and social and incredibly flexible. Websites kept trying to convince me that they were lovely, marvellous creatures worthy of salvation. I just wanted to sit on my couch without feeling like a thousand bugs were crawling all over me.

So I bought peppermint oil and scrubbed the entire kitchen with it. I assembled a spray bottle with super sudsy water, knowing that to use it would mean encountering one not only face to face, but for long enough to get out the bottle and use it. I made sure to take the trash out as often as I could, sometimes twice a day, just in case. And I crossed my fingers, hoping they would leave me alone.

The last straw was the third one, who surprised me as I entered my bedroom one night. After swearing loudly, I forsook my environmentally minded, healthy solutions and switched my research focus: “HOW TO KILL COCKROACHES FAST AND FOREVER.” All sorts of nightmarish information came up, including a website that shared the horrific fact that, “if you see one cockroach, it is likely there are hundreds in your walls. If you see more than one, it is likely there are thousands.” I knew I was on the right track with my murderous plan.

The next day (after a fitful night’s sleep), I walked to the hardware store and stocked up on every kind of roach bait and poison I could find. I came home and squeezed blobs of bait beside the refrigerator, under the dresser, in a dark corner of the kitchen.  I dusted poison under the kitchen sink and under my bed (because I am willing to risk my own demise from chemical exposure so long as it means no cockroach will ever crawl into bed with me).

I didn’t have to wait long to see results. Just after sunset (cockroaches are nocturnal) while I worked at my kitchen table, the first victim emerged from under the sink. It was clearly intoxicated and ran in a ever-shrinking circle until it stopped and began to jiggle and writhe, its creepy antenna bobbing in the air. It took over 40 minutes for the bastard to die and I enjoyed every single moment.

The next morning, a dozen or so carcasses lay scattered around my apartment. Some were as large as a tablespoon, others as small as my pinky nail. A few weren’t quite dead yet, their creepy little legs and antenna twitching periodically. I was simultaneously revolted and ecstatic.

Since then, I have encountered a few more corpses in the morning but no longer see any alive. Either they’ve outsmarted me or I am winning this war. I’ll be putting out new bait this weekend, just in case.

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My first kill.