Dad made sure to clean the sink at the end of the night. Scrub it thoroughly, separately wash the mat and drain traps, run the garbage disposal, dry it down. I found this out when I did the dishes and he was there at my shoulder telling me how.

I didn’t really get it. Cleaning a sink sounded a lot like cleaning a shower: aren’t these things inherently clean? Isn’t it sort of their job to be?

(Don’t worry, readers. I now understand that this is, bafflingly, not how it works.)

“It keeps the cockroaches away,” he’d say. Sometimes. Other times he’d say it kept the elephants away, and when I raised my eyebrows, he’d ask when I last saw an elephant.

I could no more imagine cockroaches scuttling around our tidy arid house’s sink than I could imagine elephants tromping through the living room. But he’d grown up in a hot wet climate, and I could tell—once you see a roach, you don’t ever un-see it.

Despite many run-ins with rats and other non-rent-paying dwellers of group houses I shared in college and afterward, I never saw a cockroach until I spent a summer in DC. We kept that house pretty clean but if you stayed up late enough you’d see them scurrying along the baseboards of the first floor like a conga line. One night my friend got drunk and started picking them up one by one between his thumb and forefinger and tossing them through the back-door safety bars.

“And stay out!”

I don’t think they did.

Because that’s the problem: once you have them, they never leave. At least that’s what all the websites say, the ones you frantically skim when you’re having a semiannual panic that maybe you have an undetectable infestation. They’re trying to sell you extermination services, after all. They’ll tell you that if you see one, you have a hundred, and if you have a hundred, there’s no amount of sweeping at the base of the cabinets that will starve them out. They’re like original sin. You need an intercessor; you can’t absolve yourself.

Despite several prolonged bouts of Googling the guises a roach may come in (can they be incredibly small and also shaped and colored differently than most roaches? Can they lay microscopic eggs?) and a few bouts of frantically tearing the place apart, learning how to vacuum around appliances no one has moved in a decade, I have once again concluded that we are living alone in this place.

(Alone, that is, except for the plants and the friendly tiny spider who lives in the front window. We’re glad to see her every morning.)

But I know that even if I move far away from this swampy place they seem to love so much, and far away from messy neighbors and the trash chute that seems to back up weekly, I’ll never go to bed with scraps or drips in the sink.

Because that’s what they want.

And, much like supervillains, they are skilled at making obsessive enemies for life.

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