Three and a half weeks ago, my girlfriend moved in.
A week later, the carpenter ants moved in.
I’d seen a few wandering around, but not that easy-to-spot trail of foragers marching into a crevice carrying pieces of a feast, and I’d never, ever seen any of them in the kitchen. I figured I was safe. I kept things clean, I didn’t eat in the bedroom, and after living in this apartment for over four years, pests were not a problem.
A few more little guys appeared. I found an old cough drop in a basket in the bathroom cabinet, its wrapper infiltrated, the smooth craters where the ants had excavated shining in the light. I tossed it in the trash, removed it from the apartment, cleaned and disinfected all traces of cough drop and ant. I figured I was in the clear.
Then the winged ants arrived. First in the master bathroom, then near the sliding doors in the bedroom. One night, while in bed, I turned my head to the right and witnessed a swarm of ants, winged and unwinged. It was horrible, a horror – the writhing mass of black pouring in from the baseboard. I searched for an old can of Raid, which had moved with me from apartment to apartment, and killed them. But I had not won the fight.
I notified my landlord, the condo board president, the neighbors directly above. The neighbors upstairs and next door also had ants. Two days later, an email arrived from a neighbor on the fourth floor (knowing nothing of my ants) informing us of a swarm of ants in his apartment. The ants had taken over.
While waiting for the condo board’s decision about a pet-friendly exterminator, I researched. I know more about ants than I ever imagined. They’re excavating water-damaged wood, which explains the dust piles I’ve come across. They come in four sizes, each with a different job. Some colonies like protein, some like sugar, and some like both (mine like both). Some dislike citrus, others lavender, and still others, rosemary. I’ve concocted an anti-ant spray made of vodka and essential oils, spraying it in semi circles around ant-prone areas to keep them at bay. I could probably write some creative nonfiction about the ants living within the walls and under the floor. Think of the illustrations!
I’m feeding them now. Poison. Cornstarch and powdered sugar. Boric acid and corn syrup. They love it. They’ve moved excavated debris over it, claiming it as their own. Around the clock, foragers ingest it and bring it back to the nest to regurgitate and share. It’s like I have new pets that I must remember to feed. I’ve grown fond of my ants, even as I try to destroy them.
According to the directions on one of the products, activity around the poison mixture should begin to slow down after about a week. There’s only one problem. It’s been a week and a half, and they’re still feasting. A number of winged ants have appeared, flailing and flightless on the bathmat, a sign the colony may be in trouble. But there’s no slowing down at the dinner spot.
I think about this, and how abundant this colony must be, crawling through the walls of this five-story building, digging through the damaged wood floors, creating tunnels underneath me. How will we ever rid ourselves of them?