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My Own Private Terrorists: Why I'll No Longer Let Mouse Phobia Ruin My Life (Or Apartment)

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I'm not the first person to have a fear of mice. But I might be more unique in the lengths I've gone to trying to avoid them.

In summary, I ate nothing but takeout for a year, wore heavy winter boots in summer, got carried around like Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard", and drank a lot less water than recommended.

I should explain how I ended up in this spiral. From age 24 to 30, I lived in an amazing duplex apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone with two friends. The apartment was so fun and charming it could have been the set of a sitcom. I lived on our second floor, which I accessed by staircase from the library (!) on our first floor, where we also had a big eat-in kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. That kitchen was gorgeous and sun-drenched by day...and a house of horrors by night.

Because the brownstone was old and in some disrepair (how else do you think us struggling twenty-somethings could afford it?), it came with some unwanted...furry...roommates.

The first time I met one of our mice, I was lying on the couch, probably watching "The Real World." Suddenly I saw a flash of fur bolt from our butcher block in the kitchen and disappear behind the television console in our living room. I screamed, contemplated moving out, and went to bed.

Then came the mouse droppings on the stove, followed by more on the counter. The infestation got so bad that any time I sat still in the kitchen for longer than five minutes, I saw that little furry streaker...and proceeded to lose my mind.

A few years later I was alone in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner, when a mouse shot across the passage to the living room. Of course, knowing that my mortal enemy lurked near the exit meant that I was trapped in the kitchen, probably for life. Which is how I found myself standing on one of our dining table chairs at 1 AM, screaming and crying until someone woke up, came in and carried me out.

Every phobia usually has a backstory, and mine goes back to a snowy night in college when I was crossing Broadway, and put my foot down...on an enormous rat. When I lifted it up, the rat scurried away. I haven't been the same person since: there's now LBR (Life Before Rodents) and LAR (Life After Rodents).

Here are the ways my roommates and I dealt with our situation:

1. Peppermint balls. Our landlord insisted that placing cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around our kitchen was a foolproof method for getting rid of mice. This did not work.

2. Glue traps. Let's just say their deployment brought on tears, a hammer, murder, and a vow to never use glue traps again.

3. Ultrasonic repellant (i.e., the thing you plug in your wall that only mice can hear). I did notice a decline, but since I couldn't hear it myself, how does one know?

4. Steel wool. Theoretically this works, but we had more holes in our old kitchen floor than we could keep up with.

4. Living traps. This worked once.

5. Wearing big winter boots every time I walked through the kitchen, lest a mouse ever touch my feet.

6. Being carried--either by piggyback or like a damsel in distress--any time I suspected there was a rodent within in a 50 foot radius of my person. This method was also employed on the sidewalk when I saw rats.

7. Avoiding any use of the kitchen at all. You could say that I let the terrorists win. I basically threw my hands up and said "Fine, the kitchen's yours." I basically ate takeout for a year, bringing it straight up to my room (where I'd never seen a mouse), eating very carefully over a paper plate, and then carrying the waste out of the building to the garbage cans on the sidewalk.

Speaking of which, our apartment was immaculate, or as immaculate as the apartment of three 20-something girls who like to clean but also entertain a lot can be.

I even kept a Britta in my bedroom so that I wouldn't have to go into the kitchen for a glass of water.

Rather than confront my fears, I eventually just moved out. It wasn't just because of the mice--there was also my boyfriend, with whom I was thrilled and very ready to cohabit--but let's just say the mice made that decision a little easier.

As we looked at apartments, the mice weighed heavily on our (my) minds. We asked every broker if the building had mice, and to double-check we'd seek out building residents or nannies to ask them if they'd ever seen a mouse. Finally we found a great place, confirmed with would-be neighbors that there were no mice, and signed a lease.

For the last two years I've been counting my luckily stars that I haven't seen so much as a bug in our apartment. I walked around barefoot, went to the bathroom in the middle of the night without fear, and even attempted to cook again. Basically, I was getting my life back.

Then, one day in August, several days shy of our two-year anniversary in the apartment, I came home from a bike ride. As I put my bike away, I saw that familiar flash in my peripheral vision. I muttered "Oh noooooo," looked around our kitchen island, and saw a terrified baby mouse disappear behind our dishwasher as I screamed at the top of my lungs.

I grabbed my phone, my laptop, and curled up on the living room couch. Ninety minutes later my boyfriend came home to find me sitting in the dark (who can turn on lights when it means touching the floor on which a mouse may have walked?).

In the days following we (he) waged war: steel wool, another ultrasonic repellant, and living traps. We haven't seen a mouse since, but I was still living in fear.

This week, with my own Kevin Costner away on a trip, I'm home alone. My first thought was "I'm home alone...or AM I?"

And then I had another thought: F that. I'm a grown woman, and I spend my hard-earned money on this apartment. They don't. I've decorated it. They didn't. I clean it. They don't. By God, I'm going to take back my apartment.

But I also have an exterminator coming on Saturday just in case.

Do you have any rodent horror stories? (You know you do.) Solutions? Please share!

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