This past Christmas was my 24th time celebrating it with Todd. He tends to go a bit overboard with Christmas and absolutely spoils me, and our first one in 1997 was no exception.

We’d only been dating for 6 months. He had just turned 21 and I was 23. I went home to Connecticut for Christmas Eve, and then to church for Christmas day, as this was my family’s custom. After church we went to my Uncle Joe and Aunt Jean’s house for breakfast. I hung out with my cousins, like I did every single Sunday of my childhood. Then it was time to hit the road to Vermont to go to Todd’s parents’ house I didn’t know then that I was already carrying a hitch hiker with me.

The day before on Christmas Eve I was at my parents’ house. I babysat my niece and nephew for a few hours as my sister in law and my brother went out to run a last minute Christmas errand. Maggie, my niece, was just over 2 years old, and Krystian, my nephew, was 17 months old. I changed his diaper, wiped a nose here or there, didn’t think much of anything. I definitely didn’t know at the time that Krystian was patient zero.

I drove just under three hours to get to Todd’s parents’ house on Christmas Day. When I arrived Todd and I exchanged presents. I had gotten him his first two-line kite. We had gone to watch kite flying at Brenton Point in Newport on sunny afternoons when I had gone to visit him when he lived in Narragansett at the time. One of the kite flyers let him try flying a two-line stunt kite and he instantly fell in love with it. I was living in Melrose, which is just north of Boston at the time. I took the train into the city and went to a kite shop at Fanieul Hall that he had spotted once when he was visiting me for a weekend and bought him his kite under the glow of the Christmas lights spiraled around the trees in that area of Boston. He bought me a ruby and gold ring which I wore until he proposed to me with the diamond engagement ring I wear now. These were the classic “We were young and we spent all our money” kinds of presents. Todd still has the kite and I still have the ring. I slipped the ring on my finger, we kissed, then we went upstairs to the main part of the house where his mom was cooking Christmas dinner.

We sat down to dinner, and that was when my hitch hiker decided to make itself known. I felt a bit queasy as dinner began. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t be ignored. I excused myself from the table and went into the bathroom that was immediately off the living room. The hitch hiker decided to jump out of my body in the fastest and most violent way possible. To say I threw up would be a huge understatement. To even call it puking would be an understatement. Not to get too graphic but it very suddenly gotten to the point where I couldn’t decide which end of me should face the toilet. I was sick. Projectile sick. I was in trouble. And I was at my boyfriends’ parents house in a bathroom with a thin wooden door just off of their living room. I remained there for the rest of Christmas dinner.

They settled down to watch a movie, of course in the living room. I wandered into Todd’s old room to rest and kept having to get up to rush into the bathroom, where I loudly and violently expelled my guts. I was mortified. My sister later had said to me “I would have just left” but I was in no condition. I couldn’t see straight.

I had gotten to the point where I could barely move. Todd tried to give me water to drink and I couldn’t even hold that down. He drove me to the nearby emergency room at Rutland Medical Center. They gave me anti-nausea pills, which I promptly threw up. They put me in a room after giving me a shot of an anti-nausea drug which made me incredibly drowsy. I began to drift off when I demanded that the light be turned off. I also demanded that Todd sit in the room with me. I have no memory of making these demands as the drugs were already taking effect and I was pretty out of it by then. They would turn off the lights, Todd would leave the room to wait in the waiting room, and I’d yell for him. So do you know what he did? He sat in the room in the dark while I slept. And this was the gift he gave to me that was so much more valuable than that ring he’d spent all his money on.

After a few hours, I think, we left the hospital and went back to the house in the wee hours. I vaguely remember him driving me, I was in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, my winter jacket pulled on top, shivering in the passenger seat of my Jeep Cherokee as the Vermont winterscape went by reflecting the glow of the headlights. Overnight my thirst was torture, but I was under strict instructions not to drink anything to keep the throwing up at bay. Todd broke up ice cubes and fed me irritatingly small pieces to try to quench my thirst. Which wasn't working at all on the desert that my mouth and throat had become. "Just try to sleep," he said. Yeah, OK.

The next day his parents and sister left to visit family in Tennessee, Todd parked me on the couch. Thankfully by then I’d stopped throwing up and everything else I was doing. He made me a plate of toast and set it on the ottoman beside the couch. He left me there and went out to Blockbuster to get a movie. Remember Blockbuster? That was still a thing back then. I dozed off while he was gone and he came back with the first Austin Powers movie.

“Oh great! You ate the toast! How are you feeling?” he noticed the empty plate when he came back into the room. I was groggy, I’d been sleeping.

“I didn’t eat it,” I replied, confused by the empty plate.

Harmony, the family dog, happily thumped her tail on the floor.

The next day I got up crazy early and did my commute in to work from Todd’s parents’ house, exhausted and sore from all the throwing up. Hello abs! I called my mom from work to tell her how sick I’d been. Apparently this stomach bug had spread through my family. Krystian had apparently picked it up from the kid next door and spread it to the rest of us. When my brother and sister in law drove the six hours to Rochester, New York to visit her family for the holiday both Krystian and Maggie were violently ill in the car. My oldest brother’s infant twins had gotten it too because that’s how it was when the twins were young—they didn’t just have one sick baby.

Todd took amazing care of me. And I am sure cleaning up after a violently ill girlfriend was the exact opposite of cute. I admit I am an absolute drama queen whenever I get a sniffle, let alone norovirus. And Todd is in absolute rock star every single time. And someday when we’re on the porch of an old folks’ home as he’s holding my hand we’ll say “Remember our first Christmas?”

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.