In December 2008, I'd just started my job at the Big Fancy Resort. I had to work on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas, so it was the first time I wouldn't be spending Christmas with my family in Alabama.
I was especially dreading my Christmas Eve shift on barista duty. I never had any desire to become a barista, but the gift shops I was working in also happened to contain a coffee shop under the same management, so they decided to use the same staff for both. I don't even drink coffee, but I needed this job to pay for my expensive apartment, so I tried really, really hard to become the best barista ever.
During my training, I tried to stress that I knew nothing about coffee.
For example, this is exactly what I was told regarding caffeinated versus decaf.
Then one day, someone ordered a regular coffee, so I cheerfully poured it from a pot on the left burner.
Someone had put the decaf on the wrong side, and apparently I was the only person in the world who didn't know decaf goes in an orange pot.
I tried to explain the situation to the customer, but he didn't see the humor in it.
So I still wasn't feeling very confident in my barista skills when I showed up for my Christmas Eve shift in the coffee shop.
Luckily, there weren't many customers that night, and things were going well--until I took my dinner break.
The Big Fancy Resort had an employee cafeteria. The food wasn't very good, but it was free, and the break wasn't long enough to drive anywhere else for food. That night, though, the food in the cafeteria sounded especially awful.
I decided to just have a bowl of cereal. The milk came from one of those weird contraptions with a lever and a spout.
I can't prove that what followed was directly related to the devil-milk I ingested. All I know is that from the moment I ate that cereal, things deteriorated rapidly.
As soon as I returned from my break and my co-worker left for the night, my stomach started feeling like it was full of rocks. Boiling hot, angry rocks that were determined to eat their way through my intestinal lining.
At that point, everyone was gone--there was no night manager, and I was the only one working in the coffee shop. If you needed a bathroom break on the night shift, you were supposed to call the security office and have them send someone to watch your store. So as a torrent of molten lava accumulated in my digestive tract, I dutifully dialed the security extension and tried to sound nonchalant as I asked for a bathroom break.
I don't think the security officers really viewed bathroom breaks as one of their more important responsibilities.
When I finally got my bathroom break, I knew I probably had either food poisoning or some kind of stomach virus. I hadn't had many jobs prior to this, and I had no idea what to do. I thought about calling one of my managers and saying I was sick, but I was afraid they'd think I was faking so that I could go home early on Christmas Eve, and no one was going to come in at 8:00 PM to cover the rest of the night shift.
So I returned from my bathroom break and worked the rest of my shift with food poisoning.
I got sick several more times, but I was too embarrassed to keep calling security for bathroom breaks, so I started waiting until I didn't see any customers nearby and then running down the hall to the bathroom.
The biggest problem, however, was the crippling stomach cramps. It felt like something was trying to claw its way out of my intestines. There was also the slight problem that whenever someone ordered a latte or cappuccino, the smell of hot, steaming milk made me want to vomit.
To conserve my strength, I spent all my time between customers (when I wasn't sneaking into the bathroom) slumped behind the counter in some kind of desperate anti-diarrheal yoga pose. When I heard someone walk in, I poured all my energy and willpower into acting like a perky barista who wasn't nauseated by the smell of warm milk and didn't feel like her insides were exploding.
My shift finally ended at 10:00 PM and I dragged myself back to my apartment. I don't remember much after that, other than becoming quite intimate with my toilet at four in the morning. By the next day, my insides were basically empty. For some reason, in my depleted, slightly-feverish state, I became convinced that I absolutely had to eat some broth or I would die. Unfortunately, as I rifled through my closet-sized kitchen, all I found were frozen dinners and something that probably used to be a vegetable.
I was also severely dehydrated, but the city water in my apartment building tasted like recycled pool water, and the plastic container of distilled water I'd bought at the grocery store was empty, so I spent all day microwaving ice cubes.
Future Hubs called to check on me at one point. I asked him to bring me broth and water. He drove all over town, but no stores were open. That's when I remembered it was Christmas. I think I eventually found some rice in the dark recesses of an upper cabinet and ate that, but I had become so fixated on broth that I might as well have forced myself to eat gravel. (The next day, even though I felt much better, I still went to the store and bought some broth, just to spite the universe. Then as I was finally eating it, I remembered broth doesn't actually taste very good, but I finished the whole carton, because damn it, broth is what sick people are supposed to eat.)
And thus my first Christmas as a grown-up with my own apartment was spent pretty much like this: