This Is How It Happened

By: Jo Barrett

And that’s when I feel the nausea coming on.

I drop the pan in the sink, hit the water off, and race to the toilet. That’s the good thing about throwing up. You get a small warning. Just enough time to turn the sink off because who wants to waste water, right?

I flip the lid up on the toilet, collapse to my knees, and begin fighting my body as it heaves and heaves. I try swallowing, but no dice.

The furniture polish and the chocolate are fighting a field battle in my stomach. The front lines have been breached. It’s full-fledged, arm-to-arm combat now. I feel a searing pain in my esophagus. The final, killer blow. And I realize, as I moan over the toilet—I’m done for.

Chapter 6

The next evening, after my one-night stand with Carlton Connors, I got a singing telegram. From Mr. Connors himself.

He surprised me on my doorstep with a bouquet of yellow roses. “For my yellow rose of Texas,” he said, with a cheesy grin on his face. And then he burst into the University of Texas college fight song.

“The eyes of Texas are upon us…” he sang, bent down on one knee, with his arms outstretched.

He brought a bag of groceries with him, and we cooked pasta and then had hot, sweaty sex on the tile floor in the kitchen.

From that day on, our one-night stands became a three-day-per-week event.

Within a month, Carlton moved out of his second-floor walkup, an efficiency that smelled faintly of mothballs, and into my small, but tidy, townhouse. Carlton figured it was cheaper and easier if we lived together in grad school. “We’ll be more efficient if we’re a team,” he said.

He was having big problems in class and even bigger problems paying his tuition.

“I can’t work and study and have any kind of social life,” he complained. Bookwork and tests didn’t come easily for Carlton. We were both trying to hold down jobs while getting our MBAs. I had been working at the same company for fourteen years, if you include the time I’d spent interning in high school. Carlton was trying to hold down a low-level job at one of his father’s warehouses.

Carlton’s father, Forest Connors, was a millionaire several times over, and owned a company that sold medical equipment at high markups. Forest Connors was a well-known patron of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, and had endowed a chair named after Carlton’s grandfather.

Carlton first introduced me to his dad at an MBA event—a wine and cheese reception hosted by the economics department.

“This is Madeline—the girl I’ve been telling you about, Dad,” Carlton had said, steering me in the direction of a tall, handsome man who vaguely resembled Carlton.

“Nice to meet you, Madeline. I’m Forest Connors,” Mr. Connors announced, in a commanding voice.

I remember standing up straight and shaking Mr. Connors’ broad, outstretched hand. He had a solid grip, just like Carlton. A winner’s handshake.

“So, you’re the woman who’s keeping my son from concentrating on his work,” Mr. Connors had said. And he was sort of joking, and sort of not.

“She’s also responsible for the Gross National Debt, Dad,” Carlton shot back, and we all laughed.

Later, when I asked Carlton why his father didn’t help pay his tuition, Carlton said his father believed in “starting from the ground up.” Forest Connors wasn’t a man to spoil his son, and in fact, Carlton drove a rusty Honda that seemed to love to break down.

Carlton said his Honda had “personality,” and it “loved to buck the trend.” He’d say this on mornings when he had the hood up, his hands covered in grease.

Carlton felt his Honda had single-handedly spoiled the Honda image—of the reliable, low-maintenance car that would run and run forever.

“Goddamn Asian prostitute!” he’d yell, kicking at the tires. When he went to work in one of his father’s warehouses—gotta learn the business from the ground up!—he rode his bike. It got to the point where Carlton began leaving his schoolbooks at home. I was taking notes in class for both of us.

One night, after we’d had particularly good sex—sweaty, uninhibited, pornstar sex—he rolled me over, stroked my matted-down hair, and stared into my eyes. “I can’t impress my dad at work and get good grades in school, and you’re so great with marketing, Maddy—I mean, you’re the number-one student in class.”

“Say no more,” I’d replied, pressing my hand against his lips.

The next thing I knew, I was doing all of Carlton’s assignments. I wrote several knockout papers for him and he got A’s on every single one. I felt like the girlfriend of the head football player. But I didn’t mind. Carlton and I were madly in love. And that was all that mattered.

Chapter 7

I spend the entire night in front of the porcelain throne, as they say. Throwing up like a drunk. Hurling out the small bits of brownie along with all of my acidic stomach juices. This is my punishment. For thinking these murderous, devil thoughts.

In the morning, after a restless, fitful sleep—a sweaty, tossing, turning sleep on my mattress—I use the bathroom and my pee smells like metal. Checking the mirror, I see my forehead is damp and my skin has a slight yellow pallor.