It turned out to be a gift to myself

Photo curtesy of author

I knew I loved Sam and texting naked pics was not my style.

I was a feminist. And cautious.

As a woman who did outreach for street level prostitutes in Toledo, I saw firsthand the dangers of objectifying women and the ugliness of being a sought-after commodity.

I moved in with Sam embarrassingly fast. While I had many boyfriends in the past, no one ever called me easy. I was recovering from a five-year stint of personal hell from a trauma I don’t care to disclose. Yet, I chose to believe he and I had a bright future.

My staunch-Catholic…

It’s become a tradition

The author ignoring Hemingway’s staring problem. Photo courtesy of author.

For years, Lake Michigan beaches, nearby ski resorts, and majestic sunsets have drawn my husband, Sam, and I to Northwest Michigan. The quaint shops, fabulous restaurants, and scenic drives add to the allure, but nothing gave me a bigger thrill than fingering Ernest Hemingway’s hole.

I found it by accident

Sam and I wandered into City Park Grill in Petoskey for a late afternoon lunch and a couple of cocktails. We sat at the empty bar. It was late-Autumn, after the colorful leaves had already fallen — a lull in tourism until the snow falls.

The middle-aged bartender made our drinks as I admired the…


He gave me something far more precious

Photo by Dimi Katsavaris on Unsplash

We both needed some mending

I met Tommy in Ann Arbor at a place where broken people went to get fixed.

I had a few dents and scratches that were easily buffed and smoothed out.

Tommy needed his engine changed.

We got to know each other between treatments. There wasn’t an attraction between us, instead it was an instant friendship. I knew I’d stumbled across one of my people, a long-lost member of my tribe.

He felt it, too. Our paths crossed for a reason. This wasn’t random.

He was wickedly witty and intelligent.

He was also an alcoholic.

And he was homeless.

Tommy worked…

I think I set a world record

Photo by Anuja Mary Tilj on Unsplash

The invitation

My uncle called me a few weeks before Christmas on a Wednesday night.

“My church is having some inspirational speakers and music tonight. It’s the Catholic equivalent of a revival.” He chuckled. “Afterward, there’s going to be several priests hearing confessions. Wanna go?”

I made a face. “Sure.” I didn’t have anything else to do. His church was a couple towns over from mine.

I was in the midst of what I call “My Dark Years”. Five solid years of trauma, grief, fear, and depression. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was not treating myself very well. …

How confession was key to my mental health

St. Joseph’s Shrine’s stations of the cross in Brooklyn, Michigan. Photo curtesy of author.

It wasn’t the first time I had come to talk to this priest. We’d met privately a couple times before. I was going on my fifth consecutive year of pain, fear, and misery. There was no end in sight.

I clung to my torso with my arms crossed as if giving myself a much-needed hug. My ribs stuck out. I was malnourished — both nutritionally and spiritually.

Depression had a way of dulling hunger pains and twisting my stomach into a knot of hopelessness and grief. I wasn’t suicidal, but if something “happened” to me, I wouldn’t have cared. Maybe…

Inspiring others to protect wildlife

Just a few of Don and Nancy’s purple martin nesting boxes. Image courtesy of author.

In the little town of Manchester, Michigan resides a couple with huge hearts. They share their beautiful yard with a bunch of bats, birds, and bees. Their labor of love is not only good for the environment, but delights and inspires other to do the same, if only on a smaller scale.

This year, Don Hieber, Manchester’s local bird aficionado, put out 126 nesting boxes for purple martins. He is believed to have the largest colony of purple martins in lower Michigan. Since purple martins are dependent on humans to provide nesting sites, his efforts are crucial to their population.

Let this be a lesson

Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash

Heather stared at the coffin and bristled when her father touched her arm. It had been twenty-five years since he had been away. She used to crave his affection, now his touch felt like dry ice against her skin. Hot … way too hot, yet terrifyingly cold.

She didn’t even want to be here. But wasn’t it the right thing to do? She had done enough things wrong. The stripping. The prostitution. The addiction to anything that made her forget.

Everyone was staring at her. Judging her.

She had on a black Calvin Klein suit. Fuck them. She could afford…

Fiction Friday

Photo by Jenna Anderson on Unsplash

Faye drove slow, peering out the windshield into the drizzly, dark night. She’d circled the city five or six times. Now, it was almost midnight. She pounded the steering wheel in frustration and blinked back angry, frantic tears. Why did she always believe the empty promises?

The neon sign in the window drew her in like a magnet. But this place was too nice. A sports bar, the kind with tons of TVs and fifteen-dollar burgers. It was a long-shot.

In the rearview mirror, she saw her disheveled hair still damp from the last stop. It sprang up in coppery…

Fiction Friday

Photo by Tai's Captures on Unsplash

It seemed to Ginger, there had been a one-sided competition between herself and Carlene since birth. Their heart-shaped faces and emerald green eyes had folks assuming they were sisters instead of cousins.

As far as Ginger was concerned, they were from different worlds.

It didn’t matter their mothers were sisters or that she and Carlene had been born two months apart. They may look alike, but that’s where the similarities ended.

Carlene was a trust fund baby. Her mother married old money.

Ginger’s mother fell for anyone who looked like they had a pickle in their pants. …

Flash Fiction

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

Mark strode out of court and loosened his tie that felt like a squeezing boa constrictor. Once in the sunshine, he lifted his face skyward and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air. It was as if he’d been suffocating.

He had been suffocating.

For twelve arduous years of marriage. And now it was over.

The lying. The cheating. Janey had put him through a nauseating rollercoaster ride with her drug addiction and multiple rehabs.

Divorce, for Mark, was a chance at a new life. He wanted to do a little dance as he walked towards his car. Once he…

Tracy Stengel

Writer and freelance fiction editor. Find me curled up w/ a blanket of metaphors or at You can buy me ☕️ at

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