A Dead End Relationship Turned My Life Around

Tracy Stengel

Now I am looking forward.Photo courtesy of the author.

“You’re dead to me,” he said with empty eyes, his wide shoulders filling up most of the door frame.

“No,” I choked out, then sucked in a deep gulp of air. “Please, no!”

In a reckless act of rebellion, I had taken off for the weekend to attend my sister’s out-of-state baby shower, ignoring his warnings and undercurrent of hostility.

He didn’t like to be ignored. Nor did he appreciate me running off to Chicago instead of staying in town to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He felt I should have been at his side.

“You made your decision, now you have to deal with the consequences,” he said, his voice cold and brittle.

My blood ran hot. “Where am I supposed to go?” I shouted. “I need time to get some furniture! I don’t have dishes or silverware or … anything! All I have is clothes!”

He shrugged, wearing a bored look on his face. His head cocked to the side, and he pointed with his chin.

My gaze trailed across the wooden front porch to the pile of bulging contractor bags in the corner. I gasped.

“You’re welcome,” he said, smirking.

As I dragged the heavy bags, one by one, down the sidewalk and heaved them in my Ford Probe, sweat coated my body like a second skin. I smelled fear, sadness, anger, and humiliation.

He stretched out on the lounge chair with a cigarette and cracked a cold Bud Light.

Something inside me snapped.

So much had changed in that year we had been together.

He’d changed. So much.

I changed. More.

Picture of the author during better days.Photo courtesy of the author.

He was my best friend’s cousin. Older. Successful. Sexy as hell in that bad boy way girls like me can’t resist. He had hot car and a tricked-out Harley Davidson. One day, he offered me a ride on his bike. I pressed my chest to his back and clung to his chiseled stomach. It didn’t take long before his bike wasn’t the only thing of his I was straddling.

“I’ve never felt so alive,” he’d say, tucking a stand of hair behind my ear. “Tracy, my treasure.”

My heart fluttered from my chest and flew into his hands. After that, I was his possession.

He took to calling me “Trez” after that, short for treasure.

For a while, I thought I’d hit the jackpot.

My mother thought I was selling myself short. “He’s bad news,” she’d said after meeting him. Her nose crinkled and she winced as if she smelled something foul. She’d always had the innate ability of seeing past the shiny skin of a delectable looking fruit and knowing it was rotten inside.

I always got stuck on the shiny.

It was too late to listen to my mother.

I’d already been swept away.

Our relationship progressed like a hurricane. The two of us joining hands and twirling in a joyous circle, a dizzying dance. But then things started going too fast and got out of control. When it became violent, my insides knotted with heartache and shame. I was trapped in a vicious cycle and feared I would never be strong enough to escape. I foresaw myself being leveled to the ground, struck down without mercy.

When he started hitting me, there was no one I could tell. I didn’t want to see the I-told-you-so looks from my family. My best friend wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. She idolized him. After all, he was her oldest cousin.

But my body screamed what my words dared not whisper.

My shoulders slumped. Instead of walking, I seemed to skitter, jumping at the slightest sound. I withdrew from everyone, claiming to be super busy with … whatever I could come up with.

When I told my family I wasn’t going to my sister’s baby shower because of his grandpa’s funeral, they had had enough. Fed up with my feeble excuses and being constantly unavailable, my mother said, “You’re going to the shower. Period. If I need to come over there and tell him myself, I will.”

The idea of my mother and him facing off made me nauseous.

As the date approached, my anxiety soared. That morning, I tamped down my emotions and handed him his packed lunch.

“Why don’t you make something nice for the wake tomorrow? Maybe that cherry strudel I like.” Not waiting for an answer, he patted my butt and walked out the door.

As soon as I heard his tires roll down the gravel driveway, I scrawled a hasty note and left it on the kitchen table. It’d be something for him to chew on when he got home from work.

Sure, I took the coward’s way out. But the week before I had shelled out several hundred dollars for my dentist to bond a chipped front tooth. I claimed it happened while enjoying a bottle of beer on the boat. When the boat hit a big wave … well, you know. Actually, my tooth hit the cement floor of the garage when I was shoved and lost my balance.

I didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford another “accident.”

It took a long time for me to trust enough to get into a relationship again. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust men. I didn’t trust myself. How could I have allowed him to treat me that way? Why was it so easy for him to manipulate me? And how could I, in weak moments, still have wanted him back?

That was a long time ago, and I’ve weathered worse storms than him. Luckily, I am at a place in my life where the days are calm and tranquil. Last month, I ran into him when my best friend hosted a huge barbeque at her farm. I didn’t expect to see him because last I knew, he was living out west. That was over a decade ago.

I was bent over a cooler, fishing out a bottled water when he came up behind me.

“Looking good, Trez,” he said, his voice husky.

I turned to face him and blinked. “Excuse me,” I said, and stepped around him.

Later that night, my husband, Sam, and I left the party hand-in-hand. Sam said, “That was him, wasn’t it? That must’ve been hard for you. Are you feeling okay?”

The author and her husband on their honeymoon.Photo courtesy of the author.

I stopped and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Actually, I didn’t feel anything. I mean nothing.” I shrugged. “He’s dead to me.”

My husband pulled me into an embrace.

I’d never felt so alive.

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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