I promise I won’t come find you.

“I’m not suppose to tell,” I said.

“I promise I won’t come find you,” my dad replied.

I pulled on the phone cord. “The judge said not to.”

“I just need to know you’re okay.”

“I am okay,” I said. I’d not seen him in five months. Since June.

dad reads a bedtime story
dad reads a bedtime story

“But I’m your dad.”

“Mom will kill me.”

“She won’t know,” my dad said.

I was 12. “Well, promise you won’t come find me.”

“I promise.”

“I’m on Avenue K. The Regency apartments,” I whispered.

“That’s near the mall, right? What number?”

“Dad. I don’t want to get into trouble.”

“You won’t get into trouble. Just tell me the number.”

I tell him.

“I’m coming over there. Right now.” He hung up the phone.

My mom couldn’t afford a place on her own, and we shared the apartment with an unmarried couple. One of them would stay with me after school until mom got home.

I hung up the phone and ran to Cheryl’s room. “My dad’s coming.”


“I’m really sorry. But he asked. And he said…he said…”

Cheryl did several turns in the hallway. “What’ll we do?”

“Call Mom.” I knew she’d kill all of us. And the judge had said, “You’re father is not to know where you are until this is settled. Is that clear? You do understand?”

Cheryl picked up the phone and put it back down. “Should we call the police?”

“He’s not violent. He just… Just call Mom.”

“She’ll kill us. I never should’ve let you talk to him.”

I ran to the front door and checked the lock.

“Maybe we should leave,” Cheryl said.

“We don’t have time,” I said. “Just call Mom!”

“Oh my god,” Cheryl picked up the phone again. “I can’t believe you told him.”

I ran to the windows and pulled down the blinds. I heard Cheryl jabbering into the phone. I was surprised I could’t hear my mom shouting.

Cheryl hung up the phone. “We’ll just have to wait. And no matter what we don’t answer the door. She’ll be home as soon as she can.”

We waited. Cheryl went back to her room. I sat on the floor in the hallway.

Dad didn’t knock.

In my 12 years I’d never heard my dad shout–really shout–or seen my dad do a violent thing. Well, he’d shoot snakes with his bow and arrow, but that’s not what I mean by violent.

I mean kick, shake, and beat a door as if you could kill such a thing. Cheryl shouted on one side and he shouted on the other. Finally, I leaned against the door and shouted too. “Dad. Mom is coming. She’ll be here any minute.”


“Mahda,” he said.

“Yes?” I said. If Mom finds him there, I’m sure she’ll have him arrested.

“Go to a window so I can see you. Okay?” Our apartment was on the second floor.

“We won’t open the window,” Cheryl said.

“I just want to see you. Then I’ll leave.”

So, I went to the window.

In fiction, when one character breaks a promise to another, out comes a story. Perhaps. If the promise is worth making and the stakes are high. I keep reading about the stakes being high. At first this seems to mean–the world will end or everyone will die or something really, you know, high. Dramatic. Horrible. Bloody.

I don’t think an evil mastermind blowing up the earth makes for the highest stakes. Seems to me stakes are only high when there is someone around to watch them fall. To pick up the pieces. To witness the hole left where the stakes used to be. If the world exploded, I doubt any of the planets or stars would take much note. Without a character to know what is lost, what stakes are they really?

10 thoughts on “I promise I won’t come find you.

  1. Completely made up, completely real, or an amalgamation, it still conspires to put the narrator in a tight spot where the reader becomes concerned for her, I mean concerned concerned. Think about the narrator as a naive narrator or, perhaps even as another dimension altogether, the ultra-conflicted narrator. (In this version, the first person “sounds” more authentic than the third, but in either case there is the burdensome question, What did she do then?)

  2. Shelly, the narrator was ultra-conflicted wanting and not-wanting to open the door. But enough rules had been broken already, and so she went over to the window and looked down into the yard where her father stood in his cook’s uniform and waved up at her. She waved back, and realized her father missed her after all. The narrator also realized what the term hollow victory meant.

    No one went to jail, and when her mother got home, she didn’t kill anyone. She did explain that they would have to move. They just happened to move into the house where the man showed up at the window, who you read about here– https://mapelba.wordpress.com/2008/07/09/today-im-writing-about-fear/

    Does that relieve the burden of the question?

  3. Your writing Grasps me. There is a courage in your ability to write the absolute truth of Your history and it’s oftentimes difficult moments and then, then, turn the tale into a writing exercise. So first, a cringing anxious emotional dialogue, and then, boom, an objective analysis of the technique. Sometimes I leave here a little dizzy and a lot awed.

  4. The stakes in your stories always seemed to be high. The narrator is always so aware of them, too. Aware that this could mean disaster, or that. And she seems to flirt with disaster, but always back away before it gets to the actual disaster.

    How do you do that? How do you keep your character (yourself?) truly present in the midst of impending danger? This is something I have always struggled with in my writing. Not running away or rushing through the tension and climax but being there and experiencing it.

  5. One thing I find VERY interesting about these memory posts of yours: how powerfully the titles alone suggest stories (the ones you tell, or entirely different ones). You could publish the titles by themselves as a public Google calendar, call it something like “Daily Story Starters,” and watch the Sitemeter stats shoot through the roof. šŸ™‚

    As others have commented above (and on earlier posts), these stories often communicate a sense of menace or foreboding, of major things about to happen (or which maybe DID happen, simply not narrated in the given story’s post). Done clumsily, this could very easily come to feel like you’re manipulating us. But you don’t do it clumsily. Maybe because of the questions which usually follow, the stories, you instead draw us to imagine What Happened Next — turning the whole thing into a collaborative (and entirely inner/mental) exercise. Cool!

    Oh, my favorite uncle once shot a field mouse with a bow and arrow. I thought that an amazing feat. But never tried to repeat it. The idea that somebody could be so good at archery that they could hunt snakes that way is a little… scary? Once you dropped that detail, the “me” that was reading your story line wanted to scream at the “you,” Stay away from the windows — don’t you know what he can DO?

    That old devil Hollywood up there in my head…

  6. rowena, I don’t know. The only thing I try to avoid is writing “I feel…” I try to stick to what I or others did. Whenever I write “I feel” then I do feel (ha) that the writing is getting away from me.

    JES, I don’t know anything about the public Google calendar. Although I do worry that somehow my family will find out about what I’m doing. Sometimes I worry that I’m manipulating and then i wonder if all writing isn’t manipulating in one way or another. But no one should feel manipulated.

    And even if my dad is an expert shot with a bow and arrow, he’s never really frightened me. Even that day, I was more worried at what my mom’s reaction would be. Unfortunately for my dad, he had a writer for daughter.

  7. The other comments are so good. I always feel a loss for words when I read your posts. They are so thought-provoking.

    There’s much I’d like to write about my family, but I’m afraid to do it. I’ll never forget when I heard James Kilgo once say, “Write it anyway.”

  8. Pingback: The Tough Girl « writing in the water

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