I never had it growing up. Of course my father would say it, in the gravest of tones, and he made lots of very serious promises that were meant to reassure us, his children. That didn't work, because when he originally made most of them we were way too young to understand them, and by the time we did understand them he generally had broken them. (Oops.) My mother never made promises; she was just a walking disaster.
So insecure was my experience of growing up and so little hope did I have for a stabler future that at some point during the twelfth grade I realized I had shied away from all those shiny magazine spreads about kids decorating their college dorm rooms for the first time and the like - intoxicating stuff for high school upperclassmen - because I truly did not believe I would ever go. I didn't believe I would ever be anywhere I wasn't a social outcast and a freak, I didn't believe I would ever be anywhere more fun or exciting or free or even normal than in my unhappy existence. Fortunately, I was wrong about all of that, and college was, as I expected it to be even then, the happiest four years of my life.
But I was afraid of how things would go, and hated a lot of things about myself, and by spring of my senior year of high school I had gotten all the way up to 117 pounds (gasp), so I started starving myself. Oh, I was never a really hardcore anorexic, not the kind they put in the hospital, and I ate every day, but by the time I started college I weighed a mere 108 (I claimed 112). I did it for another summer (to get rid of the freshman 15) before I stopped (though by the next summer I had taken up ascetic fasting, which, judging by the health results, was worse). I didn't start dieting again until the end of my senior year of college. I was afraid of where I was going next. My family had long since proven entirely unreliable as a source of support, and had no idea what I was even up to. I was debating between entering the religious life immediately (for which I was outrageously unprepared) and going to law school, and I was still heartbroken over my sophomore-year boyfriend, who was even then clearly the wrong person for me, but whom I had convinced myself (as a college sophomore) that I would marry. Trying to give up the dream of marriage and a big family for a religious vocation was killing me. (God got the last laugh there, of course.) I was having anxiety attacks from the stress of all the campus organizations I was supposed to be leading (well, two, but with a full course load and no support system, that's a lot), and I started curtailing my food intake sharply. I started thin and rapidly got thinner. After a few months I stopped myself, but I realized slowly that I had been terrified of the changes in my life, and thought that if one of my two best guy friends - my only real emotional support - noticed and said something about my unhealthy weight loss or my obvious depression, then I would feel safer.
Of course neither of them said a word. They were struggling with their own issues. I'm not sure they even noticed.
I got married just two years after I graduated from college. I believed that God had blessed our marriage - two dysfunctional crazy people who couldn't live without each other and were somehow going to work through all their dysfunction through their marriage, as they'd already healed from some of their long-standing wounds through their love for each other - and I received my precious sign from the Black Madonna of Czestochowa that this was to be my vocation.
But I calculated wrong if I was looking for someone who could make everything OK. Maybe if I had looked for someone even-tempered, someone placid, someone whole, someone unlike me, maybe someone like that could have been the rock in my storms. But with the arrangement I chose, I returned to my childhood role, the one I was ill-equipped for then and am ill-equipped for now - the person who, when push comes to shove, must make everything OK.
I am 29 years old. In a few short months I will be 30. And it is well past time to stop harboring the delusion that someday the instability of my childhood will be rectified, that the world will be safer for me when I am 35 than it was when I was 5, or that other people will be able to give me what they manifestly do not have for themselves. I am a big girl now, and when I look at myself in the mirror, I have to tell the truth: it's never going to be OK.