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March 12, 2000

It often feels as if every attachment I've felt in my life has been one-sided. I know it's because of my own sense of inferiority, but I was always surprised and grateful whenever another person showed any interest in me. I've always thought that I brought an emotional side to any relationship that wasn't shared, and that everything of value was provided by the other person.

Throughout elementary school, I was small and timid. Whenever I drew attention to myself, I felt I was being laughed at. There are a few decisive events that drove this notion home. It started at the very beginning of my life outside the home, before I knew I wasn't the center of anyone's universe.

In first grade, after seeing Mary Martin as Peter Pan on television for the first time, I remember asking my teacher if we could perform the play in the classroom. I wanted to be Peter, and I even wanted to have commercials, so that our little play could be authentic. It was, of course, a disaster. I could convince only a couple of the other children to be in my play, while the rest laughed and jeered. I never felt I had any stature in school after that, and I was never brave enough to try to gain any.

I retreated into my schoolwork and withdrew from the few friends I had. Things stayed pretty much the same through the years. Occasionally someone would approach me, but I was so socially inept that I fumbled every time. It never took long for anyone to grow bored with my company.

In sixth grade I made a friend. He was small, like me, and as targets of school bullies we used the strength of our friendship to protect one another. But even though we both had problems with being picked on, he was always the more vocal. If one of us was likely to get into trouble, he was the one. But he was also the one more likely to find a way to bail us out. He was my best friend through junior high, but by the time we got to high school he had discovered that I was such an easy mark that he could gain some cachet simply by joining in the chorus of mockery aimed in my direction.

So is it any wonder that I have such an emotional reaction to a movie like My Dog Skip? It's the childhood I wish I'd had. It's about a frail, skinny boy who has a role model to lean on, learns to make friends, and has the whole town of Yazoo, Mississippi, ready to accept him for who he is. In the movie, it's his dog who draws him out, but it's really something within the boy, a capacity to open himself to the world around him, that I never had as a child.

Sometimes I wonder whether the years since then have brought me to a better place. If I weren't still afraid to set myself up for a fall, I might not live alone and work at a job so unrewarding. But once I became aware of the roots of my insecurities, I could make more conscious choices about my life. I still can't force myself onto other people, but I don't hide in corners, afraid someone is going to talk to me. I may not embrace the world, but I no longer shrink from it. I'm so grateful for the friends I have, and especially for the support of my family. When I remember the child I was, I realize I have come a long way.

While I'm more content with that my life now than I've ever been, I'm also aware that it can be better. Just knowing helps, because complacency is the greatest enemy of progress. I've reached point where the fear of changing is offset by the fear of staying the same.

In the weeks since I've started my online journal, which takes a fair share of my time and energy, I've also been out of the house more than I have in at least fifteen years. I think it comes from examining my life in greater depth than I ever did in my paper journal. Recognizing what I've been afraid of in my past has helped me face some of those same fears and deal with them. I've seen what I've become, but I've also been able to see ahead, to what might be. I like looking in that direction.

Oh, the movie? It's a gentle, wistful treatment of childhood. Yes, it's sentimental, but it has so much heart that it's a wonderful antidote to some of the soulless product coming out of Hollywood these days. It's an old-fashioned movie in the best sense of the word, recalling a time when films could show us the best of ourselves without being embarrassed about it. There were adults and children in about equal numbers in the audience today. They may have related on different levels, but the laughter and tears from both was genuine, as was the warm affection for the characters and the story.

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