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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: As I climbed the stairs to the front door one day, I got a funny feeling. When I opened the door, I knew that something had happened. I ran to the bedroom closet and jerked the door open. All of my father's shoes were gone, and so was he! No one had said anything to me about his leaving.

At school I was a dreamer, irritated with the boring trivia people demanded I learn. At home one parent ignored me, except when I made a mistake -- corrected at the loudest volume -- while the other spent every spare moment teaching and quizzing difficult subjects. No one listened or spoke to me. During the previous four years, I had lived in my own world: nightmares, sleepwalking -- once all the way down to the street -- planning my death and funeral, and wishing I was dead. I lived in profound depression. No one noticed. Discovering that my father was gone felt like falling off a cliff after thinking I was on solid ground.

As I walked slowly to the kitchen I decided that I'd had enough of everything. After my usual milk and cookies and the San Francisco Chronicle -- a new column had appeared a few days earlier (1956) -- I would decide how and when to do it. My parents were very busy people, and I knew they wouldn't want to bother with my pain. I decided to write to the author of the new column. I haven't the first clue why I chose that person, but at least the columnist would know why I was dead.

A few days later, I got another shock. Being the first one home every day, I brought the mail in. I was stunned to see a letter addressed to me. ME! Someone thought I mattered enough to write to me even though I was only 10 years old. It was a long, thoughtful, caring response that advised me to find someone to whom I could talk or write.

An aunt living in Arizona seemed a good choice. I didn't know her too well, but I liked her and began writing. She wrote back. When I became an adult, I told her how I came to write to her all my life.

I survived my childhood with a large unpaid debt. It is important to me that you publish this letter, Abby, so that it can be partially repaid by saying a public "thank you" for kindness to a child and for saving her life. That new columnist was you! Over the years I've thought of you often, always with amazement that you wrote to me. It was a very special thing that you did. Thank you.

With appreciation and thanks. -- D.L.G. IN BEVERLY HILLS

DEAR D.L.G.: I'm deeply touched by your letter and pleased that I was there for you when you needed someone.

The most profound way to repay your "debt" is to pass that good deed along to others who need to know that they are important and that somebody who has nothing to gain cares.

DEAR ABBY: My boss gave me diamond earrings for Christmas. I am a married woman and he is a married man.

I know his wife thinks this was an inappropriate present. I am torn. What should I do? -- WORKING WOMAN IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR WORKING WOMAN: Return the earrings, and tell your boss you are not comfortable accepting them knowing that his wife feels they were an inappropriate gift. The last thing you need is a boss whose wife resents you.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Booklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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