I am a dinosaur.
At least, that's what I would have told you when I was 7. Thankfully, everyone's kind of weird at that age, but think about how empowering that must have felt.
"Andy, are you a human?"
"No, I am a dinosaur. A real dinosaur. Duh."
I was convinced.
I share this delicate and embarrassing bit of personal information to explain just how excited I was on Christmas 1993. My parents have always indulged my interests when it comes to presents. Comic books, musical instruments, video games featuring a blue hedgehog with an inexplicable adeptness at rolling - my '90s experience was marked by utter geeky bliss. A recurring interest for me has always been dinosaurs. And when I opened that glow-in-the-dark Triceratops model kit on Christmas Day, I imagine I let out a shriek that would have made a Pteranodon pause to count her children.
Assembling the skeleton of that Late Cretaceous monster was easy. It must have been made for the lowest tier of model enthusiasts, because I got through the instructions without losing a tibia, a fibia or an entire head. This is a kid whose LEGO jets were usually missing key parts like a fuselage or windshield. My patience with those things quickly wore thin, and I was in the middle of a dinosaur-human identity crisis, after all.
The real joy from the model came after it was finished. This beast would spend every day in combat with Ninja Turtles or several action figures that represented every possible variation of a single character. (I still don't understand the need for a "Deep Sea Spider-Man.") Every night, the one thing in my bedroom I could see was that glowing Triceratops skeleton in the corner. I drifted off to sleep imagining its real-life counterpart, munching on vegetation and eluding all the theropod predators waiting around the corner. It was alive to me.
That model wasn't a memorable gift because it glowed in the dark. Everything glowed in the dark back then. It fueled - and continues to fuel - my imagination. It's a definable marker on my creative timeline. I had seen "Jurassic Park," the single greatest cinematic experience of my life, a few months before. Now armed with this foot-long, skeletal behemoth, there was no stopping me.
I had a bone to pick, and I wanted to do it with scalpels, axes, shovels and whatever else real paleontologists were using. Through my high school years, the enthusiasm persisted as I read everything I could about the animals and sketched their likenesses on the corners of my algebra homework. In college, I even got a tattoo of a Triceratops head on my arm, though I'm told it looks like a steak at certain angles.
And on the first Christmas my wife and I were dating, she got me a small, squishy Triceratops. She, too, understood my enthusiasm. I've been fortunate to have people in my life who don't mind my interest in these long-gone creatures.
You see, I am not a dinosaur. I am a very, very blessed human.
Contact writer Andy Smith at 304-348-4834 or andrew.smith @dailymail.com.