I entered the large, unfamiliar venue alone. I was apparently dressed appropriately, as the crowd was wearing everything from tank tops and flip flops to formalwear. I normally manage my closet introvert by appearing to be an extrovert, so I scanned the room for my first conversationalist. As I walked, I past a young mom holding a newborn, looking forlorn and asked if she needed anything. She smiled without using her eyes and said quietly, “No, thank you. I’m just…I’m ok. Thank you.” Giving her the space she seemed to seek, I made my way deeper into the crowd. There was a couple arguing, or rather, a woman upset with her husband. Standing close by were two little girls, unfazed, as if this was an everyday occurrence. I didn’t know kids would be attending. My first impression was it was a rather odd mix of people. In the corner, an elderly woman sat alone, staring out the window. She’d obviously been positioned there for some time, as there were indentions in the carpet from her rocking chair. She was deep in thought as she stared on, I guessed, thinking about another time, wishing she was in another place. I chose not to interrupt her. At last, I spotted a group with which I could possible mingle…a young woman still in uniform, who’d clearly arrived from working late, an exercise on base, perhaps, laughingly engaged with a group of other service members, mostly fighter pilots. But, as I approached, they broke out into some song, no doubt their squadron song, and it caught the attention of everyone in earshot. They were blissfully unaware of the somber faces that dotted the gathering. I stopped and listened in, and was more curious to see the reaction of others whose attention this gregarious group had captured, as they appeared to be in a world of their own. Comradery does that, sometimes…makes you feel like the only people who truly understand you, are the ones who have literally walked through scenarios and lands that others just couldn’t begin to grasp. I left them to their private party, although I wished to join in and share some stories to let them know, I get it…I’d had the same type of experiences. Instead, to my left was a woman who’d clearly enjoyed a few too many, as a guy dressed to the nines was using minimal charm to impress her with his status/achievements/etc…I only heard the suggestion that they leave as the hosts were hardly hosting, anyway. I had to intervene. I pretended not to notice his intentions. I pretended some more and said I was so relieved to find a landing pad at this party, and asked, or “stated” without waiting for a response, did they mind if I sat down. The woman hugged me. Great. A hugging drunk. “Of COURSE you can sit with us, sweetie! This is my friend…” she trailed off, she’d forgotten the gentleman’s name, already. “Hi. I’m Joe.” “Hi, Joe, I’m Dawn.” Joe said, “We were just about to leave. This crowd is getting really bizarre. Nice to meet you though.” The lady stood to leave with Joe, and I felt I should definitely give her an out. I told her someone was looking for her and she could leave with Joe in a few minutes. “Joe, excuse us.” His face betrayed his disdain for my interruption. “Oh, who…who is looking for me? Is Kathy looking for me? I rode here with Kathy.” “Yes, Kathy wants to know where you are…” As we walked down a less crowded hallway, we passed a door and the inebriated woman asked, “Is this a bathroom? I think I’m gonna be sick.” I quickly opened the door, and thankfully, there was a sink and toilet. I walked in with her, held her hair back and she discharged the poison that had landed her in both laughter and tears all in the span of mere minutes. Not knowing where to find her friend, I helped the poor woman clean up, blotted her face with a damp towel, had her rinse her mouth and told her we were going to the kitchen. She needed to sip some water. She tearfully agreed. When we opened the bathroom door, a small group of couples had congregated in the hallway. They were discussing their next Bible study function and they grimaced with a mix of pity and disgust as we made our way through the well-dressed, well-behaved gaggle of religious judges. No one spoke to us. The men wrapped their arms uncomfortably around the wives who seemed shocked that anyone would be so drunk, so early. But, having been there many times, I simply forged our way directly through their circle, unapologetically. In the kitchen, the mood was lighter. And, finally, the host appeared…she smiled and seeing the smeared mascara of my new friend she immediately began graciously gathering water, crackers and some small bites, a hair tie and a cloth with seltzer water to dab the wine off the dress of the now unstable, very drunk guest. A rambunctious chocolate Labrador ran into the kitchen, two small kiddos trailing behind her. “Kids, for the third time, I’m telling you to put Sadie in her kennel!” Sadie was leaping into everyone’s personal space and attempting to steal a bite from any unattended plate. “I had a dog named Sadie!” I told my exasperated friend. “She was just as much of a spaz!” We both laughed and I patted the dog on the head before the kids took her away. Sadie ran through a group of proper women, upsetting their mingling and leaving behind evidence of her visit by peeing a little on the floor out of sheer excitement. “I’d clean that up, darling, or you’re gonna need Ken’s office number in a crowd this size.” The old bat forced a fake laugh that sounded like she was choking on her tapas. Ken was an attorney and his wife, a known busybody in the neighborhood. I helped clean up the mess while keeping an eye on our friend, the drunken damsel. She asked for a place to lie down. “Of course…Dawn, will you help me get her upstairs?” We managed to get her into the guest room that served as a 2nd master, complete with a bathroom, as she was definitely going to need it. With her friends having left her behind, weary from her resistance to depart so soon, it was agreed that she’d be best off spending the night there. We left the door open so we could check in on her and possibly hear, should she arouse and stumble. We felt accomplished in squaring our vulnerable friend away and returned to the party downstairs. “I had no idea you’d have this many people here,” I said. “Yeah, well…when I started making the guest list, it was hard to draw the line…all those degrees of separation. I didn’t want to leave anybody out…well, that’s a total lie, but I invited them, anyway.” I knew exactly the ones that were invited by default. I didn’t like them, either. We passed by the buffet table and peeked at food levels, restocked the alcohol that flowed freely, cleaned up and replaced dips and finger foods. “Did you try the wine we brought back from Italy?” Apparently, she’d forgotten I stopped drinking. “Ahh, nah..I gave it up. Cold turkey.” “Shit, Dawn. That’s right…I’m sorry. Sometimes I just still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you’re an….” “It’s ok…an alcoholic.” I finished her sentence. I added, “And, sometimes, neither can I.” It had been years and sometimes, I still had a craving for a good glass of white wine, a dark brew or a cape cod. I quickly put any such thought out of my mind. I asked if there was some secret reason why she was throwing such a huge party. She shook her head, “Nope. Just really wanted to get everyone together.” She smiled and shrugged. We walked into the living room and standing alone, looking lost, a mutual friend of ours had just arrived. We hugged her tightly and asked, with genuine concern, how she was doing. “I’m really good. Really. It was difficult beyond words for the first few months, and it’s still surreal. But, we’re all slowly feeling better.” She was referring to the recent suicide of her ex. Without lingering on the topic, we pointed her to the food and beverages, and I decided I was most comfortable playing wing-host than mingling with such a cross section of people. “Damn, woman,” I said, “You have quite the colorful array of acquaintances,” as I took in the population. Bible thumpers, drunken disasters, those pilots, that sweet old lady in the corner…” “Oh, that’s my grandmother,” she said. “She’s visiting and she loves the company, being alone so much of the time.” I could somehow understand that, even at my age. As we were scanning the room, a tall drink of water strolled in and, intentionally deepening his voice, said, “Pardon me, ladies.” We parted like the Red Sea and I slapped her hand…through gritted teeth, I whispered, “Why didn’t you tell me you invited him!?”…”Because you’re always jumping out of planes or going to Kenya or something.”…”I’ve never been to Kenya.”….”Whatever. Anyway, he’s harmless. Still arrogant, but, harmless. How happy are we that neither of us married THAT…” We’d both dated him for a minute, as had a percentage of North America. And, South. As we chatted, we wandered around the room, pausing to greet the guests. We heard a rise in the volume of laugher coming from behind us, and there, in the middle of the room, were the anchors from Fox news. I’d worked with these guys a few times in a previous career and surprisingly, they remembered my name. We chatted politely and they asked if I wanted to come in and do a segment on NASCAR: The Inside Track. “I don’t work with those…people… anymore,” I said. “The Daytona 500 was my last gig. The pace is crazy…pun kind of intended…and the travel is draining. Oh. And, it’s true. It’s the most scandalous group of ‘professionals’ in the free world,” I said. I was happy for the marketing experience, and happier to be done with it. As we walked away, I asked her if they had any idea we had both long given up the news. We laughed at the sly feeling it brought, for some reason. Before we had time to visit the thought longer, she burst out..”Oh! Guess who’s here!?”…”Um. Everybody?” She pointed to a young woman quietly conversing with a rather reserved circle of men and women. “No way!!” It was our dear friend who’d been completing her second degree and had just returned from some extensive research in South America. My kind of woman. I invaded the circle, embraced her and said, “LOOK AT YOU! You look RADIANT! And, congratulations on doing all of the smart things!” She laughed and her serious character broke admitting it had been one hell of a ride, but, she did it. She said her attorney had told her during the divorce, “You’ll look back and never know how you did it all,” “And, my friend,” she added, “that day is now.”…Wow. I was still amazed at her beauty, her accomplishments, her ability to overcome so much trauma and still stand tall. She was truly my idol. “How are the kids?” I inquired. “They’re great! They’re moving and shaking, I have to meet them in airports in passing sometimes. And, that’s no exaggeration,” as she slightly raised her glass before taking a sip. “What about you? I’m dying to hear about all these crazy things you’re up to.”…”Oh, not CRAZY, really. Out of the norm, for sure. But, it suits me.” …”Didn’t you just get back from some winter-long stint in the Caribbean?”…”Yeah…it was awesome, actually, for work, but incredible.” She turned and told her fellow researchers, “Dawn used to be this quiet little thing, never rocked the boat. You’d never know it, now. She jumps out of planes because she needed some action after so many years of dirt biking and rock climbing and whatever insane suggestion comes her way. Now, she lives on coasts working at parachuting companies.”…”Drop zones,” I gently corrected her. “Whatever, this girl has done it all, and if she hasn’t, it’s on the list. Most interesting person I know.” I blushed. But, secretly, as I scanned the room at the Bible group, the new moms, the neighborhood trophy wives, the military crew, the wine aficionados, the poor drunk girl upstairs, the arguing spouses, the sad woman at the table recovering from the suicide of her ex, even the host with so many colorful friends…I had to admit, comparatively, I’d lived one kick-ass life. It was getting late and I expressed my gratitude for the invitation. I said my goodbyes and walked down the hallway to leave. I turned to wave goodnight, when staring back at me was a house of mirrors. I was the host. I was the little girl with shouting parents. I was the new, insecure mom. I was the girl with the pilots without a care in the world. I was the good girl with the Bible group and I was the alcoholic upstairs, passed out. I was the researcher, the woman whose ex husband had committed suicide. Sadie? She was my first dog. The news team, I’d worked with extensively. The kids who traveled a lot…those were my kids. That was my grandmother in the corner, the young girls who ran through the house, those were my sisters. I was seated with the meddling busy bodies of the ritzy neighborhood that I now abhor. I was the unlikely graduate, in higher studies, doing things I’d been told in my youth that I “wasn’t cut out for.” All of these people…were me. As I reconciled the many lives, traumas, achievements and failures required to get me here, I stood, stunned. I was a product of a million good and unthinkable experiences, unique to me, and me alone- from dense jungles to barren deserts to the streets and subways of every city through which I’ve ever passed, I am a host to other travelers of this planet, all experiencing their own tragedies and triumphs. I took one last look and walked out the door, back into the world that continues to give and take, shape and mold, chastise and reward me. And, I knew there is never a point in saying, “I will never be the same, again,” for none among us can sufficiently resist the shedding and molting of life’s layers as we move through the dash that will one day be etched on our headstone. As you sit pondering the twist of this story, I ask you, who would be at your party when you think you’ve arrived alone? Peace, Warriors.