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This is 40

She'd figured out the key to a successful reunion experience at the last one: It didn't matter how thin she was, how good her hair, how perfect her outfits, how expensive her handbag...She was never going to compete with the show-dog second wives. They were 20 years younger and the men her age still valued youth over experience.

So she came back to 40 in full form. Life had dealt her every bad hand a mortal could imagine since they'd last met. She had no fucks left to give. This is me. I am brave, I am bruised. I make no apologies.

Her high school was not so large that she couldn't identify everyone by photo, but not so small that there weren't cliques. The football players and the concert choir kids knew each other by name, but they didn't exactly circulate in the same environments.

The middle-year reunions are important because that's when you make friends with adults who you had nothing in common with in high school. By 40, the football boys and the band geeks and the choir Marys had mixed and mingled and made new connections.


He* didn't really want to go back. He'd once been a stand-out, in sports, in looks, in life. Twenty years ago you would've thought he'd won the lottery - hot wife, beautiful children, successful career. But one by one they seemed to have all slipped from his grasp. The wife was gone. The kids were distant. The career had tanked. How could he possibly go back and let everyone know that? It would be humiliating. He told himself he could get through it with the promise that he could bid adieu after it was completed. Let me put on the act one more time, he thought. Then I'll say goodbye on my terms.


She was excited for this one, although she couldn't precisely say why. The previous reunions had met her at superbly remarkable lifetime moments. The religious sect, the battered wife, the struggling single mom. She knew they only asked about her for the gossip. She never felt that any of them truly cared or had concern. And now here she was, at this advanced age, hitting the 40 in reboot mode. But she was restarting a life that was worth rebooting, she was sure of it. The best is yet to come, as they say. And she put a lot of hope in that promise.


He packed more pints of liquor than he did clothes. Big half-gallon handles aren't for real drinkers. Too hard to hide. You need sizes you can slip into your back pocket, your jacket, inside your boots. Naturally the reunion activities will provide plenty of drinking opportunities. But one can never count on assumptions. Or even that there'd be enough. Best to pack your own. He tossed around ideas in his head for how he'd explain the latest job firing, that his wife had finally had enough and left. Then he realized he could tell whatever story he wanted to tell. Fuck these guys.


She knew that people in high school assumed she was a lesbian. She'd heard the talk, had experienced the bullying firsthand. She never felt she could complete with the pretty girls. She wasn't good at putting on makeup. She preferred joggers to Jordache. So she'd dedicated herself where she knew she'd excel - sports. And she did excel. But it didn't make her very popular with the boys. They called her derogatory names, as if it was her fault no boys wanted to ask her out. But her athleticism paid off in a college scholarship. And now, as the class was staring down age 60, she knew she was in better shape than 95% of the pretty girls with perfect makeup. Still, she hoped they'd be kind.


And they were kind to those who came. They were accepting. They had drinks and laughed and shared high school memories with absolute untethered joy.

They openly admired her skills and abilities when she beat them at golf. No one suggested even once that her husband should've more accurately have been a wife.

He discovered the companionship of lifelong friends actually released his anxieties and gave him joy in a way that the liquor he consumed daily couldn't. Maybe companionship and support could be the answer after all.

One person came up to her and told her that she looked really happy, serene, like she was in a good place. It was all she needed - just that one. She saved it - pocketed it and kept it next to her heart to help her get through the next rough patch, for there would be more rough patches to come.

They made jokes at his expense, about the weight, the hair, the divorce. The guys told him he needed to get laid. It didn't take it well at first, until he saw them making the same jokes to everyone. They'd all gained weight, lost hair, needed a good lay. He still fit in. He still had friends. They still wanted him around.

And she? She was the leading lady in her own life.



In the 1970s, American psychologist Dr. Bruce Alexander conducted an addiction study that came to be known as "Rat Park."

It had already been established that rats, living alone in cages, would choose a cocaine-laced bottle of water to a bottle of plain water. Not only did they opt for the drug water, they drank from it repetitively until they died. But Dr. Alexander had another idea to test - instead of caging the rats alone, he put them in a "Rat Park" where they were free to socialize, play, roam around and have sex.

Rats in the Rat Park preferred the plain water. And those few who did drink the drug-infused water did so intermittently, not obsessively, and never to overdose.

Dr. Alexander proved that a social community can beat the power of addiction.


Whatever you're facing, whatever you're going through, a community of support and love can get you through the hardest of times. In darkness and despair, it's easy to feel all alone - like there isn't a single person in the world who would care. But that's not true. Depression and addiction lie to us. I promise you there is at least one person who loves you and would respond with, "Tell me what I can do" if you asked for help. Or call 988, the national suicide and crisis hotline available to anyone in need.

*characters in this post are composite personalities and not meant to portray any single person in my high school or yours either.


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