TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Five

I hate myself.

I’m lying like a splayed spatchcock on the couch, fully clothed and without the faintest idea of how I got there. I sit up to look around for clues and my vision spins wildly. My phone’s lying halfway towards the kitchen on the floor, a little closer to me is my mini Miu Miu tie-dyed handbag with a couple of $20 bills, some tampons, bobby pins and my house keys spilling out across the floor. And, on the table in front of me, a packet of Nurofen, a tube of Berocca and a big bottle of San Pellegrino.

Ohmygod I love Ryan so much, I think as I snap one of the Berocca in half and push it straight into the mouth of the Pellegrino. I guzzle it down greedily, shoving a couple of Nurofen into my mouth in between slugs.

I’m so busy wrestling with my hangover that I don’t immediately realize this little gift is actually very, very bad. Ryan thought I was home working on my CV last night. But then he would have gotten home from his family gathering and I would have been… I actually have no clue what I would have been. Would I have been home yet? I doubt it. If I got home after him, would I have woken him up? And if I did, what the hell would I have said to him?? A tsunami of nausea hits me at the thought, so I lie back down and let sleep envelop me again.

When I wake up it’s early afternoon, and although my hangover has dissolved a bit I still feel like shit. I drag myself off the couch and into the shower, letting the big, heavy droplets slide down my body, taking with them alcohol, sweat, makeup and that horribly depressing hangover shame.

I wash my hair, scrub my face, cry a little and feel better. I sit down on the side of the tub and let the water massage my shoulders for a while, and as I get out and wrap a towel around my hair I suddenly remember that Peace disappeared completely last night.

I head out into the living room and pick my phone up off the floor. A crack has spider-webbed its way down from the upper left hand corner of the glass screen. Fuck, not again. I scroll through last night’s messages.

One from Peace at 10pm: MET TOTAL BABE, GOING BACK TO HIS. CALL YOU TOMORROW.

One from Ryan at 11pm: JUST GOT HOME, WHERE ARE YOU??

Oh man, how on earth am I going to work my way out of this one? The guilt sends a wave of purpose surging through me, the desperate kind that accompanies the gnawing, anxious dread of a really bad hangover. I know what I have to do. I have to get working on my to-do list so that when Ryan comes home he’ll forget all about last night because he’ll be so thrilled that I’m being proactive.

I chuck on some leggings and one of Ryan’s big, comfy tees and sit cross-legged on the couch with my laptop resting on my knees. I look at my list again and decide to start at the beginning.

1. DISCOVER THE MEANING OF LIFE.

Right. I take another gulp of my Berocca-Pellegrino concoction. “Find the meaning of life,” I type into the Google browser. The computer’s little multicoloured thinking wheel turns ominously for a minute before the results flash up on screen.

WikiHow’s first up with an eleven-step guide, and even though everyone knows Wikipedia really isn’t the most reliable source of information, let alone spiritual enlightenment, I click on it anyway. The first step is writing down all the goals you want to achieve in your life. Fantastic, I’ve already done that! Even though I didn’t put “own real Birkin bag” on my list, since I knew Ryan would think that one was silly.

I scan further down the list. Let go of the need to be loved by all. Learn to rely on yourself. Serve others. Ugh. If I knew how to do any of those things I would have done them already, wouldn’t I. I need something less esoteric, more… practical.

There’s a luxe meditation and yoga retreat in the mountains of Bali that looks gorgeous and promises to “revitalize, refresh and enlighten,” but it’s too expensive and by the looks of the infinity pool in the picture, I’d end up spending most of my time lazing by that than doing any of the “inner work” they’re spruiking.

I try typing “how to get more meaning in life” into the browser, and after the little multi-coloured wheel spins again up comes, How to Live a More Meaningful Life: introduction to Buddhism at the Sydney Buddhist Centre. I giggle to myself and go to keep scanning down the page, but just then my phone starts vibrating on the coffee table. Peace’s name flashes up on screen.

“Hello?”

“Uuuurgh,” is the only response from the other end.

“Hello?”

“Mags, it’s me! Aren’t you just dyyying too?”

“Sorry, I think you must have the wrong number,” I say, a smile spreading across my face.

“Oh c’mon Mags, you’re not seriously mad at me are you?”

“How can I be mad at you when I don’t even know who you are?”

“Mags my head’s hurting too freaking much for this. I’m sorry, ok? But I had to leave with that guy, he just was so hot and I couldn’t find you anywhere and I sent you a text?”

“Ahh, I thought this was my best friend Peace for a second, but now I realize it can’t be.” I reckon she deserves to be tortured just a little bit longer. “Because no best friend would leave their best friend, who’s going through a seriously bad time because of some planetary realignment, alone in a club when they’re completely blotto just because they want to respond to their feminine urges.”

At that, Peace bursts out laughing. “Ok now you’re just being ridiculous. Feminine urges?? Ha!”

“Ok ok, I give up. So who’s the guy?”

“Ahh I dunno, I was totally into him and as I said, he’s ridiculously hot. But then I woke up this morning and just got the ick, you know? Like I rolled over, saw him beside me and decided he was the most revolting person on the planet and I just had to leave. So then I wriggled out from under his arm, got dressed super quietly, but then just as I was about to walk out his bedroom door I heard his flat mates in the kitchen. So I decided to climb out the window.”

“You what?”

“It was the only solution! Anyway so there I was, one leg out, one leg in, and the dude friggin’ wakes up. He just stares at me for a second, all puzzled, and then suddenly he leaps out of bed and comes running towards me, like he thinks I’m falling out the window or something! Anyway I panic and, well, I jump out and just start running. And the dude jumps right out after me, fully naked and yelling, ‘what the hell are you doing?!’ I know I should’ve just stopped and talked to the poor guy but I totally freaked out and was so hung over I wasn’t thinking clearly so I just kept running. He followed me for a good five minutes before he gave up.”

“Wow P, that’s really bad form,” I say, trying and failing to hold in a laugh.

“I know! I’m the first to admit it. But seriously, what kind of guy runs naked after a girl for four blocks?!”

“Umm, probably a guy who’s just had a great night of intense sex with a beautiful woman and wakes up to see her jumping out of his window?”

“Ugh, whatever. I’m just glad I got out when I did, he probably would’ve wanted to have breakfast together and do the crossword and drink tea in bed all day. Gross! Anyway, I just want to forget about the whole thing. How are you?”

“How am I?” I glance down at my computer screen and shake my head. “I seriously think I’m losing the plot P. I’m sitting here on the Internet trying to Google myself into enlightenment. I need help! You’re the one who’s the expert on all this Saturn Return quarter-life crisis shit, can’t you help me Yoda?”

There’s a long silence, and just as I start to think that maybe Peace has fallen asleep she whispers, “I know exactly what you’ve got to do,” down the line.

“Yeah, and what’s that?”

“You’ve gotta come to India with me next week.”

“Ahh, sure! Haha P, what the hell are you talking about?” I know she’s joking, and yet for some reason my palms start to sweat.

“Well, a shoot’s come up in Delhi next week. I didn’t want to mention it last night because I didn’t want to, you know, upset you or anything. But I’ve been thinking about it since then and actually, I think it might be time.”

“P…”

“My shoot’s only for a few days, so I figure if you come with me we can go early, head to Varanasi…”

Oh God. “P, c’mon. We’ve talked about this a million and one times. You know how I feel about it and besides, it’d be a terrible time to meet him when I’m all… messed up like this.”

“Why do you always have to assume the worst Mags? Does it really seem so unlikely that your dad might actually want to meet you? That he might actually have been waiting for you all this time?”

My heart skips a beat. I do not want to be having this conversation.

“Ok are you just forgetting everything I’ve told you over the past ten years Peace?” My voice has risen an octave, the soft cellos have gone and a high, rasping violin has been added.  

“Of course not Mags. But I know you wonder. I know you wait. I know you hope. You’re an adult now, you have to make decisions for yourself and not just base everything on what your mum’s told you. And I honestly think a lot of what you’re going through right now has a lot to do with your dad.”

I stare down at my clammy hands. In a way I know she’s right, of course I do. I know that finally meeting my dad could possibly fix whatever’s broken inside me, the thing that’s suddenly started clanging around and making a great big noise inside me. But I also know that he doesn’t want me to be part of his life. Not then, 23 years ago when he left to go off to India in search of himself. Not now, when I still haven’t heard a peep from the guy. Not ever. All I have is one dog-eared, faded photo that mum gave me of him, so cliché I know. I still remember vividly the day she handed it over, on my 14th birthday when she finally told me the truth about where he’d gone. When she thought I was old enough to handle it, which I’m still not sure I was.

“You know this is something you need to do Mags,” says Peace, breaking into my thoughts. “And I honestly believe that once you’ve done it, once you’ve put the whole situation to rest, you’ll be able to start making some changes in your life and become the woman you’re meant to be. Anyway aside from all that, it sounds like you could use some time out from Sydney life too, right?”

“I dunno P. I mean I always said I’d meet him before I turned 30… but that’s two years off yet and I just don’t know if I’m ready. Not that I even think we’d be able to find him amongst those two billion people. Or that Ryan would be happy with me going without him. Or that I have nearly enough money to just flit off overseas last minute…”

“Ok first of all,” Peace butts in, “your mum told you he’s in Varanasi, so that narrows the billions down to millions. Second of all, you’d only have to cover your airfare – you can bunk with me and I can pitch in for the rest since they they’re paying me a bomb for this job. And third of all, I’m not asking you to make a decision right now, I’m just asking you to think about it. Anyway Mags, I’m about to spew so I’d better get off the phone. I’ll call you later. But in the meantime just remember, you only live once. YOLO!” Click, she’s gone.

Yeah, YOLO, I think as I spy a mug with a fork sticking out of it on the coffee table. I take a peek inside. Salami. Must have been a bright idea from last night. I pick up the fork and start hoeing in, more because I want to take my mind off my dad than because I actually want to eat the revolting stuff.

I’m halfway through when I remember what I was doing before Peace rang. I look down at my computer and remember the Buddhism course. I click on the link and start reading.

In this introductory three-week course you can learn about meditation, ethics and the wisdom of the Buddha.
There’s a little picture of a Buddha sitting in the corner. It’s not the fat, laughing Buddha with the man boobs. This one’s thinner, with fabulous bobbly hair, what looks like some awesome dangly earrings and a peaceful smile on his face. The kind of Buddha a girl like me could really take some advice from. This seems like a much more – ok maybe only slightly more – sane approach than traipsing off to India to find my long lost dad. And hey, I’ve always liked the idea of meditation. If Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah are into it, I probably would be too.

With these thoughts buzzing through my booze-addled mind, I proceed to the checkout and punch in my credit card details.