TRAVELS WITH NINA

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

Chapter Four

DRINKS TONIGHT?, I text Peace.

20 seconds later, I’M IN

5 TOO EARLY?

EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM. USUAL PLACE?

YEP X

I potter around for a couple of hours, idly stalking people on Facebook, listening to the new Cat Power album and doing a face mask while watching crappy afternoon tele. Eventually, I start getting ready. I shower and blow-dry my hair, do my makeup and play dress-ups for a while before deciding that tonight, my black leather Helmut Lang pants, black and white striped Ksubi tee and Nicola Finetti faux fur vest are coming out with me. “Do you want to come with me too?” I ask my leopard-print pony hair ankle boots. Yes, they sure as hell do.

I get to the bar early, a cozy, slightly grungy wine den Peace and I have been coming to for years. Even though it’s only 4.45pm, I order a double vodka soda from the cute bar tender. The one who’s been working here for the past year and who I’ve been flirting with for the past year. The one with NOT MARRIED tattooed around his wedding finger. Seriously. I’m pretty sure he’s seen what’s been wrapped around my wedding finger lately, but if he has he’s never made any reference to it and he’s certainly not about to this afternoon.

“There you go little lady,” he says with a wink, pushing the vodka across the bar towards me. “And may I just say that you’re lookin’ mighty fine today.”

I give him my best flirty smile, hoping I don’t have anything stuck in my teeth. “You’re not looking too scruffy yourself.”

He scoots off to serve someone else and I’m left sipping my vodka. I look around, past the moose heads and dripping candelabra and a few loaded early starters who’ve probably been here since lunch, spot a couple of overstuffed armchairs in the corner and head over to take my perch.

A few minutes later I see Peace walk through the door. She’s pretty hard to miss, and not just because she’s beautiful – like otherworldly beautiful, with that five-inch afro framing her delicate face, her impossibly huge dark eyes, her impossibly pillowy lips and her impossibly petite, straight nose. It’s not just because of her Amazonian height either, or because of her perfectly sculpted body – which comes courtesy of hours spent at the gym each week, plus a freak genetic combination of having a Zambian dad and a Brazilian mum. Mostly, it’s because of that very special energy of hers, an energy that leaps off her impossibly perfect skin with such ferocity you can almost see it, a slightly iridescent glow that people (well men, mostly) can’t help but get pulled towards, even though they know it probably won’t end well for them.

I remember the first time that energy pulled me in. I walked into the Year Seven sleepover in the first couple of months of high school, feeling totally insecure and thinking, despairingly, as I looked into that hall filled with screeching teenage girls, that my tencel jeans and purple tie-dyed tee-shirt were all wrong. I’d stand out, the other girls would start asking questions, questions about my life, my family… I started to completely freak out and was just about to run to the nearest telephone booth, call mum and beg her to take me home when suddenly, that ball of hair and energy buzzed right over to me and grabbed my arm.

“I’m Peace. You look cool! We’ll be best friends.”

It wasn’t a question or a prediction, more like a direction. And I took it. I ran off after Peace into that hall, infected already by her confidence and quirkiness and what I’d later come to identify as fabulousness. Immediately, I’d wanted to be around that energy, to feed off it and to make it part of my life, and to use it as my armour. In a way, I guess I still do.

Peace saunters over and a strange sense of pride rushes into my belly as I see all eyes in the bar roll after her. That’s my girl. I push up out of my seat and give her a big, squeezy hug.

“I’m so fucking happy to see you,” I say as we sink into our armchairs, still clasping each other’s hands.

“Me fucking too.” She flashes those perfectly straight, white teeth at me and throws her fabulous woven southwestern bag on the floor. “Now tell me everything,” she says, taking a flurried sip of her margarita.

And I do. I tell her about feeling lost, scared, threatened, confused and conflicted, the vodka helping the words find a smooth pathway out of my mouth. When I’m done, Peace just stares at me for a while, those huge deer eyes of hers gazing into mine.

“Ok Mags, now I know you’re probably gonna think this is a little wild, but I’m gonna give you an amazing insight here, ok?”

I nod. I’m intrigued.

“I think you’re having your Saturn Return.”

“Err, my what?”

“Your Saturn Return,” she says again, as though I should know exactly what’s she’s on about. “It’s an astrological thing that happens to everyone a few times in their life. It’s when Saturn returns to the same spot in the sky that it was in at the time of your birth, which generally takes about 27 to 30 years. And you, my friend, appear to be smack bam in the middle of yours.”

“Riiight,” I say, sceptically. “So… what’s it supposed to mean?”

“Well, they say that at that point you’re crossing a big threshold kinda thing and entering the next stage of your life. I guess you could call it, like, a bit of a wake-up call. You know, you’ve been coasting along, thinking you’ve got all the time in the world to figure out who and what you wanna be when you grow up, what you want out of life and all that, and then BAM,” – she claps her bejeweled, neon yellow-nailed hands together – “you realize that you are grown up but you’re not what you wanted to be. And maybe you still don’t even know what that is.”

“Wow,” is all I can muster. And I mean it. Wow. This is me.

“Yeah, wow all right. Your Saturn Return puts you, like, face to face with every fear you ever had, and you have to stare them down and tell them what you think of them and then defeat them. Like some kinda Zen warrior!” She’s really getting going now, her eyes wide and her margarita slopping left and right as she gesticulates in that wild, fantastic way of hers.

“Good news is that even though there’s this mini earthquake going on inside you, your Saturn Return lets you shake off the stuff that’s not really you and discover your real core.” She hastily gulps down the rest of her drink and slams it down on the table for emphasis. “Chaos is another name for opportunity Mags, that’s what the I-Ching says. Saturn’s just trying to lead you to yourself.”

“Ok. So yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the karate kid. What’s with you today?”

“What’s with today, today?” We crack up at our favourite line from Empire Records, which we must have watched 42 times when we were 14. But the truth is, I should always expect advice like this from Peace. For as long as I’ve known her she’s been into this kind of stuff, this “hippy dippy crap,” as Ryan always calls it. Usually I’m kind of sceptical of it too, but today it’s really making sense.

“No but seriously, that’s actually pretty freaky. I honestly feel like that’s exactly what’s happening to me right now. I’m questioning everything – everything I’ve been so sure about and worked so hard for. None of it feels like it… fits, anymore.”

None of it?” asks Peace, one of her perfectly plucked eyebrows inching up her forehead. I know instantly what she’s angling at.

“Well not everything. Ryan’s awesome, actually. He’s so supportive and he gets it because I explained everything to him yesterday and he’s going to help me through it.” Just then, hottie bartender saunters over with our drinks.

“Ladies?” He looks intently into both our eyes as he hands us our drinks. Ooph.

“What I’d suggest,” continues Peace as if hottie’s not even there, “is that you spend this time you’ve wrangled trying to get to know yourself. I know it sounds totally corny, but I really think it’s what you need.”

“Yeah, I’ve actually been thinking the same thing.” I push my straw into the lime at the bottom of my vodka, really feeling for it, drowning down there under all that ice and fizzy water. “But the problem is, I don’t even really know where to start. I mean do you think I need to, you know, see someone?”

“Maybe. And look I’d be totally happy to give you my psych’s number Mags, but I actually don’t think you need therapy. What I think you really need right now,” she says, slurping up the last of her drink as a mischievous grin spreads over her face, “is to get sloshed and dance.”

With that, Peace grabs my arm and pulls me over to the bar, where we order a couple of Café Patron shots. They normally make me sick, but tonight I feel like I could handle just about anything. I throw in a, “but only if you have one with us,” to hottie bartender and he does, throwing in another for each of us before we leave. I’d love to stay and flirt a little more, but Peace is ready for the dancing part of the equation.

We head out into the night, hopped up on the caffeine and alcohol and talking at a million miles an hour. Soon we reach Peace’s friend’s Mexican restaurant in Kings Cross, which he’s managed to transform into the newest hotspot in town thanks to a few Day of the Dead-style porcelain skulls and 132 different kinds of tequila. We order a jug of margarita and a few tacos and pretty soon we’re drunkety drunk drunk drunk. Peace tells me about a threesome she had last weekend with a photographer she sometimes works with and his flatmate. Well, it was a threesome for Peace but the flatmate, a lesbian, didn’t want to touch the photographer so Peace was the only one who got action from both of them. I’m in hysterics, crying out for details and loving all the sordid tales that make me feel part of something wild and exciting and bohemian. Then we stumble across the road to a club, feeling pretty damn fabulous and wanting more drinks to make us feel even more damn fabulous. The bouncer takes one look at Peace and we’re ushered straight to the front of the line and inside the club. We order the strongest thing we can think of, giggling as we gulp down our Long Island Iced Teas, remembering how we swore we’d never touch these lethal concoctions again and licking our lips at the thought of all the trouble they might get us into.

We make our way onto the dance floor just as a Eurythmics Sweet Dreams mash-up comes on. We start off silly dancing, mouthing the words drag-queen style and pointing and cat walking melodramatically up and down the dance floor, but soon we get lost in the beat and start writhing around in our own little worlds. And just when we think it can’t get any better, a hip-hop mix of George Harrison’s Give Me Love comes pulsing through the speakers and we just lose it. Peace is tugging at her fro, rubbing her hands up and down her chest, slowly circling that booty of hers, and I’m just twirling around in circles and flailing my arms out at my sides like a dizzy seagull, not giving a damn how I look because, well, I’m wasted.

At some point I close my eyes and dance around in the dark for a while, and when I open them again Peace seems to have disappeared. Ah well, time for another shot. This time it’s my choice so it’s vodka, and while I’m there I think why not have another one so I do. I head back to the dance floor but there’s still no sign of Peace so I head to the bathroom to pee. While I’m waiting in line I start chatting to a chick with a bright red 50s coif and a tattoo of a soft serve on her arm. We get to the front of the line and she says she has some coke and do I want to do a line with her? Yes, yes I do, and then there we are in the cubicle together and I’m doing lines off the top of the stainless steel toilet paper dispenser. I thank the girl, we talk a bit more and I offer to buy her a drink but she says no thanks I just didn’t want to do this alone, and next thing I know I’m looking at myself in the mirror and loving myself, really loving myself you know, like thinking I’m the most beautiful goddam person I’ve ever seen in my life. I tell my reflection “I love you,” and it feels weird but so weirdly good that I can’t believe I’ve never done it before.

I vow right then and there that I’ll tell me I love myself every morning when I wake up from this day forward.