Kai and Lisa are the kind of couple you’d tag “relationship goals” whenever you see their Instagram vlogs edited with popping colors and cheesy Passenger songs.
They did everything together, holding hands and spotting bright-eyed smiles wherever they went. They finished each other’s sentences and showed no inhibitions to PDA. Kai always brims with joy whenever Lisa comes around.
So imagine my shock when I found out they’d unfollowed each other on Instagram—which now signifies a public ending to any professional or personal relationship. All the cutesy Instagram videos were gone in one evening.
A few weeks after the breakup, Kai visits my flat alone—this is the first time he’s ever come around without Lisa. As soon as I open the door, Kai stumbles into my flat, looking like he had just been in a brawl with a gang of rabid chihuahuas.
Without making eye contact, he heads straight to my booze rack and grabs a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I watch in silent confusion as he gulps down the bottle’s contents while ranting about life being a scam.
But before he goes bottoms-up, I dive in to rescue the remaining contents of the bottle. After two futile attempts to get the bottle back from me, Kai slumps into the divan and clocks out almost instantly.
On my way to return the remaining wine to the rack, I couldn’t help but look pitifully at the motionless pile of dejection snoring on my couch.
I remember being in a similar place a few years back when my inability to capture long-lasting happiness took a toll on my psyche. To blot out the noise, I stayed up at night racing to the bottom of the green bottle, hoping to paper over the wounds with a few hours of drunken elation and deep sleep.
It took several mornings of waking up to the pangs of unforgiving hangovers to realize that the happiness I sought was not in a bottle. So, I get how Kai feels.
The following morning, Kai leaves the house before I even wake up. When I reach the living room and find an empty divan, a momentary numbness comes over me as I try to piece my thoughts together: where is Kai?
But before I start making panic calls to everyone I know, Kai calls on FaceTime to reassure me that he hadn’t “jumped off the bridge.” In typical Kai fashion, he punctuates the joke with a rendition of Tom Odell’s “Long Way Down.”
I can feel Kai trying his hardest to show me that he was in high spirits, but the lack of sparkle in his eyes betrays his true feelings. The genuine giddiness of youth that drew me to Kai in primary school gave way to a veneer of laughable faux machismo. No point asking if something was wrong; I couldn’t pull him out of this slump.
During our conversation, Kai drifts into long, incoherent monologues about how happiness proved elusive—and how life has no meaning. He caps off this tirade by taking a gulp of some liquid in a brown bag before declaring that he is on a mission to find happiness at all costs. I tell him to take it easy, and we end the call.
Weeks pass, and I don’t hear anything from Kai. Even though he bounces my calls, he still likes the memes I flood his inbox with. I don’t sweat it because, at least, only the living can react to memes. I’ll only get worried if he stops responding.
The next time I hear from Kai is through my Instagram feed. He is posting again—without Lisa. But instead of the family-friendly, pastel-filter videos, his content is now in the manosphere: workout videos and misogynistic monologues bless my feed.
Before my brain can process Kai’s recent transformation, he ups the ante to base jumping, skydiving, and surfing. He transforms into this happy-go-lucky fellow known for daredevil stunts and YOLO vibes. And with that, his follower count grows; his fake smile becomes a permanent feature.
For a brief moment, Kai seems to regain his spark and charm. Something is fuelling his happiness. Like clockwork, Kai adds #Happyness to his list of hashtags, completely transforming his life into an edgy RedBull commercial.
But for some reason, this low-budget Dan Bilzerian persona feels too farfetched and unnatural. Maybe my proximity to the situation is preventing me from seeing the bigger picture. Perhaps, I am not ready to accept that Kai has moved on from losing Lisa.
My skepticism turns into deep concern when Kai posts that infamously notorious video on his new yacht, Happyness. I wonder who gave him a yacht. I wonder why he seems so happy drinking vodka shots from ladies’ bosoms. This isn’t Kai.
Seeing Kai with bloodshot eyes—in the esteemed company of scantily clad supermodels—sends more alarm bells ringing. But toxic Instagram loves every bit of Kai’s new persona. Instantly, he goes from a run-of-the-mill travel vlogger to a fully-fledged influencer.
At this point, my attempts to convince my friends that Kai wasn’t truly happy proves futile. My cry for help gets drowned in the noise from drooling bootlickers. How could he be sad if people were queuing around the corner to get on his yacht?
At this stage of his notoriety, any attempt to get through to Kai meets stiff opposition from his army of opportunistic, fair-weather friends, who are just there to bask in the glory of his increasing internet notoriety.
So, I continue watching the impending trainwreck, hoping to spot a gap to get through to Kai before disaster strikes. Maybe seeing a familiar face will reset his factory settings.
But before I could spell “Mark Ronson,” I get a call from a close confidant informing me that Kai was traveling to Thailand. I guess the supermodels and champagne showers aren’t all that.
By now, none of the people around Kai even knows his surname. Who cares, the party never stops as long as the cash and booze keep flowing. Once the tap runs dry, the leeches will disperse with the speed of mice running from house cats.
To make matters worse, Kai doesn’t seem bothered at all. And coming from the same place as him, I recognize his thought process: maybe if I live fast enough, I might recapture that feeling of 6 PM walks with Lisa—that sweet serenade of the evening breeze whistling on the promenade.
But that story is over. I couldn’t stand by and watch Kai gasp for air in the deep end without at least throwing him a woolen waistcoat.
After two weeks in Bangkok, Kai’s life spirals so much out of control that the vilest of his followers start showing concern for his wellbeing. But he doesn’t stop his sex tourism there: his quest takes him from the cold streets of Helsinki to the sultry beaches of Larnaca and back to Bangkok, brushing shoulders with law enforcement and potential STDs at every turn.
And if history is any indicator, Kai is on the right path to a remarkable public fall from grace; I just want to be there to soften the landing.
One night, while hosting a live Insta Q&A for his friends in the black mirror, Kai passes out in his chair halfway into one of his monologues. After 2 minutes of viewers trolling the comatose youngling while others attempt to call his line, Kai finally springs back to consciousness and breaks down in front of the world.
And right on cue, I get a call from Lisa for the first time since the breakup. Time to head to Bangkok and end this charade. Finding Kai would be easy because most of the civilized world knows his location: Villa Felicidad. And with that info and a briskly packed rucksack, I set off with Lisa to Bangkok.
Unsurprisingly, Kai doesn’t come to meet us at the airport when we arrive. So we scurry to his villa in the airport taxi. At the entrance, the housekeeper gives us a suggestive nod in the direction of the pool. We enter to see Kai sprawled out poolside in the Vitruvian pose, clutching a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his right hand.
As soon as Kai hears Lisa’s voice, he swings his head in our direction with the alacrity of a dog hearing the voice of an estranged owner. I guess he was shocked to hear a familiar voice since everyone else abandoned him after the colossal online cock-up.
Even in his unkempt appearance, the sparkle in Kai’s eyes upon seeing Lisa’s spoke volumes. He springs up and rushes to give Lisa and me a group hug. Beneath the pain hiding behind those weary and sunken eyes, I could feel Kai’s relief in being home—in the arms of people he loved. Finally, he is home; he is happy.
I wriggle away from his bear squeeze and booze breath to let them have their moment. As the tears flow, I head inside the villa to pour myself a drink. I don’t care if Lisa takes him back; she probably won’t. I am just happy to see him alive. Besides, nobody turns down free drinks.
Inside the villa, the vibe is almost dead if not for the song on the speakers: For what’s money without happiness, or hard times without the people you love?