Monthly Archives: March 2019

Positive Buoyancy

I reluctantly scoot my bum to the edge of the seat on the boat. I’ve checked, double-checked, buddy-checked and just in case – checked all my dive gear again. My mask is spit-clean and I hear the skipper call, “3, 2, 1, GO!” My mind stalls, “Nope I don’t think you should go,” she says, but my body goes. I let myself fall backwards into the ocean in a nice tumble. Mia, my dive instructor tells us, “Fall back and let the ocean hug you.” The ocean did hug me. It was fresh, cool and exhilarating. And then, it shoved me.

In the last few weeks I’ve been restless. I wanted a shake-up. I wanted to be released from the hamster wheels in my mind and from the drudgery of knowing just what to expect. A friend of mine says I overthink everything. He’s right. I needed something that allowed me to feel without knowing what to feel. And so, I went down to Scottburgh in KZN to do my Open Water diving course.

Diving is one of the most technical sports I’ve ever experienced. Everything is designed around safety and yet every single part of the course reminds you of the vast menu of ways in which you can die. So, on that Friday morning, in Aliwal Shoal, as soon as we started to deflate and go under, all I was thinking of, was ways of not dying. The first stress I felt was when it took me a while to equalize. Thoughts of bursting ear drums and shrapnel of exploded inner-ear floating alongside me was what my mind was conjuring up. An overactive imagination and a penchant for drama do not necessarily suit the diver’s mindset, I soon learnt.

Finally, I make it down to 14 metres. Mia is the most amazing and intuitive instructor and her passion for the ocean is contagious. Sensing my stress, she indicates to me to look at the amazing underwater world around me. Like Dory, I’m soon distracted and begin to calm down. That is, until Mia asks me to perform my ‘regulator release’ skill. Now, this is a concept that seems entirely contradictory to living. It’s ludicrous to be asked to let go of the very thing that allows you to breathe!! Nonetheless, I have practiced this in the pool many times. But the difference between the pool and the ocean is like the leap from story sums to advanced mathematics in one day.

At first, I’m not ready and Mia lets me be. Later on, after seeing a Trumpet fish and a Potato Bass, all feels well in the underwater world. So, Mia comes up close to me and asks again. I release the regulator and lean to the right but for some reason I don’t lean far enough and can’t retrieve it. Immediately panic sets in. Forgetting that I have an alternate, I start hyperventilating and swallowing water. Mia immediately gives me her alternate. But I’m so panicked that I can’t even get it into my mouth. I don’t remember doing this but Mia says through all the mayhem, I managed to communicate the sign for “Something’s wrong! Take me up!”

Mia held me and made eye contact, trying to calm me down but I just couldn’t breathe properly. As we were ascending, I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m not going to make it to the top. This is how I go.”

Clearly, I’m alive and well now, relaying this story, and so Death be kind. Now I can chuckle at the idea that I thought I had reached my Life’s full stop. But in that moment, I didn’t trust the knowledge or the equipment, and I didn’t believe in the little black and white sticker that says, “Everything’s going to be okay.” I came to the top gasping for air, Mia talking to me all the time. She lay me on my back and unzipped my wetsuit as I floated, gasping like a Shakespearean gutted fish, crying my soliloquy to the audience in the sky, “I can’t! I can’t!”

About forty-five minutes later, I was back in the ocean, thanks to the firm persuasion of Mia and the head of the dive school, Nico. This time, I held onto Mia’s hand as if it was a new kind of life source, a fool-proof regulator. I only let go when she had to release the SMB – Surface Marker Buoy (which is not the same as the SPG or the BCD or the DIN, just so you know and don’t get lost in the sea of acronyms).

Diving is unlike any other thing I’ve ever experienced. I have a new respect for the dive community. Yes, the ocean is magical and tranquil but it’s also where you face your own insignificance. Something about it has always scared me. Maybe it’s because my mom and dad taught me to feel humbled by the mightiness of nature – mountains and ocean. Maybe it’s because my father took me to the sea and would raise me up onto his shoulders as soon as the waves licked my little ankles. Or maybe it’s because even as an adult, I would always swim where I could still see him sitting on the shore waiting for me. And maybe it’s because a family friend – a beautiful, adventurous woman, full of joie de vivre – died while diving.

Whatever it is, there is a strange feeling that I need to go back to that washing machine called Aliwal Shoal. They say if you can dive there, you can dive anywhere in the world. Harry, my brother’s father-in-law, says, “When I’m on a dive, the ocean is my church.” I’m still figuring it out but for this past week, the deep sea is the place that has taken up all my dream time. Slowly descending, slowing ascending, never dying… and always coming up with positive buoyancy.

Tagged , ,

So long, Luke Perry.

13 was a funny age. Braces, glasses, hairy legs. I begged my mom to let me start wearing a bra even though I had miniature ski slopes and no real need for one just yet. I was starting high school and not allowed to go to the Valentine’s Ball with the guy from my primary school who had asked me out. I watched K-TV and Days of Our Lives while doing Maths homework. On weekends, my brother and I would gather our 99 men to clock Contra and try repeatedly to save the Princess in Super Mario Brothers. Harsha, my best friend and I, would sit on the wall dividing our houses and talk about everything until it was dark and our moms called us back in. ‘Everything’ meant there were no secrets and no stories left untold. We went to an all-girls’ school with high walls topped with barbed wire. And we believed Boys II Men was the best R&B band to hit planet Earth. So at our school concert, a bunch of us girls dressed up like them and performed “In the Still of the Night”.

It was also the time of my life when I was obsessed with Hollywood star, Luke Perry.

Normally when a celebrity dies, they get a ‘RIP’ on my Facebook status. But not Luke Perry. On the morning I found out about Luke Perry’s death, it took me way back. And I knew that Luke Perry deserved way more than 3 lousy letters.

Monday nights in the Gordhan household were like a moment of reverence. Everyone was shushed and at 8pm sharp there was one thing and one thing only that would take place – the viewing of Beverly Hills 90210. Even my father had no say. He was ushered out the lounge with the knowledge that my spot was reserved; that I’d be there eating my Cinnabon ice-cream, tuned in to simulcast, (back then the best shows were dubbed into Afrikaans), and I’d watch every part of the show from opening to closing credits. Each week’s episode was met with the same overboard excitement that only a 13-year-old can summon.

The next day, all the girls would spend the whole of break dissecting every word of Luke Perry’s – like when Brandon’s dad asks Luke about whether he removes his earring when he showers and Luke responds, “Depends on the circumstances, Sir.” Harsha and I would sit on the wall that divided our houses and mimic his über-cool, slightly irreverent delivery and giggle the night away.

When I bought any magazine, even the tiniest picture of Luke was cut up and painstakingly stuck on the inside of my cupboard door. It didn’t matter if the same picture appeared twice. What was wrong with seeing Luke Perry in step and repeat?

On my 16th birthday, the Perry crush still hadn’t died and my family knew it well. So I received a giant Luke Perry poster. It was like the spirit of all the little pics inside my cupboard joined forces to give me one life-size serving. That poster hung on my wall next to my bed – ensuring that I would be greeted by the god of West Beverly High every morning and every evening.

What made this guy park his Porsche 356 Speedster in my teenage heart? Was it his acting, really? Or was it just his brooding, leaning eyebrows and dark, mysterious eyes? His sneaky smile or bad-boy vibes? I even endured all of the movie 8 Seconds, just because he was in it. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He represented something my innocent teenage-self thought was hella exciting – someone to make up for my awkward teen reality.

This may seem like hagiography but Luke deserves nothing less:

Luke Perry was inexplicably linked to some of my best teen memories. He was the fantastical corrupter in my Age of Innocence. He was to me what Cliff Richard was to my mom. He was a rite of passage and the joyful silliness that is only permitted in your springtime existence. He was the ultimate crush shared by me and my best friend.

I’m sorry you’re gone, Luke Perry. I adore you forever. Rest well, and thank you for the unforgettable years.