When i was 11 years old i hung myself from a doorframe. I was stood in the doorway atop a spindly wooden chair with the noose clamped firmly around my neck, and the other end tied to the doorframe. I took a few shallow breaths to compose myself, and then just went for it.
I bent my knees to transfer my weight to the rope.. and in the same movement i kicked the chair out from under myself. My eyes bulged and the pressure inside my head was so immense i half expected it to explode like a can of shaken soda. I clutched at the rope to try and take some of the strain of my body weight off of my neck.. but there was no way to get my hands under it.
I said 2 words… and then blacked out… it would only be seconds now before i was deader than disco!
Im quite a manly man in many ways.. racing cars, 4x4s, motor bikes, skydiving, etc etc… but all my life i have been pretty crappy at 3 things most men are supposed to do well.
I cannot whistle for shit… I sound like a punctured tyre when i try.. and i cannot throw a stone very far. I can throw very accurately… but the thing im trying to hit needs to be close by. I could use my skills to stone a woman in Syria for example.. but not to hit a grouse in the jungles of new guinea.. or wherever they still hunt with stones.
And i also could not tie up a person if need be… up until now that is.
All my life I have never been able to tie knots. If id ever gone to a boy scout camp i would have been expelled the same day, when i turned their knot making practice rope into a garbled ball of spaghetti, in the process mentally scarring the mascot poodle and the scout master for life.
Somehow i have always managed to get by without being able to do even the most simple knots. I even battle with my shoe laces, and would often be seen around school with my laces flapping wildly this way and that as i stormed through the corridors of the sheep factory.
Everybody would point and say.. “your laces… youre gonna trip!” And id always look at them like they were mental as i glided past whipping everyone with the little plastic bits at the end of the flailing laces.
In all those years i only ever tripped over my laces once. Though i happened to be standing on the top step of the wooden grandstands on the side of the school field at the time. I literally cart wheeled down those things, bouncing off my head and landing in a tangled heap at the bottom.
Of course everyone had a great cackle at my expense… and i spent the rest of the afternoon permanently knotting my laces, effectively turning my busted up school shoes into slip ons.
The only other times i have really needed to be able to do knots are when ive moved house and needed to tie my household goods down on the bakkie.
Unfortunately… i have moved house more than anybody i know.
There were periods in my life, even as a kid, where i moved house up to 3 or 4 times a year, and this trend continued up into my young adult life, so i really should be pretty handy with a length of rope by now.
But i learned nothing during all those home shifts.
I always managed to rope in a good mate or two to lend me a hand with my house moves.
Some of my really good mates have moved me a dozen times at least, and luckily for me they have all been able to do a good enough job of tying my goods down.
If i had attempted to do it myself, we would have left a trail of smashed microwaves and fridges down the street after every load.
I used to be a bit of a hoarder when i was younger. You watch these programs on telly where seemingly normal people start hoarding goods like mad… and eventually there is only a tiny path left in the entire overcrowded house that leads to a corner of free bed space.
A normal person wonders how on earth it could have gotten that bad…. but i kind of understand it. I could quite possibly have gone that route myself i reckon.
I had a very strange relationship with fridges when i was growing up. I always saw one standing in the kitchen… but in my mothers house it was sort of out of bounds.
It was not really ever said directly.. dont go in the fridge… but the inference was there for sure. The old frigid air was not a place kids were allowed to look.
One didn’t simply run inside after playing in the park and rummage around in the old cold cupboard to see what was there. With money being so tight the fridge was mostly an ornament anyway, but whatever happened to be in there… clearly didn’t belong to me.
And so this great big white box would always hulk around, humming away incessantly in the corner.. taunting me with its mysteriousness.
When i grew up some, i started collecting fridges so i could unravel the mystery behind these things that were always off limits to me.
I would buy em and sell em and swap them. I even won a fridge off a mate during a game of poker or something like that. And i often had up to 7 fridges at a time.
And of course you would never find a warm beer anywhere in my home.
I went through a microwave phase as well. Growing up poor meant that there were things other people took for granted that i just never had any contact with.
Most people had a microwave for instance, but my mother would never have ever considered getting one.
There was always anything else to spend the non existent cash on… and she would go on a rant about microwaves if ever the subject came up. “All these people will get cancer from those devil boxes.. just you wait and see!”
There has been a remarkable spike in cancer rates lately, but i hope to gawd its not from microwaves, because i have owned several dozen of em now, Sometimes 6 of em at a time. Once you get used to the convenience, its difficult to turn your back on it.
My favourites are the convection ones, and there was one particular model that i started buying up after it was discontinued. I would scour the classifieds looking for second hand examples of this particular model as it made the best lumpy lemon chicken ever.
And at one stage i lived in 3 places at once as i had branches of my tattoo shop in all 3 major cities, and i had the same microwave in all 3 places, and always a couple extra just in case.
Im kind of over my hoarding phase now though.
A few years ago i was due to move to the UK for a few years, so i very very reluctantly sold up all my fridges and stoves etc. It was a truly heartwrenching and traumatising experience watching some of those items getting tied onto somebody elses bakkie by somebody who knew how to make knots, and being driven away from their rightful home.
I almost went into a depression i tell you… As if that wasnt enough, at the last minute my visa was declined, so i was going nowhere slowly, and id just sold every damned thing i owned! Just my luck eh!
Since then i have not had the heart to restock my fridge collection, even though i have needed a few spare fridges quite often through the years.
I still have too much other stuff though, but im in the process again of decluttering my life till its super simple and streamlined.
I can feel a wind of change coming for me.. and i need to be able to act accordingly if opportunity comes a knocking.
Perhaps there is an entire new chapter of adventure in my near future, and one cannot strap fridges to a plane.. no matter how good your knot work is.
So now i have gotten into sailing, and when one is sailing, there simply is no way to do this knot dependant activity, without being able to do a variety of general purpose and specialty knots.
So i had to go back to school, and undo all of the bad habits id developed through all of the years of not knowing how to tie knots.
There is a saying… If you cant tie knots.. tie lots, and i graduated from that school of thought with distinctions!
Granny knot would go over granny knot would go over granny knot… all day.. until all the rope was used up, and still whatever i was trying to tie down would be able to free itself with impunity.
But now that im sailing, and have finally learned at least a few of the more important knots necessary, i reckon my bondage game could be fire now! 50 shades of grey got nothing on me!
Now i find things to tie down… even if they dont need to be, or shouldnt be tied down, i strap em up good and solid.
Just this morning i killed a shift at the helm of the catamaran im busy sailing across the Indian ocean, by practising and learning a bunch of new knots. So i can tie even more stuff down than ever before!
Of course ive taken things a bit too far again. I just spent the last hour practising tying a proper noose in case i need to hang myself one day.
Dont get me wrong… i have no intention of topping myself. I have a bit of depression for sure.. but i dont think there are many people nowadays that dont live with at least a bit of it.
The world can sometimes appear to be a harsh and lonely place.
Even if you are surrounded by people, you can sometimes feel like you are isolated.. often by your own self imposed barriers that you have no idea how to tear down.
With all the famous people topping emselves lately, the subject has become a bit less taboo, and it seems like everybody is in the doldrums. But i think sometimes people like to wallow in their own misery a bit too much, instead of jumping up and getting dressed for war.
And I know… because i like to wallow a bit myself when i have a bad spell… but i always know what is going on.. and eventually i get dressed and get stuff done.
Running helps me too. Ever been depressed after a sprint around the block? When your heart feels like its about to attack you and you are straining to grab just one more gulp of air or you will surely expire? Believe me.. when your body is fighting for life… negative thoughts quickly disappear.
Anyhow.. this is getting a bit dark…
(And about to get worse)
Although this hanging incident was among some of the darkest times of my life, (it would only be another year before i left home for good) but this dark period was not the reason for me hanging myself.
And of course i had not tied the knots myself, or i would have crashed to the floor the moment i kicked the chair out.
My buddy and i had been messing about with a piece of rope we had found lying around. He had learned how to tie a noose, so of course we thought it a good idea to test it out.. on me.
Him and his sister helped to arrange everything just so. At the last minute i elected to put a skinny old pillow between my neck and the rope to avoid marking my neck up, cause if my mom found out id hung myself, she would have killed me herself.
After i kicked the chair out and i was well and truly hung, time seemed to stand still.
I couldnt turn my neck anymore.. so only my eyeballs moved. They looked down at my mate and his sister, who were both staring up at me expectantly.. mouths agape like curious monkeys.
Looking down at your mates who are watching you hanging from a doorframe by your neck, is something ill never ever forget. Its a very strange place to look at somebody from.
My mate asked.. “so how is it?”
I managed to mumble.. “pretty cool” and then i blacked out.
At that point a full stop could have been jotted down. My life was over really.. at the tender age of 11.
Just like that… all of the possibilities for the rest of my life would have evaporated. All the unexplored branches and paths of my convoluted route through this world would have ceased to exist.
I would never have met any of the wonderful people ive met.. would never have gotten the chance to climb mt Kilimanjaro and do a tattoo on the peak.. would never have fulfilled my dream of racing a rally car. Would never have sailed across oceans.. or fallen off cliffs in the Drakensberg.
Would never have read all my favourite authors books, or gotten the opportunity to try give something back to the world. Would never have made love.. or even gazed into the eyes of the very few special ladies that have crossed my path. Would never have gotten to watch my mother perform an absolute miracle and cast off the heavy cloak of addiction, in the process allowing us to reconcile, and her becoming my hero once again.. like she was when i was a tiny boy.
And i certainly wouldnt be on this awesome yacht trip to some of the coolest places in the world.
As it was… i came to after blacking out and my mate and his sister were going berserk. He was trying to lift me by my knees, which were limper than Elton Johns wrist of course.. and she was running in small circles screaming her head off.
Fortunately, between them they managed to get it together enough to get the chair back into position… and we now had another crazy story to tell.
But a month before i hung myself, i had contemplated suicide for real. I had climbed alone onto the roof of the building we were living in. My mate and i used to play up there sometimes so we knew all the climbing routes quite well.
This building we lived in was ‘no hope central’ and was a landmark in Durban for all the wrong reasons.
It was a dead end for all the people who had run out of luck or skill.
The guy who handed out white privilege coupons had clearly decided to give this place a skip… and i cant say i blame him.
Seen from above, the building was even shaped like a coffin.. and that rooftop was no stranger to desperate people who just wanted to check out.
Like many before me.. i stood at the edge of that rooftop, saying my goodbyes and making peace with what i was about to do.
Im scared of heights.. so i could not bring my legs to walk me clear off of it.
My normally sturdy pins even tremble uncontrollably on the edge of the high diving board at the local swimming baths… like a young mr. Bean.
So i got on my belly and slid my legs over the edge. The hosepipe in my head was sending adrenaline coursing through my body so fast that i almost fainted.
I steadied my breathing and eased myself lower… with only my elbows and forearms holding me to the side of the building now.
All i needed to do was open my arms and id be soaring through the air.. on the way to meet my maker… so i could give him a piece of my young, angry mind!
As tough as life had seemed back then.. and as little hope as there was for my young self.. i knew that i wanted to read just one more chapter of my own life story.
I wanted to live still… to at least watch my wretched little life spiral ever further down the drain. I wanted to see the bottom!
I’m one of those guys who always looks as i drive past an accident scene.. not in a disrespectful way of course, but the morbid curiosity is there i think because we all know it could be us over there… lying under the shiny blanket on the hot tarmac, and now i wanted to watch my own slow demise.
I wanted to bear witness! Wanted to grab the popcorn and watch the carnage as my head flew off and my limbs divorced themselves from my body, and went their separate ways during the slow motion train wreck that seemed to be my life.
I scrambled to gain purchase on the dusty rooftop so i could hoist myself back to safety, but that was not going to be simple.
Where just a few seconds ago i was ready to cast my life away like an old newspaper… i was now in a mad scramble to save it as the thick layer of dust offered very little grip, and maybe id already gone far too close to the edge of oblivion and now the world wanted its greedy share.
My sweaty lil paws clawed frantically at the sunbaked rooftop as i slid ever more backwards.
We were strong wiry kids back then.. always up to something.. always running somewhere.. or swinging through the trees.. picking up boulders to make forts… or climbing tall church steeples…. unlike the poor kids of today who sit about de-sensitizing themselves with x boxes.
Thankfully all this activity had conditioned my body for precisely this moment.. when i’d need to muster all of my strength to gradually haul my tiny body back up over that killer buildings infamous edge.
I lay in the baking sun panting for a long while.. the sweat from my exertion drying gradually on my dust covered face and arms.
There and then i decided that even if life was super tough.. and bound to get tougher.. it was still the best show around. So i’d need to stick it out till the credits rolled and the music stopped playing.
As John Irving said in his novel Hotel New Hampshire, when one of his characters wanted to kill herself.. ‘just keep passing the open windows Lilly’
And so my journey to keep passing the open windows had also begun.
Of course that was the single best decision i’ve ever made… because here i was now… bobbing about in the middle of the Indian ocean nearly 30 years later.. only one days sail away from the paradise islands of the Seychelles, and finally i could tie knots.
Even with my eyes closed i can now tie a good ol hanging noose.
Im very chuffed with myself.. cause i like to always be prepared.. like a boy scout, but without the uniform and badges.
But why a noose you ask? Thats not a typical sailing knot.
A few months ago i saw a vid on youtube. It was of a guy who had gone down with a sinking boat. He was trapped in the absolute pitch black darkness, sitting inside an air pocket in the hull of the boat, far underwater with no chance at all of escape.
He had been there for days already, and some divers had managed to get to him.
The great ending to this story is that the blessed mariner was rescued from what had seemed a totally impossible situation. There was absolutely zero hope for this guy as he sat there for what must have seemed an eternity.. wet, cold.. in total darkness.. his isolation chamber gradually running out of oxygen as his own exhalations built up a poisonous cloud which would eventually put him out of his misery.. but only after he had lost his marbles i’m sure..
Every time i get into a boat i think of this video.. and i know how lucky that guy was.
If i go down in a sinking boat.. there will be no team of frogmen sent out to check for signs of life.
Out here.. in the middle of the ocean.. nobody is coming for you.
You will be logged as ‘missing’ for a short while.. maybe a boat will even do a brief search on the surface.. and eventually your death certificate will be issued, with ‘presumed dead’ stamped or scrawled on it.
So if i were in the same situation as he was.. but with zero hope of a gallant deep diving knight in shining armour… i’d like to have the option… you know.. just in case i wanted to rather end it instead of going mental in the stifling blackness that was slowly choking the life out of me.
After all my hours of practise this morning, I can now tie a noose in total darkness… so in the unlikely event i find myself in just these same hellish conditions, i can now prepare a noose for use on the reaper when he comes to get me, or i can turn it on myself.
I am after all more qualified than most to use it.
And it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Although, knowing my luck.. i’d be stuck in a part of the boat that had nowhere to tie the other end of the rope to.. even though i can now tie a useable knot that could support my weight.