“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very brightly”
Raif and I went to boarding school together as kids back in England, he was only there a short time, but he was a cool guy and part of my expanded circle of friends. He caused a stir by building himself a coffin in woodworking to sleep in – I thought it was funny, some thought he was disturbed – I remember him as kind.
A few years back, I don’t remember how, but through the internet we got back in touch with each other. I made a trip to LA and we met up for dinner. We talked easily and comfortably for hours, and though there was some reminiscing as is typical of long lost friends, we also found we had much in common and somehow so much to say.
We kept in touch via email, with him writing me long and fantastic stories, telling me of his excitement of his latest venture, travels or new boat – through his emails I lived a vicarious life in the horrors of Las Vegas and in the warm waters of the Bahamas.
And yet, like others I’ve known who’ve shared his early fate, he seemed like a star that burned too brightly and was destined to fall. He was almost too much for this world, handsome, kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent and very clever. He chose to live of little means, at times virtually homeless. When I met him in LA he was living out of a beat up old Mercedez truck, and yet offered me an open invitation to stay at his house in the Bahamas. He has a son, Joseph, who he fondly called “my little hippy boy”, he may not have spent as much time with him as maybe he should have, but I know he loved him.
He wrote songs and played guitar, and with his band played a weekly gig for passersby on Venice Beach. He sung with a soulful voice that was a cross between Al Stewart and The Pogues. He gave me a couple of his CDs which lived for weeks in my stereo, becoming the records that you somehow get addicted to. (www.ballyrag.com)
We didn’t see much of each other in the short time that we reconnected, but the connection of growing up together, of shared friends and shared experiences created a deep bond that is so rare. Every email between us ended with a promise of one of us visiting the other soon. He was the type of friend that drops in and out of your life, and it was as though you had just seen him the day before.
He wrote me this in his last email:
“I can’t sleep. I need to get up tomorrow at 4 so I can be out of the harbor by 5. I have been tossing and turning and finally gave up and took a sleeping pill which will probably kick in soon. The sleeping pill is called Imovan, and if you take one you Ain’movan for very long. It is a type not available in the US , they call it a ‘hypnotic’, your eyes cross, your knees no longer support your weight and you could sleep on a bed of nails. Bet you want one.
My boat is 49 feet long, she’s a bit of a handful, especially when my back is bad. The anchors weigh 65 lbs each, each foot of chain weighs about 2 lbs and there is about 300 feet of it! Every now and then I get into a situation which reminds me that she is far too big, then I curse at her and call her a heavy slug and that usually helps. Thing is that I can’t charter with anything smaller. She has two cabins, two heads with showers, nice big salon and a huge cockpit.
Let me tell you what happened yesterday because it’s funny. First thank you for remembering my ear, it’s doing quite well. In fact I am freediving my ass off. I told you I was into freediving didn’t I? Yes, well, I’m holding my breath for well over 5 mins now! Five and a half is my record to date! I’m going for 165 feet, 50 m. I’m bragging, but let me.
One of the cardinal rules of freediving is to never do it alone, pretty obvious really. Still because I am most often on my own these days I sometimes solo freedive anyway. I know, I know, but I do. So yesterday was a lovely day, just beautiful. Flat calm seas, no wind, crystal clear water, tieni presente? So I decided to do a bit of diving. I took my dinghy out to 70 feet of water and hopped over the side.
I was bouncing up and down, happy as a bee in a lavender patch, playing a game of grandmother’s footsteps with a 60 lb grouper who wasn’t sure if I represented some form of food or a threat. Then out of the blue haze a monster shark came along, myopically oblivious of my presence but unnerving, he was swimming straight at me. I was on the bottom. (the imovin is kicking in, ill never make it, must type faster). I put my arms straight out like a starfish, to look bigger, it worked, he pulled a ninety degree turn and took off and I though that would be the end of it. But no, he turned around and started coming off the bottom and swimming up at me with his back arched and with exaggerated aggressive movements. They usually don’t behave that way unless they smell blood, so I swum right at him. This is my M.O., I swim at them and that usually makes them bugger off, they are like dogs, cowardly, mostly. (The computer screen is all bubbly now. I digress.) So the shark, intimidated by my charge, skulked off again for a loop and then tuned again, coming back at me quite quickly, he looked irritated. So I swam at him again. He was really big, bigger than me anyway, which is big enough. I doubt that my arms could have spanned his girth. (Wow, I am spacing, this is getting mighty difficult.)
Must finish. As we were playing this gay little game the dinghy had drifted away and now was about a hundred yards away, forcing me to capitulate and swim fast to catch it.
I got out of the water with rather less cool than I muster in front of people I am choosing to impress and did not get back in the saddle that day. Anyway, freediving alone = not good.”
July 22nd, 2007 Raif died doing one of the things he loved best, free diving in the warm Bahamian waters.
Though it makes the pain of losing you so much greater, I am so glad and honored that I had the pleaure of knowing you once again as an adult. But now I will miss you, dear Raif, I truly will.