I hereby declare this conversation officially unHinged. A joke. Or my attempt at one. It lands, striking a chord I cannot hear. The range of interpretation is wide in an exchange not secured by voice, expression or gesture. You’ve been pretty unhinged from the beginning, he replies, manic tearful laughing face emoji. A joke? Or his attempt at one?
The conversation began on the dating app Hinge a few days ago when he commented on a comment I made about the absurdity of New Zealand cricket commentary. He added that, like me, he had recently returned home after spending time abroad. Like me, he was trying to fall back in step with the city he grew up in.
How are you finding it? Being home? These words appear on my phone screen differently, sent via the phone numbers we’ve now exchanged. Already, it feels more intimate. The disembodied words adopt an easy lilt.
I lie. Yeah, good.
A hinge connects two solid objects. An ideal hinge will allow those objects to rotate relative to one another on a fixed axis. One of the objects will generally provide support to its movable counterpart—the stable door frame for the swinging and volatile door.
The human body carries similar arrangements. Knees, elbows, fingers and toes all rely on a hinge joint to function correctly—to prevent them from adopting the reckless disorder of the ball and socket joints: the hip, the shoulder.
A hinge forces its attachments into a binary existence. A door will only ever be open or closed. Knees and elbows forever in one of two states: bent or straightened.
I can hear my knees. That’s another thing that happened when I turned 30. On top of my closet becoming an occupied territory of linen and a furtive pressure to start doing certain things with my body and money, joints began to object at a much higher frequency—a piercing timbre impossible to ignore.
The path is steeper than I remember. Narrower, too. I ran this track when I was a teenager. Back when a connection to land and place was as straightforward as the biomechanics of an agile body.
I am hemmed in on either side by dense bush. Gorse nips at my ankles, dually forcing me forwards and daring me to turn back. The ground is friable. It shatters beneath each footfall which fails to find a rhythm on the familiar and uneven surface. Each step dropping behind or before the beat. Each step trying to find the groove.
My weight rolls through the ball of each foot to balance on the big toe. A moment of tenuous connection, with the body suspended upright like a question: what are you doing here?
I hinge forwards.
‘Unhinged’ has been used figuratively since the seventeenth century to describe ‘a disorderly mind’ or ‘an instability’. That is on the softer end of the scale. Up the other end is ‘mentally deranged’ and ‘Trump’.
To be ‘off one’s hinges’ is to fall away from the cultural and societal framework. To be doing something wrong.
A person moving to a new environment might report feelings of mental distress, a physical discomfort and sense of being untethered that comes with the loss of cultural reference points.
These feelings are generally not associated with coming home.
We meet for a walk. It’s the second time we’re seeing each other like this: solid and mobile. The south coast has relaxed into the prevailing southerly. The sea lets itself be tossed, unresisting, as if in the hands of a capable dance partner.
How’re you doing?
Visible spontaneous reaction, previously hidden behind rolling ellipses, has forced us through the door to authenticity.
I hesitate. If I were anywhere else, I would say I felt free.