For some time now I have had a goal of transporting my Lego collection from its storage location at my mom’s house to my current place of residence. This past weekend, I made the beginnings of progress during a brief stop through Maryland.
When I arrived at her house, my mom had kindly gathered all of the bins from their various hiding places. I knew I had a lot of Lego, but somehow there was even more than I remembered. Part of this is because I used to put the sets away still partially constructed, which meant there was a lot of room for consolidation into smaller bins by fully taking everything apart.
It’s hard to overstate how much my brother’s and my childhoods revolved around Lego. From playing Duplo together when Mark could barely walk to our sprawling Lego City in the basement, we were always doing something with the modern implementation of Ole Kirk Christiansen’s “automatic binding bricks.” One of our favorite activities was telling stories with the various themed sets, naming characters and playing out innumerable adventures in space, underwater, or on the high seas. As we grew older (and our purchasing power increased), so did the complexity of the stories (and the extent of the collection). One of the Final Iterations (and the last one to take place in my bedroom) involved the 1998 Ninja theme. Ultimately the Ninja sets are the ones I decided to transport back with me to California, which led to Mark and I opening up the old bins with the intent of disassembling everything.
Our memories of the buildings, the characters and the stories we had spent so much time constructing came flooding back and we found ourselves caught in a surreal connection between the present and the past. We were overcome by wave after wave of powerful nostalgia, the powerful kind that grabs the stomach and twists. Everything had been put away exactly the way it always had been, with the clear expectation that we would soon be getting it back out. We had never said goodbye to that time, never decided that “this was it” and packed things into a closet. No, instead there was a day where we put the Lego in the box with no thought whatsoever that it would be the very last time. That the box of bricks, swords, and minifigures would remain sealed for fifteen years, the dust within still bearing clumps of fur from pets who have long since died.
As we started taking things apart, it somehow felt like taking apart the past. I can still see myself surrounded by those sets kneeling on the light blue carpet across from Mark, planning a raid or a betrayal. Knowing that they will likely never be built that way again left me with a cavernous empty feeling. That period, that time of my life, is over forever. Even now, as I start to reclaim my Lego collection, I won’t be playing out stories with my little brother like that–I’ll be interacting with them as an adult. I want to sort them into individual pieces and build something new, my own creations that will be both more complicated and more static.
Fifteen years is a long time. Our lives now are so very different from what we thought about and imagined at the time; I’m not sure we ever considered how much time existing would consume. I dreamed of getting my own place and setting up a Lego room. One of my good friends has already done that, years ago. Mark and I? Not so much. Instead we have moved and traveled, studied and hustled, all while the crates of Lego, laden with memories, sat waiting to be rediscovered.
I don’t want to go back and be twelve, and yet, there is still such a powerful sense of loss. One that deserves to be sat with and felt, even though that means some tears.