I don’t like playing Legos in front of my boyfriend.

He stood over the dining room table surveying my various solid-colored stacks of Lego blocks for a moment and then asked, “what are you doing?”

“I’m organizing them,” I said, hoping that would be enough of an explanation, even though I knew from his tone that he thought how I was going about organizing them was strange.

My birthday was a month and a half ago and he’d gotten me a set and a half of Legos that I had, until today, not touched. I almost wrote “I haven’t given them a second thought,” but I know that’s not technically true. I’ve been thinking about them a lot. And I have been choosing not to introduce Legos into my life for the exact reason I didn’t want to talk to him any more about them. I knew what itch they were going to scratch.

“Okay…” he said, trailing off to imply he found my answer inadequate. I hate when people do this. It’s always because you answered the question they actually asked and not the question they assumed you’d know they also wanted the answer to. I don’t think it’s fair to just expect me know what you want from me, even if I have some educated guesses. So I didn’t say anything. “The question is…” he continued, “why…?”

I had been separating all of the blocks into little piles by color. Then I was going through each color and organizing them by type, stacking the ones that match onto each other so my piles became separate little towers of varying shapes and sizes. Then I started to organize them by shape and size again, taking just the towers of traditional blocks and plugging them into a base by color. His ‘why’ could have meant any number of things so I thought for a minute. He could have been asking about my ultimate plan, which is as-yet to be determine. He may have been asking about my immediate plan, which is detailed and spans the course of several days. I didn’t really want to go into all that. He might have been asking about the motivation to even come up with such a plan, which was also kind of a long explanation of how I’ve been feeling mentally exhausted from this new job and how I feel a need to do something with my body, with my hands, where the rules are inherent and I don’t have to really think too much. But the overlap between that specific need and this specific activity seemed also simple and straightforward so I just answered “because I like it.” I even thought for a minute about how, after all this thinking and analyzing, the short answer I came up with felt like the most honest I could be. What it all comes down to is this makes me happy. It does beg the question, this same question that’s always hanging around the periphery, of why this type of activity makes me happy, but honestly, all the thinking and analyzing and fucking explaining takes away from the actual doing so I just went back to organizing my Legos.

“Alright,” he continued, clearly still not satisfied. “So… Ok, what are you going to do after it’s all organized?”

He wanted my plan. He wanted to know that I’m going to organize each type of block by color and put them in rainbow order. He wanted to know that, tomorrow, I’m going to use a pdf of an inventory of all the types of Legos and a chart of all the colors to put together a database of all possible Lego parts and colors. He wanted to know that I’m going to go through all of the Legos after I’ve organized them and create an inventory of all my Legos. He wanted to know that I’m going to buy individual blocks until I have even numbers of all the colors in the different type of blocks. And probably that wouldn’t be enough because he’d then want to know why I was going to do all of that, some answer other than ‘I like it,’ and the answer is I don’t fucking know. It makes me happy. It flashes the lights in my brain. It checks the boxes. It scratches the itch I knew it was going to scratch when I’ve been thinking about whether or not I want to do this whole fucking thing for months and then he made the decision for me. They were in the house. I just had to dive in. But if he wanted to know why all that was…

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.” I looked at him for a minute and then said, “I feel like you’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not making fun of you!” he assured me. He thought for a minute and then said “I’m going to let you do your thing.”

I know he wouldn’t intentionally mock me but I figured if I told him that it felt that way, he’d stop asking. And I needed him to stop asking because he’s not going to understand, no matter what questions he asks or how he phrases them. This is not going to make sense to him. And it’s exhausting. There’s no question he can ask that will help him understand why I’m not playing with the Legos the way he would play with the Legos. So maybe I should just play with them in private next time.

Maybe I’m stupid.

Feeling a lot of guilt today. I have younger sister with an autism diagnosis and, in a large family, she grew up being bullied a lot, both at school and at home. I never picked on her, except for the few times where I just lost my patience and said something quick and rude that had everyone laughing at her expense. Though I was always quick to make sure that she was eventually laughing too, I remember these times because they stick with me and hurt me. I don’t think it hurts because I hurt her but because I don’t want to be someone who behaves that way.

One thing I never fully grasped was how the things that bother you about other people are actually the things that bother you about yourself. As a depressed person with what I am pretty sure is undiagnosed adhd, my fuse can be a little short in the car. It’s short everywhere but only behind the wheel with no ability to remove myself from the situation do I get so worked up that I resort to shouting and name-calling out of pure vitriolic rage. These other drivers make me so mad I call them idiots and tell them they’re stupid. I tell them they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house because they are so dumb. It wasn’t until my sister told me how she’d confronted her partner’s fatphobia while they were behind the wheel calling everyone a fat-head or a fat-ass or something that it clicked for me how, at the height of anger where emotions are highest and reasoning is the lowest, the insults we hurl say more about us and our values system than it does about the object of our wrath. Like, in my messed up view of the world from best to worst, I’ve internalized stupidity as the objective worst. But it’s not objective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my autistic sister and why I couldn’t have been better to her. I’ve been thinking a lot about how her behaviors make complete sense to me and whether that means that we have some lines of thinking in common or if I have just been around her enough and am perceptive enough to have gotten to know her a bit. My own sister. But I don’t honestly know. In truth, the answer is never within these narrow binaries I’m mining but that doesn’t seem to stop me from going down that route.

I used the insults in traffic just as an analogy to illustrate how the qualities in others that bother us are usually qualities we don’t like about ourselves. I was thinking that I have had this aversion to my sister because there are similarities and, while this is true, and while there are also similarities between myself and all of my siblings, one of the reasons my sister was diagnosed and I wasn’t is because she is intellectually disabled. I guess it makes sense that, if I think the worst thing in the world is to be stupid and if I am terrified that I am stupid, I would certainly resent any similarity between myself and my sister, whom I perceive to be stupid. But these aren’t my values. These are the same values that told me I was gifted and I could take care of myself and I didn’t need anything that tell my sister she is insufficient, she’s different, she can’t participate, she can’t take care of herself. I used to hear the way she spoke to people, the things she would say, and just cringe because it always sounded like she was reenacting a bad sitcom, complete with the over-dramatization. But if I think about it, isn’t that also how I learned?

So many of the lessons I learned growing up are flawed. Everything I learned about racism, about capitalism, about religion… even things I learned about science, about language… I don’t know why I thought my understanding of intelligence itself would be left unscathed but I think it’s more malleable than I thought. And I think there are different kinds of intelligence. We all have inherent value. That’s the thing I wish I had been taught and internalized. We all have inherent value.

It runs in the family.

I am the oldest son of an oldest son. I have six younger siblings. My dad had seven. I have been typing and erasing for an hour because it’s hard to understand this tenuous relationship between my dad and me without all of the context. He is the chaotic presence I blame for the lack of structure and security growing up. My life has been plagued by poverty and housing insecurity with waves of religious trauma and addiction. I want to write about how he went to jail when I was in kindergarten and how my twenty-something mom moved her four kids into a homeless shelter. I want to write about how in my memories, there was a chunk of time when my dad was not there, and then he was. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned he had actually come home at some point after getting out of jail and chose to leave us again. I want to write about the various bouts of homelessness or him getting fired from jobs for stupid mistakes and thinking he was above any kind of rules or regulations. But I guess the story of a son wanting to grow up into anything but his father is not so unique.

Yesterday we went to a party my uncle threw for his daughter who just graduated med school. The contrast of how my dad’s brother has built his life fills me with regret and envy. Moments after arriving and taking in the scene of the giant back yard with tables and chairs and tents and coolers, the fire pit, the gravel bocce court, the cornhole setup, the trees, the grass, the in-ground pool, the crowd of people laughing and drinking and smoking, one of my brothers arrived. It must have been bothering him, (or maybe he just thought I’d want to know,) because soon after our hellos, he was telling me how my dad almost got arrested this week. My mom’s car has been acting up, (the latest in a history of transportation-related insecurities to go along with the homelessness,) and my dad took his car to go get a part for hers. Except he was driving on a spare tire and apparently ended up getting stranded when another tire went flat. The details are foggy but this somehow turned into him getting drunk and getting himself home somehow, where he said he’d had enough of “this life” and left again. Evidently, the local police called my mother the next day to tell her he’d been found passed out in someone’s yard. He is 64 years old. I can’t help think of a serious talk I had with my boyfriend the last time I got drunk and lost control. “You’re almost 40 years old!” he said, like there is a certain age where drinking to black out might actually be appropriate. I felt intense shame in that moment and it’s a second-hand feeling of shame when I think of my father, a few months from 65, drinking himself unconscious in a stranger’s back yard.

Then it was maybe 20 minutes later that my mom and dad arrived at the party. I didn’t even want to look at him. But I watched him. I wish I could know what everyone was thinking. I see my dad, the oldest brother, laughing and playing around and I just feel embarrassed because I don’t see anyone laughing and playing around with him. I have this craving for belonging, for community, that swallows me up sometimes and makes me feel like I cannot exist without the validation of a group. I’ve grown up feeling like I ought to feel like I belong in this giant family, this crowd of people who all look like me, but always feeling excluded. When I was young and my family was homeless, did we get help from my grandparents or my aunts and uncle? I know when I was older and my dad’s sister was struggling with substance abuse, the rest of the siblings swooped in to take care of the children. My uncle and a few of my aunts just flew out to see my cousin graduate. From the outside, it feels like my father’s siblings think of him as the disabled sibling that they don’t want to deal with. “He’s special so we just let him do his thing.” He doesn’t get invited to things and he doesn’t have the means to contribute to things financially like they do. Where we’ve struggled so much over the last 30+ years and continue to struggle, I see other parts of my family caring for each other, building relationships and taking care of one another. They know each other. But no one knows me.

Maybe this is all in my head.