I believed that I was nearing fourteen years of age. I had asked my mother to stop celebrating my birthday at the beginning of every January. After missing all of the holidays in the two previous months, I didn’t want her to take pity on me and try to cram all of those days into one. It only made me miss the outside world more, which wasn’t what I needed.
What I needed was to get smarter and stronger, both mentally and physically. And that was exactly what I did. The readings got harder, the mathematics got crazier, the history more complex, and science came into play, too, since it would be nothing short of important to know the kind of land I would be treading on. And soon, my mother went back to trying to teach me life skills.
At first, she tried to teach me about cooking, saying that food would be absolutely essential not only for myself but also for my future pokémon. Eventually, this endeavor failed, as the leader of Team Rocket made it absolutely forbidden for me to leave my cell for any reason. He thought that I would go on a vengeful rampage if I were let out too soon. As he had said in his office, it would be he who decided when I could be set free. So my mother told me all about berries, about which ones were good for a pokémon’s growth and which ones were poisonous. She told me about which types of human foods were good for me (for this, she brought well-planned meals to show me in person) and which were bad for pokémon. Avocados were bad for flying-types, excess chocolate was unhealthy for anyone, and so on.
She taught me how to fight. This, she said, was something that we would learn together. She read up on martial arts and watched videos about it and relayed all the information that she had learned to me. In the small room of the cells, we practiced kicking and punching and headlocks and any kind of move that could stop a potential murderer dead in his tracks. I asked her whether or not I would really have to use these techniques someday, and she said she hoped not, but it never hurt to be prepared.
She taught me about traveling. She told me to keep all of my pokémon out of their pokéballs at night. This was to ensure safety for myself when I was sleeping. I was to make damn sure, however, that none of them snuck off and got themselves hurt. Well, that would be easy enough, I mused, since I didn’t sleep much anyway. She taught me about making fires and how to prepare my backpack for upcoming trips and how to find clean water nearby if I didn’t already have some. I asked her if this was really okay, since one of the rules of the game was to not have any trusting bonds between pokémon and me (to prevent separation anxiety when the time came to give them away), and she said that it was just a risk that I’d have to take.
Lastly, she taught me how to read maps. She taught me about what all the little symbols meant, and how to tell which way was north and south and east and west. I learned information about each individual town in Johto, but that was it, seeing as how it would be impossible to leave the region. This would important, she said, when trying to figure out where to go… especially if I ever had to return to Mahogany Town at any point. She hoped that would never have to happen, because she could tell I didn’t like it here. Well, wasn’t that the truth? But I trusted her to make this game play out as fairly and as peacefully as possible, so I kept my mouth shut this time.
I tried to keep it all straight in my head, but my skill at retaining information was easily starting to fade. Ever since I had started the medication, my memory had become worse and worse. That was what Dr. Richards had meant when he said they could potentially ruin my brain chemistry, I supposed. I didn’t tell him or my mother, however, because I didn’t want to make it look like I was going to give up so easily, and I didn’t want my mother telling Giovanni that all of the lessons that were aimed at me were for nothing.
I focused on getting better, on not being sick anymore. But it was the hardest thing I had ever done and probably would ever do. Not being sick anymore required me to be an entirely different person… a person that I just didn’t know how to be. The fact that I had little contact with others made it impossible to live vicariously, and the fact that it was my brain causing me to be this way, not my own personal choices, made my decision even less than useless.
More people came into the cells. They were just as crazy as me, so they didn’t help. A woman named Kuiora Loki said that she had the same disease as me, though hers was easily controlled by creativity. She was obsessed with the idea of sculptures and carvings of pokémon, especially legendary pokémon. She tried to etch her drawings into the stone walls at first, threatening to break through the walls and escape to her freedom. My mother—who was officially in charge of this project, it seemed—brought her several carving blocks over the course of a few months. Kuiora was released almost immediately once Giovanni saw how gentle and genial she was when she expressed herself in her own way… and once he saw how much money he could make off of selling her work.
Another man, Atis Harleen, was the quietest person I had ever met… not that I had met many people. To me, it seemed that the saying which claimed the quietest ones were the ones to watch out for was true. It took me two months just to get his full name out of him. He slept most of his time away, and once I was released, he was still there. I never figured out what was wrong with him or if there was anything wrong at all.
The last person to come to the cells when I was there was another man. He could only stand it for one night. He soon went into a screaming frenzy, yelling about how he didn’t deserve to be put in a place like this. He was apparently going to go somewhere else, somewhere better, against everyone’s will. He said that he was going to give my mother—and anyone who could hear him—two hours before he let himself go. “If you really want me,” he said, “you’ll come and get me!” But no one came. Two hours later, just as he vowed, I heard the loud sound of bone cracking against concrete. It sounded very familiar to me, given my previous excursions on pokémon battlefields. I covered my ears, but still I heard it over and over. It was so loud, and soon, there was nothing. Later, I found out that he had banged his skull against the stone walls until he had put himself into a coma. Giovanni had him executed since he didn’t want to pay for the care it would take to repair him.
These people, though I had little to no contact with them (they were uninterested in me and in the pokémon in the room), they meant the world to me. I felt them in my heart and I didn’t even know them. They gave me hope, they gave me strength, even the unknown man. I especially felt this way when Kuiora was released. I knew that I would be set free somehow, someway, and that things would get better not only for me, but also for the world—because of my doing. My mother promised me the same thing, and when she did, I smiled wider than I ever had whenever she wasn’t around.
Above all, they helped me to shape my future pokémon team. I wanted to honor their lives and memories, and I was going to do just that. I pledged to keep my future pokémon with similar personalities or hobbies. They would even have the same names. There was Senori and Kuiora and Atis and—well, I would figure out his name later. It seemed like the perfect plan to me, despite knowing that I would have to return them to Team Rocket someday. That part of the project was always stuck in the back of my mind, mostly ignored. I would deal with it when the time came, I decided.
And instead of having delusions (which the medications seemed to have thankfully destroyed), I had strange and vivid dreams instead, ones that also helped me shape my future team. I saw flashes of yellow and cackling electricity, which reminded me of the poor nameless man and the price he had to pay to reach the sky above. There were many rivers where water wavered between rippling calmly and rippling wildly. And there was an army and a strong leader in front of the pack. I took these as important signs that I should remember someday, as I wasn’t imagining gore and violence for once.
I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed, and for once, my future seemed beautiful.
“So, what was that man’s name? I’m sure my mother tried to get you to come and talk to him. Am I right?”
“The one who I assume tried to commit suicide and failed.”
“That has no place here. I’d like to know how you’re feeling.”
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew the man’s name.”
“I don’t know the man’s name.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Now, how are you feeling?”
“I feel better. But I still miss the outside world.”
“I don’t think that will go away.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the optimistic one?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“How about if I do you a favor?”
“Tell me anything that you want to see. Anything from the outside world, and I’ll bring it to you.”
“I will. Right now, whatever it is.”
“Well… I don’t have a window in here. Show me what looks like outside your window at twilight. My favorite part of day.”
“I can do that. I’ll be right back.”
A very, very long silence.
“I was starting to think you’d never come back.”
“Of course I would. I had to think about it, though. I couldn’t just take a picture and develop it, since it’s not twilight yet.”
“What time of day is it?”
“I brought you this.”
“Yes. I guess I can tell you one bad thing about myself... since I know so much about you. I’m, ah, afraid of the dark. At twilight, everything starts to turn black, just like the dots on the die. And for me, it’s scary. The only safe place is inside. It’s light and bright inside. The white resembles the purity that I feel from this safety. The intensity at which I feel this fear varies each day… thus the varying numbers on each side of the die.”
“You’re highly creative. I wish I was.”
“So I’ve been told. Does it suit you?”
“It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but yes, I suppose so. …Can I keep it?”
“Thank you. Thank you.”
To keep myself occupied, Dr. Richards suggested that I should try to find ways to make my future pokémon journey special. I told him that that would be breaking the rules. I couldn’t get close to my pokémon. Well, he said. If I really wanted to be creative, then I could find ways to follow the rules and make things special. So I did.
With my mother’s insistence, I would have a lot of money, so I would give each of my pokémon their own rooms. That would keep us separated, and would give them a lot of much needed privacy. Yes, that seemed perfect. And I would use the pair of die… somehow. I would make my pokémon roll the dice for me when I was catching them. If they were meant to be with me, then the die would land just right. One, two, three, four, five, six pokémon—they would get whatever correct number they were supposed to get. I knew that I was right because every time I thought about Senori being my first pokémon, I rolled the die and came up with only ones. That would surely make them feel like they belonged on my team and nowhere else, even if they didn’t particularly like me (when I assumed they wouldn’t, given my… disease).
I was going to be released soon. I just knew it. I could feel it in my bones, in my heart.
Of course, things didn’t always go as planned, especially not for me. Things never wanted to go my way.
The medication only partially kept me stable. I still went off into rages, and a few nights later, I went into one of my worst ones yet. It wasn’t my fault (at least, I didn’t like to think so), but the damage was still the same.
The pokémon in the cages were particularly restless that night. For some reason, my mother was late in bringing us food, and the water was dirtied from not being refilled as it should have been. I didn’t mind (and apparently neither did Atis), but the pokémon were fretting. If they had to be stuck here as loyal test subjects, then they believed that they should be treated right in every form possible.
“It’s bad enough that I have to share a home with this goddamn kadabra,” Arbok said. He, too, was in a hateful mood that night.
“Don’t forget that I can mess up your mind. You should watch what you say,” the kadabra replied in an even voice.
“If you could do that, then you should have ruined the minds of these scientists long ago and gotten us out of here. You’re useless,” the snake retaliated.
As their exchanges started to escalate, my mother just happened to come into the basement, a tray of food in hand. She apologized for her lateness, but she had thought of a great idea for me, which only made the pokémon glare in my direction. I shied back into the corner of my cell. She went on, saying that she had wanted to get approval from the boss. It always took a while to be able to talk to the boss. She settled down the pokémon by giving them their food, and then went back upstairs temporarily for the rest. She returned, gave Atis his food, which he thanked her feebly for, and then, before I knew it, she was in my cell, smiling excitedly. I stared at her, expecting her to say that it was time to leave—for good.
“Sai,” my mother said. “I thought about how else I could help you on your journey. Well, battles are going to play a huge, huge part. And Giovanni won’t let you out to battle on the second floor with everyone else, but he said—” She extended her arms out to show me the room, as if I had never seen it before. “—we could fight in here.”
“In my cell…?” I said stupidly. “That sounds quite a bit dangerous, even for you guys…”
“You’ll… still be in here,” my mother said regretfully, “but the pokémon will be in the center of the room. It’s big enough. And they know better than to disobey by now,” she added, peering over to the other side of the room. The pokémon didn’t dare look up from their feeding bowls.
“Okay,” I said simply. “Whatever you think is best. I trust you.”
“As you always have,” my mother said. “Let’s get started.”
Once the pokémon were finished eating, she locked me back in and then she took the arbok and the kadabra out of the cells. I silently told myself that the idea of her choosing any other pokémon in the room would be guaranteed if she had heard their scuffling earlier. She brought them out into the middle of the room, and as expected, they were on their best behavior as they obeyed mindlessly. The arbok was placed on my side, and she would be battling with the kadabra. The two pokémon hissed as they stared each other down, and I knew that they weren’t pretending to hate each other.
“You’ve seen battles before… and you’ve even been in them yourself sometimes,” my mother said quietly. “But it’s an entirely different thing to be controlling the battle. You have to know your pokémon inside and out to be able to predict how they’re going to fight. You have to know their attack specialties, their defensive strategies, and, of course, their moves. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said simply, as I so often had during previous lessons.
“Good. I won’t explain much. It’s better for you to learn by doing. I’ll let you go first.”
It suddenly occurred to me that this was what I would be doing in the real word if I ever got released—no, when I got released. I froze as what seemed like a million emotions welled up in my chest, threatening to make it explode. The thought of making pokémon battle in such a harsh manner, as Team Rocket so often encouraged, was unbelievable to me. I only wanted to make friends with pokémon, to share their hopes and dreams and to have them know mine. But I had to follow the rules. I wasn’t able to get close to pokémon. I had to battle with them and make them strong enough to become a fearful force of Team Rocket. To do anything else would lead to my death…
I gulped, pretending that there was something stuck in my throat that was preventing me from speaking. Finally, I said, “I don’t know any of the arbok’s moves.”
“Then think of standard moves like tackle, scratch, defense curl, and tail whip. Just like I taught you when we went over pokémon basics.”
“Okay… Arbok, use tackle!” I cried, using the force that my mother had instructed me to use, all that time ago. She said that it was vital to sound like I meant it when I was ordering them around, or they wouldn’t have respect for me or feel the need to listen to me.
It appeared that I had used the right tone of voice, because the arbok immediately lunged at the kadabra, headfirst and with full power. Or maybe he was just waiting for the command so that he could tear the kadabra apart. Either way, my first command as a pokémon trainer seemed to have worked. There was an odd sense of relief that passed through my body, and I welcomed it wholeheartedly.
This didn’t last long, however, as the arbok didn’t stop at just a tackle attack. The kadabra flung backward and caught itself before it fell on its back. The arbok darted forward again, and the same scenario repeated itself, except that the snake didn’t allow for the psychic-type to get up. He plopped down on the kadabra’s body and stayed there, watching the pokémon beneath him struggle to get back up.
“Arbok, get off of him!” I cried, clinging on to the bars, wanting to get closer to help the kadabra out. Apparently, the arbok couldn’t hear me over the kadabra yelling the same thing, because he didn’t appear to hear me. The snake, of course, was more prone to listen to me than its opponent.
“Kadabra, use psychic! Don’t hold back,” my mother said.
The kadabra stiffened, holding out the spoon in his hand as he closed his eyes and focused. The arbok was soon enveloped in a bluish light, and he rose up into the air. He tried to lash out at the psychic-type with his teeth without me ordering him to, but it was too late to reach far enough. He went higher and higher into the air, and suddenly, his body started twisting in peculiar ways. The kadabra telekinetically caused the arbok’s tailbone to crack and break, making the snake wail and wail. The mixture of horrible sounds seemed to reverberate in the air.
“Why are you doing that to him? This is supposed to be a battle!” I cried, my eyes wide and my heart hammering.
“The kadabra could have easily broken the arbok’s neck instead,” my mother said, entirely unaffected. “We believe that pokémon should, at all times, use their full power… and their full power should be enough to kill another if necessary. If they can’t do that, then they’re useless to us.” She sighed. “I thought you knew this, Sai.”
“I do know that. I did. I just… Bad things should only happen to bad people, like the ones I hurt… These pokémon are good and trapped here for no reason…”
I let my voice trail off as I had to center my attention to my abruptly shaking body. I tried to make it stop, but found it impossible. My volatile thoughts argued against each other. Some of them said that violence was the answer, while the other half claimed that no, there had to be another way, there just had to be, or life was meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. The sight before me was a blur, and the screaming deafened. I was rolling and rolling around in my head incessantly; I had a front row seat to the end of my world, and there was nothing I could do about it.
My grasp on the bars in front of me tightened considerably. I was used to my view being obscured by these long, thick pieces of metal that also blocked my freedom. Sometimes they were moved out of the way, but I could never see out of the door long enough to keep myself satisfied for more than a few seconds. And I thought—even if I were to be let out of this place, maybe nothing would ever be enough. Maybe I would never get used to the feeling of sun beating down on the back of my neck. Maybe I would never get over the way that grass can tickle my feet when I’m not wearing shoes. Maybe I would never get over the way it feels to converse about the simple things in life. I missed it so now, and although I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to the experiences, it could at least be a wonderful time. Better than this. I had to know if things would get better or worse or if they would stay the same. I always wanted to be let go, but the desire to be set free wasn’t something you could just get used to, like catching colds or eating at the same time every day… Yes, it was just as terrible, just as terrifying every time it happened.
I shook the bars in front of me, trying to make them bend to my will and break, just like the kadabra had done to the arbok, only my actions wouldn’t have been cruel and unnecessary. The bars weren’t living and breathing creatures—or were they? What did I know? All I knew was that they didn’t budge. Instead, I beat at them with my head, but this only reminded me of the nameless man, and I didn’t want to be like him, I really didn’t, so I used my arms and hands and legs instead, and every strike hit with a loud clang, but nothing caused any damage, not even a dent. This only made me angrier. I used my own full force, ignoring the obvious pain that followed. Agony shot through my arms and up to my shoulders, through my legs and down to my feet, but I only kept going. I firmly believed that if I gave up now, then I would never get out. I would be trapped here forever, stuck in my own devious mind, my own spiteful body. I couldn’t deal with that. I just couldn’t.
“Let me out!” I screamed at my mother. Again and again. She was the only one who could help me. She was the one who had given birth to me, she was the one who had raised me, she was the one who had taught me things that I needed to know. She had done all of this for me, so why couldn’t she let me out? Why was she so powerless in the one area that could help me the most?
Let me out!
My arms were forming bruises that would last for weeks, a seemingly everlasting reminder of rage that doesn’t leave.
My legs hit a small, sharp section that was protruding from the main bar, which sliced my toes. Blood seeped to the floor, drip by drip, as if that part of my body was crying.
I hit and hit, screamed and screamed. My mother was on the other side of the door, trying to soothe me with her calming voice. It didn’t work, for it was obvious that she was scared of me. Otherwise she would have come in and held me, like she always did.
I slid to the floor and sobbed and sobbed for a life that I didn’t even know.
“You say that bad things only happen to bad people?”
“Bad things just happened to you. Are you a bad person?”
“Yes… I don’t follow the rules that I should. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to when I get out, either.”
“This isn’t your fault. You’re sick, you know.”
“You did this, and you don’t think you’re ill?”
“I never said that I didn’t think I was sick.”
“Well, you certainly don’t seem to act like there’s anything wrong with you. You act so… normal when you’re around me, it’s hard to believe you’re a patient at all.”
“I don’t know who I am.”
“You’re Sai Luart.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you’re a strong, courageous boy who’s been through a lot. You’re kind and you’re a dreamer. And it means that you have a lot to look forward to.”
“What do you want from me?”
“What do you want from me? What do you want from my life?”
I want to love you… whoever you are and whatever that means. I want to eat ice cream on the swing set in the backyard with you and I want you to watch part of the moon say hello to its other half and I want to watch your favorite movies and listen to your favorite songs and eat your favorite foods just to wear your heart and I want to one day stop counting the months, the days, the minutes, the seconds, until I can see you and I want to have someone to talk to when something good or bad or extraordinary or humiliating happens to me and I want you to like your name just because of the way I say it and I want to learn to cook just for you and I want to laugh at stupid jokes until I cry and I want to try to take care of you before I send you to a doctor and I want you to love yourself more than you love me and I want to save you from your senseless fears and and and
and I want to go on adventures with you and pretend that there’s something left for me to find and I want to hear all about your past life and I want to remember every small detail about you and I want to find any excuse in the world to hold you and touch you and breathe you in and I want to worry about you all the time because I’ll be so scared that I’ll lose you any sooner that I have to and I want to stay up late into the night with you because reality feels okay when I’m with you and and and
and I want to tell you that you’re perfect again and again and wonder why you don’t believe me and I want to spend my life convincing you that you’re perfect and I want to experience the feeling of doing something you don’t understand for the sake of another and I want to cherish your existence because it gives me hope and I want to dream about all these things I want to do with you and for you and I want them to happen in real life and I want to tell you that dreams really do come true so we can feel young again
and I want to avoid shame and pain and fear and I want to repress my emotions and I want to beat the social norms I know and I want to fight against coercion and secrecy and I want to receive positive attention and I want to boost my self-confidence and I want to defend myself and I want to reach all of my goals and I want to stop charging toward my death
and and and
I want to
show you this
unbelievable enduring unbreakable everlasting persistent endless captivating overwhelming completing empowering undying love I feel for life.
More time passed. There wasn’t much left for me to learn, apparently, so I stuck to remembering things from the past, but it was hard. It was as if my memory had somehow been blocked recently. I could easily recall emotions that I had felt, but facts such as how type differences affected a pokémon battle slipped my mind. Not having anything to teach me meant that my mother showed up less and less. I became lonelier and lonelier. I slept with my books and shoes and clothes on the other side of the bed to make it feel like I was sleeping next to someone. It somewhat worked.
Once I heard the news--after much, much time had passed since the incident—that I was going to be released the following day, I immediately became restless. I felt wholly unprepared, and it was as if I had literally forgotten everything. I paced around the room the entire night because I was unable to sleep. The pokémon in the room looked at me with disgust and didn’t even bother to say good-bye the following morning. That was fine. It would be better, I knew, if we could say hello somewhere else. Somewhere better.
When my mother came downstairs to get me, she ignored them entirely. She took the keys to the cell out of her pocket and unlocked the door. I couldn’t help but notice that her hand was shaking as she did so, making it harder to slide the metal open. I looked up and smiled at her. She was nervous too, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
“Come on, Sai,” she said. “We’ve got a few things to do before you go.”
I nodded. I followed her upstairs, looking at my cell one last time before rounding the corner. It hit me that there was, at least, one good thing about being all the way in the basement for the majority of my life. The realization was this: no matter where I would go from here, I could only go up. Up the stairs and out the door into the world.
She brought me to the third floor. Walking up the stairs had already put a strain on my legs, and I made a mental note that I would have to build up strength if I really wanted to go on this long journey. I was also able to notice that the scientists had done a decent job at cleaning up the terrible messes that I had left behind as a child. All of the machines looked brand new, and their desks were organized. The floor I saw was the complete epitome of cleanliness. The second floor was the same, though I was brought into an office that I hadn’t known existed. The first thing I noticed was a desk that showed a nametag that said “Melanie Luart” on it.
“Sit down,” she said, motioning to the seat in front of the desk. I did so. It was the first of many orders that I would have to obey. I vaguely knew it at the time, but I didn’t feel the full force of my obligations until she started speaking again.
“You know your mission, yes? You are to set out on your own pokémon journey. Giovanni and I have decided that you are as ready as you’ll ever be.”
“Must you be so formal?” I said, shifting around slightly. I didn’t know what I had been expecting once I got released, but it wasn’t this. There was much more to come; I just had to be patient for a little while longer.
“Yes,” she said simply. “Anyway, your ultimate goal is to prepare pokémon for our use, experimental or otherwise. To do this, you must raise them to the best of your abilities. Utilize everything I’ve taught you thus far. Catch pokémon that have the most potential by any means necessary. The pokémon must become as strong as possible, and when you think they’re ready, you must report to us and send them to our laboratory. You are not to become attached to them. This ensures that you won’t betray us. You are not allowed to leave the region or stray too far away from the main route.”
“The main route?”
“Yes. You will start in New Bark Town and go from there. This is where all trainers start their journeys, supposedly... This is where it will be easiest to find pokémon that you can control.”
“...Do I need to know anything else?”
“Nothing that you shouldn’t know already. Train as much as you can. Don’t stay in one place for too long, or you’ll be prone to start wasting time. We can’t have you slacking off. If we do catch you doing anything that doesn’t meet our approval, then you will be punished accordingly.”
I stared at her blankly. Hadn’t I already been punished enough just for existing? Saying nothing, I then looked down to the ground, wanting to leave already. If the team was in such a rush, why were we wasting time here? I was feeling too energetic for my own good.
“If I think of anything else, then I’ll be sure to let you know,” my mother said, standing up. She gestured for me to join her and so I did. Before we left the room, I saw a picture frame sitting on her desk that showed me from when I was younger. Did I really ever look like that? And it had been so long that I didn’t even know what I looked like now. She seemed to notice my curiosity, as she led me into the room next door, which was just the staff bathroom. From my peripheral vision I could see a large mirror hanging on the wall, and my skinny frame immediately stuck out.
“You need to clean yourself up before you go. Make yourself look presentable,” she said. She reached into her pockets once more, making me think that she was going to lock me in again. Instead, she pulled out a small sharp device and handed it to me. “This includes shaving,” she added, smirking.
“How do I do that?”
“Figure it out. You’re a man now, right?” she said. She left me in the room by myself, alone and confused.
Of course, I wasn’t interested in making myself presentable. The mirror and the image of myself that I hadn’t seen in years mesmerized me instead. I leaned in over the sink, taking a look at my face. Noticing my dark blue eyes first, I couldn’t help but think that they looked rather intimidating. They were eyes that were accustomed to the dark. They were accustomed to the same old views, and now they were seeing something new. There was a spark inside of them that I had never seen anywhere else. I wondered if they would change at all over the course of my journey.
I also wondered when I had changed so much otherwise. When had my hair turned black? Had it always been black? I thought I had seen the little boy in the picture have brown hair, but now I was not so sure. Seeing myself all at once threw me off guard. And how old was I now, anyway? I still had a young face with soft skin and all, aside from the stubble that covered the bottom half... Well, I wasn’t about to ask. The answer would only tell me how many years I had lost.
I stared at myself for so long that it suddenly hit me that I was wasting time already, just like they didn’t want me to. After quickly taking a shower (and after not wanting to leave the relieving warm water it offered), I tried shaving, as my mother requested. For the most part I succeeded, but there were clear cuts that I made in the process that made me bleed slightly. I brushed the blood away, wondering if I was making myself look worse or better.
When I was finished, I stepped out of the bathroom to find that my mother was waiting for me, and that she had probably been standing there the entire time.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I got sidetracked.”
“Well, don’t make a habit of it,” she said, motioning for me to follow her once more.
This time, she led me outside. The sensation I automatically felt after my first steps out was overwhelming. The sun’s rays seemed to blind me in a matter of seconds and it seemed as if I was going to be blown away by the wind that had suddenly picked up upon my arrival. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of concrete below my feet. I felt dizzy and struggled to keep myself upright.
My mother chuckled, but it was a sad chuckle that she was obviously using to lighten the mood. She dug into her pocket one last time and handed me a rolled up piece of paper.
“This is a map of the Johto region,” she said. “I taught you how to read one, remember? Head to New Bark Town, as I said. You’ll be fine.”
“You think so?” I said. “I can hardly stand the sun already.”
My mother’s demeanor quickly changed. She tensed up and said, “Your father would be proud, you know. He always said he would be proud, no matter what happened.”
“It was as if you both knew this was going to happen,” I mumbled.
“I didn’t. I never meant for this to happen,” she said. She wouldn’t look at me.
“I believe you,” I said anyway.
“Do you?” she said.
“You’re the one who brought up the idea in the first place. That means you thought about it... and probably for a very long time. But under the circumstances at which you brought it up, yeah... I guess I believe you.”
After a few moments of silence, she said, “Sai. Your name is like a weapon. Intelligently sharp, and very powerful. I know you can deal with whatever is thrown at you.”
That was something I couldn’t believe right away. It would take time to create that kind of thought within myself. Still, I trusted her words and nodded, but kept my disbelief silent. For it was not a prison of stone and metal that I feared, but one built of words and promises.
I was out of prison for nearly three weeks before I came to the realization that I had been in a flat place compared to the real world. I didn’t even notice it until I left. At the Team Rocket headquarters, there were flat colors, flat noises, flat people. It had nothing to do with geography or Mahogany Town in general. The real world was just that much more lively. All of its smells and textures and sounds seeped into my bones and made me half-forget everything I had known before. I was adapting and coming out of my shell. Yes, this sort of beauty was my new truth.
As instructed, I made my way to New Bark Town. I had to first travel through the cave on the east end of Mahogany Town and everything from there was just a matter of going south. My mother had warned me that this method was the fastest, but also the most dangerous. There were more powerful wild pokémon in the nearby ice cavern and the next city, but it would quickly level off once I reached a certain point, she said. That was fine with me. I was determined to get myself started as soon as possible; I had already wasted enough time. If I ran into a wild pokémon, I simply fled or fought it myself. It was only difficult for a while because my body wasn’t accustomed to fighting actual opponents. Eventually, though, I was able to stand my ground. A few pokémon even helped me out along the way and offered to come with me, but I had to decline their offer. Accepting would have meant breaking the rules too soon.
The ice cavern was cold and the nights were cold, but nothing could have prepared me for the chilling experience that I had when I met Senori. When I found him, my body seemed to freeze up immediately, and I had no idea what to do. He was just walking around aimlessly, maybe looking for something to eat. I knew that he was the right one because he was alone. His eyes told me that he was missing someone because he had seen terrible things, just like the pokémon in my vision had. He was the one, and I had to capture him... somehow.
It dawned on me that I didn’t have any pokéballs. No... On my way to the outskirts of New Bark Town, I hadn’t tried to go into another city and communicate with anyone. Not only did I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, but also I wasn’t sure if I could talk to someone else without messing up. It was better to wait. In addition, it was better to start off with a bad impression. I wasn’t allowed to get close to my pokémon, after all. And that was why I attacked Senori when he was powerless—he would then dislike me from the start, and it was my only option in terms of catching pokémon, anyway. I forced him to join me with sharp words, like my mother would do.
“I don’t care what anyone’s called you. Your name is Senori,” I had said, trying to sound confident. Inside, I was regretful, but there was no way I could let it show.
My confidence only became somewhat founded when I started my tradition of asking the pokémon to roll the die that the doctor had given me way back when. Was I really expecting the die to prove to Senori that he was meant to be my first pokémon? Half of me was hoping, and the other half was overcome by intuition. When the die showed a single dot after it was rolled, my beliefs were confirmed in my mind and apparently in Senori’s.
“I’m going to take care of you,” he had said.
And so he did. He took me to New Bark Town and told me how all trainers begin their pokémon journeys. While he scolded me at the same time, I looked for one out of many for the pokémon that was destined to join me next, at the proper starting point. I watched the totodile, cyndaquil and chikorita through the gates nearby. I only told Senori that no one stuck out to me in order to buy time. In truth, Kuiora stuck out to me immediately. During the training sessions, it was clear to me that she was fierce so she could get what she wanted. She was the strongest mostly because she wanted to be the strongest. Outside of that, though, she was gentle, and when I overheard Professor Elm talking to her, I discovered her love for legendary pokémon. She instantly reminded me of the Kuiora I had known before, so I took her in. Lying to Professor Elm about my origins was surprisingly easy, but it made me paranoid that perhaps the police would come after me as well if I did something wrong. This journey was definitely going to keep me on my toes.
Next came Atis. Senori had told me about the journey that all trainers take, the one to get the gym badges. I assumed that this was what my mother wanted me to do because the gyms went in a certain order, just like the cities, and the badges proved just how strong you were. Atis was my first step into the real adventure. I stepped into the pokémon school out of curiosity, but then swiftly realized that it was to recruit my third pokémon. His quiet demeanor was too obvious for his own good. Standing at the back of the classroom, his eyes showed an odd mixture of boredom and terror. His reaction to me told me he didn’t want to be here, so I took him away even though he already had a trainer.
Meeting Atis was important not only because he was already evolved and powerful, but also because he set some ground rules for my journey. Falkner told me that I should set up appointments with gym leaders in order to not disturb them like I had with him. And during the actual battle, I remained on the sidelines and let him do whatever it is that he did during combat. My guise told the others that I just wanted to learn more about his strategy, but I knew otherwise. I stayed silent, unsure of what attacks to call out, and because I was afraid of calling out the wrong move, just as I had done during my personal training. We won—he won—and so it all began.
Several things happened before our next gym battle. I met a boy who thought I was a terrible trainer. Marty came along at the right moment, just in time to save Senori from the falling rocks in the cave between Violet City and Azalea Town. If it weren’t for him... Well, I don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to think about the violent words he threw at me, either, but they have stayed with me because they were true. My explanation was that I was too busy with the racing thoughts in my head that I hadn’t even noticed any imminent danger, but how could I tell that to Marty without sounding crazy? How could I tell him that I was actually a good trainer because I knew how to communicate with my pokémon and he didn’t? I didn’t know how to act around him at all. His reaction toward me justified my initial fear of interacting with others.
The fear eventually dissipated. My moods quickly escalated once we hit Azalea Town after a few restless nights of sleep at the cave. I wanted to meet everyone and do everything at once because I couldn’t focus on a single thing. My speech was fast and I suddenly had an endless amount of energy. There was nothing in the world that could stop me. That was why I asked to visit Sasha in her home even though she suggested that she didn’t want me to come. I wanted her to be my friend because she accepted me despite being reluctant. Her being Marty’s sister was an unfortunate coincidence, but I wouldn’t know it until later.
In the midst of my mania (which was supposedly the term for these high moods I got), I recklessly started spending money on random things. I bought everything in sight, everything except medicine, because none of my medicine in the past ever did anything good for me. I even bought my pokémon t-shirts, which wasn’t so random, because it made me feel closer to them. I didn’t care about any consequences at the time because I was invincible... even at the hands of Team Rocket!
It wasn’t long, however, before this high energy changed into bouts of anger. I yelled at Atis and threw things at him simply because he suggested that we stay in Azalea Town longer than I originally wanted. I was angry because I wanted to stay, too, but I couldn’t. He knew nothing of my situation, and for that I despised him in that moment and acted in the only way I knew how.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about Atis and how I had so blatantly hurt him. In spite of everything, I wanted to stay. I wanted to be closer to my pokémon. The only good thing about my outburst was that it made him hate me more, but that was only desirable to people who were far away. I had to do something, anything to distract myself. I went into the Azalea Town well and caught as many magikarp as I could. I intentionally caught pokémon that weren’t meant to be on my team so they could be my friends, but I quickly dispelled this notion and released them later on to people who could take care of them better that I ever could. When I was manic, my desires and feelings changed just as quickly as they came.
I got back on track as quickly as I could. I fought Bugsy and that battle turned into a lesson I didn’t want. I couldn’t learn that weak pokémon were just as useful as strong pokémon because there could be no weak pokémon on my team. It just wasn’t an option. I felt proud at this outburst, at least, because I was finally following the rules.
Aside from wanting to stay in places longer than I did, Kuiora offered me the first example of my disobedience toward Team Rocket. She wanted to be stronger. The team wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to be stronger for herself, but not for them. I knew everything. I knew that she was begging for my attention, even though I told Marty otherwise. I didn’t give her what she needed until I had no choice but to do so. My lashing out against her... I had no choice. I had already learned that sometimes violence was really the answer and as expected, things got better from there. Her obvious gratitude was the only thing that kept me sane.
When Marty saw the violent exchange and then challenged me to a battle, I wasn’t really surprised. I knew that he would try to work against me somehow. He wanted to prove that he was the better trainer and make my pokémon leave me. I agreed to the battle, thinking that I wasn’t going to let them leave regardless of whether or not they wanted to. I would convince them to stay just like I convinced them to come with me at all. I was surprised, however, when I didn’t have to do anything of the sort. They chose to stay. I was secretly glad, but this meant that none of my defenses were working. Somewhere along the line, I had let my guard down and had let them in.
Suddenly, another miracle happened: Rennio showed up. At that point, he was nameless to me, since I hadn’t learned the name of the final man in the cell. He seemed so young, so eager to grow, but something was stopping him. He gave off the anxious impression that he was scared to stay in Ilex Forest for too long, like the other man who wouldn’t accept imprisonment. He wanted to go somewhere, anywhere better. I offered to take him with me, so that things would be better for him—for a time, anyway.
Ezrem showed up, too, but I didn’t need him. I didn’t want to seem cruel, but he was just so persistent. There just wasn’t any room on the team. He didn’t belong. Since no one else was in the cells during my time there, I believed my team was complete, even though my mother told me the most pokémon I could have was six at a time. I simply said no, and expected my answer to be final. Still, I let him follow us for Rennio’s sake. If I wasn’t going to be the source of the comfort he needed, then someone else would have to take that role.
Despite these two positive events happening in a row, I suddenly fell into a depression, as I so often did after being manic. I believed the trigger was Marty telling me that Sasha would never want to be my friend or travel with me because I wasn’t a suitable companion. To have this confirmed to me by another person dispirited me to the point where I was miserable all the time and had no energy to travel any further. As a result, we ended up staying in Goldenrod City longer than intended. I ended up saying yes to Atis when he wanted to show me around the city instead of insisting that we should battle the gym leader and move on. Notably, there was a pocketknife I picked up at the large department store. When I saw it, I immediately thought of my mother and her love of weapons of any kind, be it a pokémon weapon or a handheld weapon. Turning it over in my hand, I decided that it would be perfect for her, and it was also then that I realized I would probably have to face her again someday, after everything was over.
Keeping the pocketknife, however, was a terrible reminder of the rules that she had given me. Never become close to your pokémon, she said... to ensure that I wouldn’t betray the team. But Atis was clearly telling me he wanted to get to know me better. He wanted to spend more time with me. When I let him write whatever secret he wanted on my back, I felt that it was etched into me like a tattoo or whatever those markings are called. I knew that I would have to fight the urge to look at what it was, but I let him do it anyway. It would disappear in the shower eventually and ruin any chances of me finding out, at least, but for the time being, I settled on rubbing myself there when I couldn’t sleep to remind myself that Atis was real.