I was so proud the day my son was born, that I locked him in the basement to begin his training. No windows or phones, only a TV and Nintendo.
He whined a lot during infancy so I’d sing to him, Pokémon theme songs throughout the years. Oh — and the rap too! I memorized it so I knew each pocket monster in chronological order. I would play episodes from each season during his toddler years and made sure he never left the basement until he was ready to start his quest.
When he turned six, I gave him all my old games up until Pokémon Diamond. I purchased all the new ones as they were released. Plenty of room to capture each one and level them up to 99. The game creators kept adding new ones, making it impossible to ever truly finish.
“What’s outside the basement?” My son, Ash, would whine.
“Did you catch them all yet?” I was incredible at parenting, strict like no one ever was, to raise the very best.
“I finished the first few games. I just want to go outside and see them in real life.”
“Ash—it’s not ‘Gotta Catch Most of Them,’ it’s ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’.”
The TV show doesn’t depict the kids traveling through harsh weather often. It’s all sunshine and rainbows. Down in the basement, it’s concrete and artificial lighting. The glow of the TV projecting a perfect world while I pace upstairs, evaluating the responsibilities of maintaining a job, filing taxes, repairing a broken car. Things that don’t exist in every world.
Other kids prepare for college and the daily grind. I provide Ash with shelter.
My wife wasn’t on board at first. Then I showed her the Excel spreadsheet of how much money we’d be saving by shipping him out at the age of 11 instead of 18.
“We could redo the basement with all that money!”
In the shows, they camp and have a difficult time finding food. I mimicked this. No bed or blankets downstairs but I provided Ash with rice and raw fish on unpredictable days.
“Who’s your starter?”
“I’m going to choose Charmander, he’s the best.”
I palmed my face. “Did you even watch the episode where rain could put his flame tail out?”
When Ash turned ten, I lectured him on the regions. Each game expands the universe, like a ladder going no where. Earth has limits, a set amount of space that humans fill with trash and paperwork. Ash is fortunate to set out oblivious while his mother and I fulfill obligations.
The basement is as heartless as the Indigo Plateau, cutthroat and brutal — a true fighting dojo. The shows make everyone seem happy and social. No one ever dies, they faint, then you take them to a Pokémon Center and all is right in the world. Good as new.
Ash’s favorite Pokémon is Cubone. It’s this tiny creature that wears a skull as a mask and cries seeing the likeness of its mother in the moon. Why he doesn’t like it’s evolved form, Marowak, better? Marowak is the one that got over its feelings and is ten times tougher. Both specialize in the Rock Head ability, which can protect itself from recoil.
Finally, it’s Ash’s eleventh birthday. I open the basement door and wait at the top of the stairs. Ash ascends, fear in his eyes and determination in his Poké Balls. We hug him for the first time and wish him good luck. I don’t know if it’s customary in Japanese culture to send your kids off at a young age to never see them again, but we mime the show religiously. It’s a world devised with a bunch of youngsters gallivanting around assuming they know how to defend themselves.
“Be safe, Team Rocket doesn’t always blast off.” This is Ash’s real test. To train him was my cause.
I peer through the kitchen window as Ash enters the forest. He sees a blue jay that must seem like some new Pokémon. He spins his hat around backwards to view the battle. The blue jay tweets and eyes the boy — Leer. Ash winds up and chucks the baseball I painted to look like a Master Ball. Instead of making contact and bouncing off, fading into red fog like a genie, the ball crushes the bird’s neck. The blue jay falls from the nest to the ground, white excrement splattering. I study Ash as he sprints over to investigate what went wrong.
Corey Miller’s writing has appeared in Booth, Pithead Chapel, Third Point Press, Hobart, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. He reads for TriQuarterly, Longleaf Review, CRAFT, and Barren Magazine. When not working or writing in Cleveland, Corey likes to take the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter @IronBrewer or at CoreyMillerWrites.com