Poisoned: How My Abuser Ruined Pokémon (And How My Friends Saved It)

Content warning for sexual assault and domestic abuse.

A few months ago, I finally got rid of my copy of Pokémon Platinum.

My mom had picked it up for me on release day, in March of 2009. She got it as a present to celebrate opening night of a play I’d been busting my ass on – acting, building a puppet, doing a bunch of tech work. Back then, I was pretty committed to theatre, and had my sights aimed squarely on making a career out of it someday.

I didn’t know, however, that cartridge would end up representing a decade-long arc of abuse, burnt bridges, and eventual recovery from the help of a few friends. In the span of ten years, my copy of Pokémon Platinum became the last tangible tie I had to my abusive ex-boyfriend and all the damage that he did to my life.

A Lifelong Love

Like a lot of people, I grew up with Pokémon. Some of my most formative memories and earliest friendships were built around the franchise. Whether it was watching my friend playing the earliest generations on his Game Boy Color, making friends just to trade cards, or hanging out with random neighborhood kids to watch the anime on afternoon Kids WB, so much of my youth was built around this series.

In my tweens, that love was only amplified when Diamond and Pearl dropped. I remember sleeping in my street clothes and shoes so I could wake up on Sunday morning, go to GameStop, and get my game as soon as they opened. I remember sleepless nights and long road trips spent playing both games until there was nothing left to play. I remember forming my earliest bonds with people in high school based on a mutual love for the games.

One of those earliest bonds was with a boy. A boy who, like me, harbored a lifelong love for the wacky world of pocket monsters. I’ll call him Blue, for the sake of this piece. Blue connected with me on a level about the series that nobody else ever really had. Through that mutual interest, we became fast friends. He was with me through a messy break-up, parental abuse, and my parents’ cataclysmic near-divorce. For a few months there, he became an emotional support pillar for me.

So when I realized that he had some kind of feelings for me, it felt organic. We started dating in May of 2010, and on the first afternoon of summer break, we spent a good three hours laying in my small bed together. Just looking into each other’s eyes and smiling. I felt safe. He felt safe. It felt right.

In retrospect, that was the worst judgment call of my life.

Sharing The Love

At first, things were… good. The honeymoon phase of our relationship lasted for a pretty decent amount of time. We were very into each other, and very into sharing different parts of our lives with each other. That meant bonding over our mutual love of Sonic and Kirby, introducing each other to new music and anime, and sharing our favorite movies. He lived about an hour away, but thanks to the internet, that didn’t matter. We talked all day, every day. But there was one other factor that brought us closer, and that was Pokémon.

We both had Platinum, so we constantly traded our monsters back and forth. We obsessed over stats, used the (terrible) online modes to play with each other, and got super deep into catching ‘em all. Our mutual friend even got in on the action, trading and chatting with us constantly. Through it all, Blue introduced me to so many aspects of Pokémon that I hadn’t been into before – shiny hunting, EV levels, spin-offs like Mystery Dungeon and Ranger, and the thriving RP community. I loved Pokémon, but Blue took that love to the next level. The series became a daily part of my life like it never had before.

What I didn’t realize was that it was also being used to establish a power dynamic between both of us. He was the expert, I was the student. He spoke at length about things I knew nothing about, I dutifully listened and prostrated myself over this children’s game. He laughed when I didn’t know things and lectured me when I got stuff wrong, I agreed with him and put myself in a lower position.

He knew everything. I knew nothing.

Pokémon, Kirby, and Sonic were the earliest ways that he exercised his control over me. That was only the beginning, though – the beginning how he would try to control every single aspect of my life, and soon, my very emotional and bodily autonomy.

Blue Used Bind

In retrospect, it should’ve been obvious what Blue was doing. Therapy has helped me see it for what it was: an erosion of boundaries. A constant belittling of my knowledge about our mutual interests that set him up as the one in control, and me as the patient listener. He doled it out, I took it without question.

So when the physical abuse started, I was already conditioned for it – like Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov’s Houndour? I digress.

My dad being extremely violent as I grew up compounded things, of course. Our fights drew blood more than once, and got increasingly more destructive to life and limb as I got older. So it was hard for me, then, to recognize when Blue started to cross the line into abuse. It started with playful hits in front of friends that left bruises, which conditioned me into thinking it was normal. Over time, it cascaded into nails dug into my skin until blood was drawn, punches to parts of my arm that were covered by my sleeves, and a few instances of being smacked in the face. Every single time, I felt like I deserved it. Every single time, I felt that if I told a friend, they’d tell me how it was my fault. He was smaller and weaker and had such a hard life, there’s no way he’d do anything like that!

Because all my friends were his friends – I wasn’t allowed to have ones that weren’t his.

Blue attempted to exert control over every part of my life. He turned me against my parents, my friends, my teachers. When my dog died, he somehow made it my fault. When I didn’t text him back during a haircut, he accused me of being abusive and abandoning him. My grades plummeted, I started to lose weight, and fell back into self-harm and bulimic purging. A few people were clearly concerned for me, but I brushed them aside. Because when I was in the thick of it all, it was hard to see anything wrong. He only did everything he did because he cared about me, and anything that hurt me was my fault – that’s what I thought.

That went double for the repeated rape. I won’t go into the gory details here, but I’ll just say that it felt like my body didn’t belong to me. I was there to service him, and if I didn’t, that equaled an emotional outburst, verbal degrading, or physical abuse. There are things I was coerced into doing that still make me freeze up if I think about them for too long, and for years, it was impossible to be intimate with somebody without stifling a panic attack. There are still parts of my body that, when touched, send me reeling into dissociation. Sex is still, for me, something I feel pangs of shame over a decade later.

Because Blue took it away from me. He broke my brain. He made intimacy about a power dynamic I couldn’t ever consent to. Like a confused Pokémon, I continued to hurt myself when trying to do basic functions for years.

A Frayed Escape Rope

When I got to college, I broke up with Blue in less than a week. That single act of resistance destroyed my life as I knew it. Within the span of a few days, I lost almost all my friends. They all took his side, just like in high school. One by one, people I’d talked to every single day for three years wrote me out of their lives. A narrative started getting spread; I was an insensitive monster who devastated my poor, misbegotten boyfriend.

Part of being cut off from Blue and my friends meant being cut off from the things that tied us together. As you might be able to guess, Pokémon was one of the first things to go. At first, I couldn’t look at my PokeDex in Platinum without thinking of him. What used to be a source of pride was just a collection of bad memories. Different event Pokémon we’d gotten together, that we’d trade evolved, that were gifted to me by our mutual friends… condensed into one cartridge were three-ish years of abuse and control.

Then came everything else. Pokémon X & Y’s release should’ve been exciting, but instead, it just made me think about him and our friends. Were they playing when I was? What starters were they using? How were they better at the game than me? I fell off after a week. When Super Pokémon Mystery Dungeon came out, I tried to get into it, but remembered it was Blue’s favorite spin-off series and put it down after five or six hours. Suddenly, something that had been a comfort my entire life was a constant trigger.

What began to save it was joining my college’s Quidditch team in my senior year. It was there that I became good friends with Zack, Jared, and Stephen – three guys who were extremely into Pokémon, and who were extremely eager into getting me to play with them. I resisted at first, because I thought it would be too painful. But soon, I bought a used copy of Omega Red and burned through it. Before long, we were driving around town together to get event Pokémon, trading things back and forth, and comparing our Pokedexes.

At 22 years old, I started to finally fall in love with Pokémon again.

Evolution

This past January, I gave one of my best friends that copy of Platinum.

It still housed all the Pokémon Blue and I had traded and trained and collected together – along with ones from our mutual friends. For years, I held onto it because of the rare Pokémon in there, with plans to eventually bring them up to the current gens. Same with my copies of Heart Gold and White. Yet I kept putting it off. And putting it off. And putting it off.

The reason for that finally clicked in January. Despite all my pride about the Pokémon I’d collected, and despite the fond memories I had of playing that particular generation, that cartridge was tainted for me. Every Pokémon on it reminded me of Blue’s abuse and control over my hobbies, my life, and my sexuality. Mentally, I’d put it on the backburner as a method of self-preservation, and as a way to leave the past in the past. Little bits of code were still stained by his touch and his stench. To bring them up with me would be to bring a part of him with me on every single new Pokémon journey I set out on.

I decided to not let him have that power. So I gave Platinum to my friend, who asked if she could erase the save and play it for the first time.

“Yeah, totally,” I replied. “No worries.”

As simple an act as it was, it was freeing. The parts of him that still existed in my daily life, and that still occupied wherever I lived, were finally purged from my existence just by passing that cartridge on – like the cursed tape in The Ring. Finally, the last lingering negative tie I had to Pokémon was gone.

It was time to set out on a new Pokémon journey – on my own terms.

Full Restore

Now, Pokémon is a part of my daily life again.

There’s still trauma associated with the series, sure. But now, I don’t think of it every time I see it. Instead, I think of a Gothita that Zack traded me in college, which I carried with me for several games. I think of driving around town with Jared, trying to find a limited-edition Pikachu doll. I think of exchanging trainer cards with one of my best friends, who I’d wind up dating the same month Sword and Shield came out. I think of the Pikachu she took me to Build-A-Bear to get on Valentine’s weekend, shortly after we moved in together, and the matching Snubbull she got with me.

Enough time has passed that, once I took a chance again, I was able make new memories with it. Memories of healing, of kindness, of love. Those are now what I’m beginning to associate Pokémon with.

So when I fire up Rescue Team DX or Shield or Let’s Go, I can’t help but to smile. Because in spite of every negative memory I have with the series, the ones closest to me helped me fall in love with it again. And through that, I was able to slowly start loving myself again.

Companionship and kindness, as it turns out, is super effective.


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