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  • tessmartinelli

Little Sister Syndrome & The Pokémon Conundrum

I knock on my brothers door, quiet but with great impatience. He groans and mutters a “what” before i slowly twist the knob to his room and enter to find him furled up in bed, surrounded by the rubble and remnants of tweenage boyhood. His football poster is peeling from every corner, gripping to the wall with the strength of one scraggly piece of tape. His navy blue walls are contrasted by a colorful and vast collection of bouncy balls, stuffed animals, and most importantly, Pokémon memorabilia.

After recovering from the visual assault, I settle my eyes on Luke, who has thrown his covers over his head to shield from the dull, yet apparently aggravating presence of afternoon sun. I gleefully present him with my newest prized possession, a Mewtwo Pokémon card that I scored from a mystery pack of cards that I got at Target that morning. I gloat about my success, babbling on about how my new card will be a huge addition to my collection. I wait. After a moment, he peeks his head out of his covers and asks to examine the card. I confidently hand him my winnings. With a judicious and stern look, he studies the stats of my Mewtwo. He nods in satisfaction, meeting me with a good job. I mutter a pleased little chirp, grab the card out of his hand and gleefully jet out of his room. I walk down the hall, stopping by my door to throw the card in my own room, strolling away before seeing where it lands.


My love for Pokémon came and went at the mercy of my older brother, Luke. Luke, who is three years my senior, dedicated his childhood life to sports and Pokémon, a dedication that I admired, feared, and strived to match. As leader of the neighborhood shenanigans, Luke gathered the neighborhood boys and created a live-action Pokémon game. It became our whole lives. The basis of the game was as follows: Player pretends to be a Pokémon that they have a card for. Player can get more XP for their character by doing physical activities. More XP equals more power and thus the ability to perform better against your opponents.

For example, playing basketball for 30 minutes equalled 20 XP. Coincidentally, my brother, who crafted the rules himself, happened to already play an hour of basketball a day, religiously. At the time, I was huge into gymnastics. My family had just purchased a glorious, new trampoline for our backyard, and I practically lived on it. I would bounce around for hours a day, practicing my flips and back handsprings. When I inquired about the XP that I would get for gymnastics, he told me it was precisely 5 for every hour. I initially fired back at him about the unfairness of his rules. How come Noah from down the block got 15 for an hour of soccer and Drew from across the street got 10 per every 15 minutes of flag football? Luke looked down at me with all the fearless confidence of boyhood and explained to me that gymnastics simply does not require as much skill as the aforementioned activities.

As much as I thought his rules were nonsense, he was my older brother and I trusted him. And, after all, he had dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of sports and play, so he must’ve known something that I couldn’t understand.

So, I carried on, but I made it my mission to catch up to him. Everyday, I would bounce on the trampoline until the soles of my feet turned black and my hands would slip out of the back handspring from the sweat. However, my efforts yielded little reward, as it was impossible to catch up. I was upset. In fact, I was furious. No! I was disappointed. I felt everything inside but I felt like nothing to him. Eventually, I quit doing Pokémon with all of them. I felt as though I didn’t belong. I threw away my cards and all my other accessories. Without him to play with, the cards and trinkets were just paper and plastic. It was no fun to play alone.


Years later, Luke moved away to college and I followed shortly thereafter. We went on our own paths, no longer held together by a shared bathroom and taco Tuesday. When I would meet college friends, they would ask about Luke. “What kind of relationship do you guys have?”. I would respond in the defensive, explaining that I love him but I never felt like I could forge the relationship that I wanted to with him. I spoke as though our relationship were crystallized in form when we both moved out of the house, as though life didn’t afford me the opportunity and time to create the relationship I wanted.

However, when I returned home from college last summer, something shifted. He no longer was the little boy that ran around pretending to be a Blastoise and hollering at the neighborhood boys to follow suit. He had unshaved facial hair peeking out, the wrinkles between his eyebrows didn’t wear when he relaxed his eyes, and he spoke about his newfound career as a teacher the same way my dad always did when I was growing up. “Living the dream” he proclaimed as he walked through the door after a long day. Seeing him so grown up made me realize that he had taken a new form. In Pokémon terms, you could say he evolved. I looked at myself and realized that I had too. I forgot how to do a cartwheel but I learned that life only stays stagnant if you don’t get up to move. And, maybe it’s silly, but it took me physically moving away and coming home to realize that Luke is right there for me to reach for.

So, I swallowed my pride. I knocked on his door, quietly but with great impatience. He responded with a “yo” and I walked in, greeted with the sight of his colorful bouncy balls still present, yet consolidated neatly in a plastic bag. I stumbled into my words, explaining that the new thrift store down the street by Mangini Farms opened up and maybe we could go together to see if they have any Pokémon cards or something like that. He responded plainly, “yeah sure I could go now”. My head shifted back in surprise and I paused for a moment before smiling and heading out his door to grab my shoes. We hopped into his gray Acura and I tossed his basketball off of the front seat before getting in.

When we got inside the shop, he navigated directly to the Pokémon cards, examining them in the same serious manner that he surveyed my Mewtwo card in. I stood behind him while he crouched down by a case and just watched. I hadn’t thought about Pokémon cards since I threw them out. I wish I never did.



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