Nathan Agustin

by Nathan Agustin

“Do you know what a Bakugan is?” A boy asked me in grade one. 

He introduced himself as Ash. We were facing the wall during recess because we had shared snacks with each other. Our punishment was to be quiet and think about what we had done. Luckily, the monitor wasn’t the best at supervising us. 

I had heard of the Bakugan show on Teletoon but I wasn’t interested at all. It just seemed like flashing colours and loud nonsense. Ash, however, was insistent, almost getting us caught. He wouldn’t shut up until I agreed to watch it.

When I got home, I tuned into the first episode. He was on the screen. Not Ash exactly…but him. A character who spoke like him, acted like him, even smiled like him—the kind of smile that eclipsed his entire face until all you could see were his chipped and missing teeth. His hair was even the same spiky shape. Had he moulded himself after the character, or had he somehow inspired the character?

I begged my parents for a Bakugan. My rolling, crying, and “I want it! I want it! I want it!” filled the house for hours. They tried everything to get me to stop, from bribing me with Nutella sandwiches to threatening to beat my ass with a wooden spoon. Eventually, they relented, and we were at Walmart buying them.

I showed them off to all the boys in class the next day. Ash was the first to challenge me so we threw the Bakugan onto our desks. The clicks and clacks of the plastic spheres on magnetic cards were music to my ears. Everyone cheered and yelled.

Unfortunately, we had to stop once our teacher caught us. Thanks to her pink rhinestone glasses and soft demeanour, we didn’t listen to her until she took them by force. The other boys threw tantrums to get them back, crying and crawling on the ground. I was nearly one of them until I saw Ash. Despite losing his toy, he was happy to have played at all. His joy was infectious, and I had to laugh too.

We argued at recess over who would have won. We imagined all the climactic battles from the show. The planter platform was where we imagined our final confrontation, miming our battle with flapping arms, explosion noises, and rolling around until we threw up in the bushes. 


Our interests shifted as we entered grade two. What we saw on TV was what we asked our parents to buy. Those cartoons were what we begged for on our birthdays, and what we prayed would be wrapped under our Christmas trees. 

It was Pokémon’s turn. The newest games, Black and White, were announced. I had Pokémon Diamond, but the new game would be more of the thing I loved, more of something I got to share with Ash. 

At school, we promised that we’d both get the game. We hogged all the Pokémon books in the library and read them to each other. We threw rocks at trees, acting like they were poké balls. We fantasized about what the new Pokémon would look like, even scribbling our own based on the Corocoro magazine leaks. His were all dragons, a mess of spikes and red scribbles.

“This is my super-ultra-hyper dragon! He has an ability that lets him kill everything and he has 999 attack and a block-everything shield.” 

I don’t remember what I drew. I just wanted to listen to him ramble about his creations and how they were the strongest in the world, as long as it meant we could talk about Pokémon, Bakugan, or whatever we liked—forever. 


There was only one thing I asked my parents for more than games or toys on my birthday: it was for my friends to come over. My brother and sister always had theirs over. Every time I asked, there was an issue. It would be a “bad day” for them to come, or my siblings’ friends would be there so mine couldn’t come over too. Or, even more egregious, my mom wouldn’t see the point in them coming over. We already met at school. Wouldn’t that be enough? 

Today, it was my day so they had to say yes.

I invited everyone in the class; only he showed up. That was okay. I really only wanted Ash to be there; I invited the rest out of courtesy. Part of me wanted to ask if he could sleep over, but I didn’t want to push it. When I unwrapped Pokémon White, he laughed at my fangirling, but he was still eager to see me start my playthrough. 

He brought out his copy of the game and coached me on how to play. I picked Oshawatt even though he yelled at me to pick Tepig. Its round, bubbly head reminded me of my Piplup from Pokémon Diamond, while Ash was partial to fire-types. 

Ash barked orders: “Press tackle! Tackle! No, leer first. Now tackle!” 

We journeyed as much as we could that day. It was the last and only time it could be just the two of us at my house. Nothing was ever mine at home. Not my friends who could never come, not my free time filled with chores and homework, not even my room that I shared with my parents.

Our eyes hurt, and we heard the OST ringing in our ears, but we kept going. We played so much, we almost melted into our devices, spending the rest of our days exploring a new region with our Pokémon and each other by our sides. 

I imagined what living in that perfect world would’ve been like. Camping in the forest with Ash, going on walks and raising our animals, together. It was all a digital wall away. 

Unfortunately, time wasn’t our friend. My family called me down to cut the cake. I was so determined to keep playing that I brought it down while sitting in front of everyone. My mom had to take it away to force me to pay attention. Returning to reality felt odd—like this was the fictional place and my true home was back in my DS.

They all sang “Happy Birthday” while I sat in the middle, as if this were a cutscene. I imagined pressing A to make it go by faster. My older cousins and my siblings were there, but the only face I truly saw was Ash’s, attempting to sing. He was a terrible singer—the kind who preferred to stay quiet and look down when it was time for the national anthem in music class. But here, he tried, all for me. My heart fluttered and I instantly knew my wish: to keep playing Pokémon with Ash as long as I could.


“Who do you like? Like, like-like like?” 

That question seemed to be the only thing anyone could ever ask. Conversations in class would move from celebrities to animated characters to their girlfriend/boyfriend who went to a different school, so we wouldn’t know them.

They were all obsessed with Disney channel sitcoms, and just like those shows, shipping drama was ubiquitous. Everyone wanted to know who would end up with who, when, where, and how. 

When the question of who I liked inevitably fell to me, the answer was obvious—Ash. Of course I liked him. I wished to keep playing Pokémon with him; we were together all the time, and being around him just made me so happy. I thought that was obvious. 

The boys groaned and gagged. They laughed and called me gay as if it were an insult. 

What is wrong with them? Don’t they like their friends? Some part of me wanted to cry. I wanted to shout and yell that, yes, I did like Ash. I liked him and there was nothing they could say to stop that.

But they kept laughing.

And Ash laughed with them. 

I asked him why he was making fun of me too, and all he replied with was, “You know that’s not what they meant.”  

Suddenly, I was facing that wall at recess again. Everyone had fun, playing games I didn’t understand. This was my punishment for sharing something I was meant to keep to myself. 

This time, I was alone. 


I was frequently shipped with my friend Bailey because of those aforementioned shows. To my class, it was a perfect one-to-one: a smart nerdy guy and a blonde girl named Bailey. They would mock us and say our wedding would be in the library atrium, our officiant would be the priest at our school masses, and they would ask to be our groomsmen or bridesmaids on our “big day.”

Like Bakugan, I tried searching for Ash in the shows they watched. Who could emulate his chipped-tooth smile? Who could talk with his sunny voice? Who could be that perfect reflection of us?

None seemed to exist. Whenever there was a geeky dork in those shows, there was never a sense that he belonged with his best friend. Every time, there was another person that caught the friend’s attention. The protagonist and his best friend always played second fiddle to the romance. 

Except in Pokémon

There were no romantic subplots to get swept up in or forced into. If I just kept playing, kept that interest in it alive, my bond with Ash would stay alive too. 

In the game, there are two Pokémon, Shelmet and Karrablast. They have the interesting gimmick of only being able to evolve when traded with each other. The Karrablast would take Shelmet’s armour to become Escavalier, while the armourless Shelmet became Accelgor. One cannot exist without the other; each Pokémon needed the other to evolve.

Ash and I promised each other that we would trade our Pokémon but this promise felt hollower than I hoped. He had his eyes on other things: soccer, cars, and whatever else. He didn’t make the promise with conviction, like he did with our promise to get the games. Instead, he sounded like he was making a grocery list. Just another task.

Still, there was some reassurance that my wish could come true. As soon as I sent my Karrablast and he sent Shelmet, we would always carry a part of each other with each other no matter what. 

Both of us would evolve together.


“I’m moving to Nova Scotia!” Ash announced on that fateful day in grade three. Everyone in class was so supportive, some were even jealous that he got to go somewhere special. I was distraught. Like those boys whining for their toys back, I cried for Ash to stay. 

He tried to reassure me by talking about all the things he would get in his new Nova Scotia home. He would get a chest full of Bakugans, stuffed Pokémon, and every new console in his room. To me, he was making a list of all the reasons to abandon me. Nothing in Toronto was enough to get him to stay—not the games we played together or our drawings.

Not even me.

“What about evolving our Pokémon? Our Karrablast and Shelmet?”

He told me that I could just find another person to make the trade with. As if this Pokémon wasn’t going to be a part of him I could keep when he left me, as if this Pokémon wasn’t going to be proof that my birthday wish could come true, as if this Pokémon was just a Pokémon. 

I spent days distant from him, practicing for when he left. It was only a matter of time—school would end, and so would our friendship. He continued playing with the other boys while I remained in the book corner, sifting through books that didn’t mean anything anymore. Even drawing wasn’t the same without the magazine leaks to look at with him. 

Days and weeks and months went by until May arrived. Ash pulled me into the washroom with misty eyes, an expression so foreign on his face. Even when he scraped his knees or skinned his palms, he still smiled.

He asked me why I was ignoring him so much; but he was leaving anyway, so why did he care? We got into a shouting match over nothing. Meaningless issues came up like how he broke my pencil crayons, and how I threw the ball too hard in four-square. Everything boiled over until I became determined to ruin our friendship.

I kissed him. 

It was a simple peck on the cheek. I was so desperate to hold onto him that I wanted something, anything to be ours. And it felt good. Everyone who forced us apart and into ill-fitting boxes was wrong. I proved them wrong.

Ash hesitated, but he kissed me on the cheek too. However, he thought it was some platonic Filipino tradition. We just left it at that and returned to recess. 

If I had known it was possible to feel this way, I would’ve told him that I loved him. 

Disclaimer: the names in this piece have been changed.

NATHAN AGUSTIN is a third-year English/Creative Writing student at UTSC. Besides writing, he enjoys cooking, and video games. When he’s not doing either he stares out his window contemplating reality.