It’s not exactly difficult to learn that probably the most valuable Pokemon card out there is the First Edition Charizard. It was printed years ago, and only so many were made. To own one is a huge collector’s achievement.
I definitely used to have one, as a kid. Unfortunately, all my childhood stuff was stuck in storage with mom, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to take a drive over just to look through everything for a single card.
Of course, trying to buy a new one would be a huge hit to the wallet. My budget was telling me to avoid big, ridiculous purchases, but my nostalgia desperately wanted me to hold that card again.
After thinking over my options, I ended up deciding that going to mom’s was my best bet. At least I could afford giving her a visit.
It took an entire weekend with mom, and pulling apart just about every storage bin I could find, but I did end up finding all my old cards. Including my prized Charizard. It was a little beaten up, just due to being a kid when I had it and not really being in a card sleeve, but it at least didn’t have any major dents or damage to it. Just evidence of a child really adoring their playing card and plenty of years of storage.
I took the whole collection of cards home, just in case I wanted to look at the other First Edition ones too. I just made sure the Charizard would be easy to find again.
As soon as I got home, I wanted to look at Charizard again. I pulled out the set of cards, separating the only one that was important to me at the moment.
Properly at home, in different lighting, an unfortunate reality struck as I checked over the card. Over the years, something seemed to happen to the colors on it, causing it to look a bit dimmer and duller than the usual mint condition Charizard.
It was kind of depressing, but… at least I had a Charizard at all. I put it into a sleeve to prevent any further damage.
Even faded and bruised, it became the star of my collection. It wasn’t a big collection, of course, but now it had a First Edition Charizard included in it. I had a card many people could only dream of owning.
Little did I know that tragedy would strike again for my poor, bruised card.
Like most collectors, I thought I stored it somewhere safe. I didn’t really intend to play the game with it, I just wanted to admire it from a safe distance.
Well, picking it up one day to admire it again, I realized something awful. Mold had started growing between the back of the card and the sleeve.
I didn’t know how it happened. I didn’t know what caused it. I just knew my once-in-a-lifetime card was irreversibly destroyed. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
In some form of mourning, I kept the card. Moldy or not, I didn’t have the heart to just trash it. I wasn’t sure what I would do with it yet, but I figured as long as I kept it quarantined well enough I could have some time to decide.
Of course, anyone who knows their molds well enough knows that quarantining it doesn’t necessarily stop it from growing. My card was decaying, and I’d have to make a decision sooner rather than later.
I knew, deep down, that I should have just thrown it away. It was a mold culture now. It was a health hazard. I just… I couldn’t. It was my childhood Charizard.
So I made perhaps a terrible, very strange idea instead. I got one of those sealable, glass cases for the card. Something to hopefully keep the mold contained while still allowing me to display my pride and joy.
In a way, having the card on display again was both a good and bad idea. It made me both blissfully oblivious and notably aware of how much bigger of a problem than just mold that I had.
With no context that sounds counterintuitive, I know. The best way I can describe the experience is like… watching a kid or a pet grow older. You notice a few differences here and there when you see them every day, but they seem miniscule and insignificant. You only realize how drastic the differences actually were once you look back on old photos and realize everything’s changed. It was like that with this card. I saw a few odd things, things I blamed the mold on, but I only realized the true extent of the damage once it reached its climax.
It was like Charizard was… slowly melting. Not the cardboard, despite the amount of mold, but the picture on the card itself. The image of the Charizard was decaying.
It was so hard to notice at first because it started so simple. Charizard’s neck and mouth started drooping, like it didn’t want to do that majestic roar of fire anymore. I struggled to really believe what I was seeing, assuming I was just imagining the change, until one day its mouth was completely closed and its head hung low, staring at what would be the ground, if any was in the art.
I can share all these changes with certainty and hindsight now, but I had different thoughts at the time. The drooping was so subtle, so observed every day, that I still had a hard time believing that the picture was actually moving. I realized the art wasn’t exactly what the First Edition Charizard was supposed to be, and my first instinct was to wonder if I spent all that time fawning over childhood memories of a bootleg.
The truth is, I wasn’t. The picture was still changing. As the mold took over and became unable to grow through the glass, the bigger changes began.
Wrinkles developed on Charizard’s wings and skin. Its eyes were bloodshot, as though its body was causing it unbearable pain underneath the exhausted skin.
Then, the true decay started.
It started with Charizard’s wings, eating through the membrane until they were nothing but shreds. Its skin, day by day, began peeling away from flesh, revealing bone and muscle.
Perhaps the worst of all was the day I woke up and found its stomach torn open. Intestines and other organs poured out, no longer able to be contained in the cavity of its body. Its head had decayed by that point into nothing more than a skull, those bloodshot eyes still staring blankly out in misery.
I realized then that something was very, very wrong. A pouty face could be chalked up to a bootleg, but this was far more. I would have seen something this grotesque before the mold, and I definitely wouldn’t have framed it for everyone to see. My Charizard, somehow, was dying.
Knowing what had to be done, I took the card down from its perch. It looked even worse up close. I wasn’t sure if the mold on its body was real or had become part of the drawing, but it was near impossible to find a single clear chunk of flesh.
Perhaps what woke me up the most, though, was the text on the card. Instead of the usual options, there were two moves listed for it.
Play with Me: It’s so lonely… The dark is eating me.
Kill Me: Please… Put me out of my misery…
I realized it was giving me two options, and I knew what I had to do. It was too late to rescue it the way I wanted to… but I could still end the destruction the mold was causing.
Careful not to make myself sick, I took the card outside, to the fire pit in the backyard. I started a fire, realizing how poetic it felt for the fire-type, Charizard.
Using gloves, gently removing it from its protective case, I tossed Charizard into the flames, sleeve and all. I mourned it momentarily as it burned, watching as it slowly crumpled under the heat.
As much as I wanted to stay and watch, I wasn’t exactly sure if there were going to be any plastic fumes or airborne mold spores. I had to retreat to the safety of my house as Charizard burned away.
I took out the rest of my card collection then, to check on them as well. As it turned out, mold was beginning to fester among all of them.
When Charizard’s flame faltered into nothing, I started it up again. I tossed the rest of the cards in, turning my fire pit into a mass Pokemon grave. Their ashes still sit in the bottom to this day.
As for my collection itself… well, it’s gone. I burned all of it, and I was too heartbroken to get anything new. Looking at card packs and thinking about collecting again makes me think about that Charizard, and I can’t handle watching another beloved Pokemon rot away. I don’t even know how to play the trading card game anymore. So… I don’t collect. Even if it was just that one card, I know in my heart that I had fault in its condition. I can’t even chance that with another.
At least I can appreciate the art online.