Anything I write about Ryoh is a teensy tiny bit autobiographical. Hahahaha.

Welcome to the Dollhouse:

A Series of Vignettes.


A little bit of background info.


Ryoh started his education in a very small, very private school. Memories of before first grade were all very blurry, save for the playground and the legos, but the events after that were important. He was a happy child, not short for friends (who all thought his white hair was very cool), and there was not a trace of any shyness or timidity. Indeed, the youngling was outgoing and always laughing.

Life at home was also picturesque. His mother was a tall, beautiful woman, her figure seemingly unaffected from the strains of bearing a child and raising it. Whatever job she had (Ryoh couldn't remember), she was good at it, and it paid well. His father was a computer technician, though his real passion lay in history rather than the future. One day, father told Ryoh, he would go on archeological digs and take the family with him, to places in Africa and even the United States. But that probably wouldn't be until Ryoh was in college. And college seemed so far off to Ryoh that it looked like the family would stay where they were forever.

The important thing there, however, was that Ryoh's mom and dad were in love.

In second grade Ryoh's little sister was born. He'd wanted a younger sibling for as long as he could remember – though he'd wanted a brother, but he'd settle – because, as many friends as he might've had at school, none of them lived close enough and there was always a factor of loneliness when both mother and father were working. It was probably that loneliness that spawned his love of games; his father took a coffee break one evening and showed Ryoh how to play solitaire. Then it was video games – a Super Nintendo for Christmas that came with a bundle of games, followed by a Sega Genesis for his next birthday.

His little sister grew and was adorable, and when the end of fourth grade arrived for Ryoh, she was an energetic toddler with an extensive vocabulary. She had a collection of clip-on earrings and fake jewelry and was constantly bothering her parents to get her ears pierced. She would sometimes force Ryoh to sit down with her, and then she would get out her Mardi-Gras beads, and they would play. Ryoh didn't mind at all; he loved the attention and she stayed out of his room and his things (mostly due to a lock). The two were getting along perfectly.

Then there was an accident, something involving cars, and Ryoh had suppressed those memories so that he couldn't remember if somebody had crashed into their car or if they'd been hit crossing the street. All he knew were the basic facts, that his mother and little sister were dead and gone.

Because Ryoh had never actually gotten seriously upset with his sister – she wasn't old enough to do those incredibly infuriating things that younger sisters do – she left him with an idealized memory. She could do no wrong, and she was sweet and beautiful. His father had always been more the disciplinary figure than his mother, and so the same happened with Ryoh's memories of her. His mom was understanding and compassionate; she wasn't capable of anything but goodness.

Just before summer vacation that year, Ryoh got the eighteen-year-old brother of one of his friends to take him out and get his ears pierced. His hair was long enough that it almost entirely covered his ears – truthfully he was due to get it trimmed. But the next time his father told him it was time for a haircut, he resisted and threw a tantrum so loud that his dad declared he wouldn't pay for a haircut for Ryoh ever again. (He kept his word, and so he never found out about Ryoh's ears.)

His father had to transfer him to a public school then because of finances, without getting a refund for the deposit he'd paid of Ryoh's fifth grade tuition. Without his wife and daughter, the man grew restless. He lost motivation, slowly. There was no dramatic mourning after his wife's death, no months taken off from work. Instead he showed up at work a day after the funeral and tried to pick up where he'd left off. It was a month later that he wouldn't be able to get himself out of bed to go to work, only missing one day a week at first, sometimes making it all the way to Friday before he stayed home a day. Then it was two days each week, and then three. Ryoh didn't keep track of his father, so he wasn't sure how much of the time the man was staying home when he lost his job.

That was the point at which his father started taking long trips to do archeology, which hardly paid anything at all, but seemed to him to be the only way to hold onto his sanity. Putting his energy into taking care of his son never really occurred to him, so he put it into a job he enjoyed. Ryoh was left alone and had to learn financial management and cooking at the age of ten. (He burned his fingers in the boiling water once, one of his first times cooking a box diner, and so the tips of his fingers on his left hand are scarred. Because it's so small, and burn marks look different from scars that are a result of lacerations, hardly anybody ever notices.)

As for Ryoh, the public school wasn't much when compared with his old school. It was bigger and filled with rude and obnoxious cretins whom Ryoh didn't know and didn't want to know. For once, he was not eagerly chatting with his classmates during lunch or meeting with a group of buddies after school.

A year ago, the new setting might not have bothered him as much as it did. However, he was still shaken from the loss, and instead of confidence, he proceeded tentatively. That was possibly the worst approach he could have chosen. His self-doubt and uncertainty was palpable, and thus he was targeted. Every time he made even the slightest error, be it reading out loud in class and mispronouncing a word, or not knowing which brand of shoe was better (what did Ryoh care of Nike and whatever else somebody had on their feet?), one of the more malicious children would point it out and set nearly the entire class laughing. They didn't need a reason to attack, though – Ryoh's long hair, now to a length where he wore it in a ponytail and his earrings were clearly visible – was a constant source of insults. So was his lack of height; there wasn't a single student in his grade who was shorter than he was.

Ryoh's confidence had once been unshakable, but it wasn't long before he learned to stay quiet and out of the way. No longer was he talkative and gregarious. He made a few friendly acquaintances, but with his charming personality reduced to a memory, nothing much came of them. He just wasn't interesting enough to be bothered with. So instead he threw himself into his studies and his video games. When the Nintendo 64 came out he stopped buying school lunches in order to save money, until he had enough to pay for one from a pawnshop. Then he continued saving to buy a game for it. He lost a lot of weight during that period.

In seventh grade he began going through girlfriends, because although his colourless hair had been mocked since he arrived at that school, some of the girls found it appealing. He hardly stayed with one for two weeks, the longest relationships lasting perhaps a month, and was never single for very long.

In the beginning of eighth grade he accidentally let slip that he found one of the boys in his class slightly attractive. His current girlfriend broke up with him and suddenly he was single for a long stretch of time. The few friends he'd tried to make in fifth grade were still around, but the most any of them talked was to say 'hi, how're you doing,' in the hallway.

It was a lonely year. He cut his hair up to his chin (it had reached mid-back by that time) and wore it down again, almost proudly displaying the jagged edges that he had sheared himself. He slowly started to revel in his loneliness, and when he discovered the punk underground his wardrobe changed. Almost all the students at school stopped teasing him and left him completely alone when he began wearing enough chains to open his own S&M store. The few who persisted were easy to ignore.

He transferred schools again, and started ninth grade at a significantly better-ranked school on the other side of the city. His father had pursued archaeology and, unlike the majority of people in the field, struck it rich. He still stayed out of the country too much, but by now Ryoh wouldn't have been able to bear the man's presence.

He had been both looking forward to transferring again, and dreading it. The hope of actually meeting friends was there, but also the fear that he would still be a pariah. At least he knew what to expect at his old school. A small confidence boost was that he had a growth spurt over the summer, so he wouldn't be as short when compared with everybody else. He wasn't quite 'tall,' but he didn't look like a ten year old anymore.

It turned out, however, that his high school was one of the best things that ever happened to him. He made friends instantly. Within a month he invited three classmates to his apartment for a movie-night – Yoh, Kaga, and Kiriko. Yoh was a bit spacey, truth be told. He daydreamed and forgot homework. There were times when he would pause in the middle of a test, close his eyes, and start nodding his head to some song only he could hear. Still, he had good intentions, and he said what he was thinking. Kaga, who was a year older than everybody else, was rather loud and obnoxious. Though Kiriko claimed he was a sweetheart on the inside, he denied it fervently.

Then there was Kiriko. And it had been a while since Ryoh had a girlfriend.

To start, she was gorgeous. To continue, she was honest, kind, and liked his hair. To make the readers jealous, she was a very skilled kisser. She began to repair Ryoh's confidence, and soon enough he was once again the content, laughing boy he'd been before everything had gone to Hell. He, too, began to learn about the other side of her – her frustration at her personal weaknesses and the anger that she always bottled up. Under his influence, she learned that a healthy amount of indifference and cynicism was almost necessary. She was still almost scarily optimistic, but the expressions that Kaga and Yoh would get when she made a sardonic remark were priceless.

(Ryoh learned the joys of the flesh that year.)

The four of them, Ryoh, Kiriko, Kaga and Yoh, became very close friends in a very short time. They went out to the mall to hang out, because none of them had anything to do or because none of them wanted to be at their own homes, or sometimes would go to that one comics-and-gaming store to play Monster World (a game which Ryoh fell in love with and began to buy parts for). Doing those sorts of things with people, actually interacting with others, Ryoh was able to become the person he should have been. He discovered that he was rather good at making people laugh, and while 'class clown' was not an accurate term, he definitely could cheer a person up. Socializing not only became easier, it became fun.

At the end of the school year, Ryoh invited those three close friends and several classmates to his miniscule apartment for a party. He and Kiriko danced while eating slices of pizza, everybody talked and laughed, they watched "The Matrix," everybody whistled whenever Kiriko and Ryoh kissed, and it was perfect. Summer vacation was wonderful too (Kaga took them swimming at the school pool, which he'd been breaking into since last year), and Ryoh started to wonder if it was possible for good things to last.

Then his father gave him a birthday gift from Egypt.

Kiriko thought the Millennium Ring was "first rate neat," Kaga didn't comment on it except that it was too big for a necklace, and Yoh seemed to flat out hate the thing.

A week into the first semester of school, Kiriko died on his sofa while he screamed into the phone for an ambulance. He had no idea what had happened; they were playing Monster World, Kiriko called him a dork for having bought so many pieces for it, and the next thing he knew she was unconscious. The doctors told him that she'd always had a heart condition, and in addition to the loss Ryoh had to contend with the fact that she'd never told him about that.

He didn't mention to the police that when she'd collapsed, the game pieces were in places he didn't remember putting them. It seemed like a stupid and irrelevant detail at the time.

Kaga and Yoh tried to comfort him, because admittedly he wasn't bawling (the tears had only lasted for two hours before Ryoh'd clamed himself down), but he was too quiet, and he wasn't smiling. They did a fairly good job, but the damage was done. Then one day Yoh announced that his family was moving, and then Kaga got expelled, and Ryoh was alone again. He honestly did try to keep in touch, but Kaga was bad at responding to letters and Yoh had, in typical spacey Yoh fashion, forgotten to give him an address or telephone number. He quickly reverted back to his shy, quiet side. There were still classmates who tried to talk to him, and that was good, but in the middle of the year his father asked if he wanted to go to a better school (better meaning more expensive, because apparently his father was doing rather well in his business) and Ryoh decided to transfer.

One year and two schools later, Ryoh found himself attending the same school as Yuugi.


Illustration: ww m/view/6449550/