Katniss and Prim and my identity crisis

If you haven’t been in a bunker hiding from terrorists for the last several years, then I am sure you have heard of The Hunger Games. You might think it’s a spin-off of The Biggest Loser, but you’ve heard of it. To keep you on the up and up, I’ll give you brief synopsis of the trilogy. In a dystopian society, the government holds a competition between a chosen male and female from the 12 districts of “Panem,” in which the contestants fight to the death. The choosing of the contestants, or tributes, is done at a reaping ceremony. In the first novel, a young girl named Prim Everdeen is chosen, her sister, Katniss volunteers to go in her place in order to spare her sister’s life. The rest of the trilogy centers around the games, and Katniss’ quest to overthrow the corrupt government that uses the games as a way to scare people into following the prescribed order of society. not really uplifting, for sure.

I remember when I read the first book. I was in the thick of grad school and had no business reading for pleasure. I stayed up all night reading the first book and neglecting my studies. Further, I was straying pretty far from my typical chick lit or political thriller pleasure reading. I was hooked, and read the first two books within 24 hours. That was in 2009. A few months before all hell broke loose. As I read the books then, I was fascinated with the whole dystopian society thing. In college, I was required to read The Handmaid’s Tale for a class. Most people hated it, but the dystopian vibe intrigued me. (Perhaps I should be the one living in a bunker?)

My first midnight movie attendance was for the first Hunger Games movie. (Sister girl right here loves her sleep, can I get an amen?!) Somehow, I managed to stay awake for the entire thing. More shocking than that, was my visceral reaction to Katniss (the protagonist) volunteering to take her sister, Prim’s, place for the Hunger Games.

I was not prepared to have the Morton’s salt girl pour herself onto my gaping scrape in the middle of the night at a theater in Nashville. I also wasn’t prepared for the identity crisis that I would face. It hurt so badly, because I could identify with the emotions of Katniss and Prim. As the big sister, when I saw my baby sister lying in the ICU room with machines keeping her alive, I remember thinking, “Oh God, this should be me, please let me take her place.” If you know any of our history, it would have made more sense for me to be the one dying. Our story parallels Joei Piccoult’s book, My Sister’s Keeper. Molly wasn’t born to be my bone marrow match, hello adoption. But, in so many ways, she had to take care of me, and in this cruel twist of fate that should have been limited to a dramatic novel, she was the one dying. Katniss was doing what big sisters do. Prim’s refusal to let go of Katniss also reverberated in my guts. As much as I wanted to take her place, I knew I couldn’t, and I was screaming at the thought of letting her go. Dang you, pop culture, teen phenomenon, bull crap.

I saw the sequels to the first movie, Catching Fire and The Mockingjay, Part 1.  In the fun part of grief where you don’t remember things, well that is where those memories are stuck. I don’t remember them. Today, I went to see the final installment, because I learned that you have to finish what you start, unless it’s a glass of red wine that is making my throat close up. I also read the final book, but those memories are hanging out with the movie memories, so I was in for a surprise! ALERT: Spoiler ahead!

I spent the first 75% of the movie curled up on the recliner covering my face and holding my breath. (HOLLA to ever decided that movie theaters need recliners, I will name my next dog after you!) I do not enjoy suspenseful and action-packed movies, and I am already anticipating tonight’s nightmares. About 3/4 of the way in, I got blindsided again (the right side is my blind side) and was longing for the suspense and action to distract me from the emotions of Katniss. Here it is: she watched her sister get blown up.

She watched her sister get blown up, and it was terrible. It was a blip in the movie, but it was a 5 hour miniseries on the BBC for me. Everything after that was her trying to reconcile her sister’s death both emotionally and physically. She wanted to kill the person responsible. She allowed the truly responsible party to manipulate her into thinking it was someone else’s fault and she took that person down. Most people probably didn’t pick up on it, but Katniss’ whole demeanor changed. She once was fighting for justice to heal a broken society, and now she was fighting for a revenge that would never heal her. NEVER. The last 6 years flashed before me. Oh how I have tried to lay the blame on other people. I’ve tried to get all sides of the story and think of a way to get revenge on whomever I deemed responsible at the time. (Luckily it was only in a fictitious manner. i wonder if the author, Suzanne Collins is also a grieving sister?) I could see into Katniss’ heart and mind to know that nothing mattered but her sister being gone. Maybe she could see into mine also. (I used to laugh really loud when I watched Family Ties because I thought the laugh track or audience was people laughing at their houses all over the country, and I wanted to be heard. I was pretty sure Alex P. Keaton could see me, so why can’t Katniss?)

I can’t find a video clip that shows the next scene, and I am not interested in being fined or arrested like my sorority sister was for downloading on Napster in the early 2000s, so I will just tell you. When Katniss finally gets back to her home, she awakens to Prim’s cat. Some might say that her reaction was hokey, but as a girl who’s lived it, let me tell you it was real. She started throwing things toward the cat, intentionally missing it, screaming that Prim wasn’t coming back, and then she scoops it up and breathes in the cat hair. As a person who is allergic to cats, it makes me want to drink Benadryl, as a sister who came home from watching her sister die, it takes me back to smelling her dogs and cats just to get a memory of her scent planted in my brain. I had to tell them she wasn’t coming home. I know, they’re dogs and cats, and they probably speak Mandarin, not English. They saw her before the ambulance took her. They knew before I did. But, I had to say it for me. Katniss had to say it for herself, and saying it makes it truer than seeing it.

I remember talking about these books with Molly during Thanksgiving of 2009. She was just getting into reading for pleasure, and I told her that I had read these “teenager” books and she should read them. She told me they were stupid and she didn’t like to think about a crazy world like Suzanne Collins had imagined. In that case, I was Prim and she was Katniss, schooling me on what was practical and what was not. i wish she had read them. Would she have picked up on the love between Katniss and Prim? Maybe she would have realized that I would have volunteered as tribute. Maybe she would have kept me from living in my own dystopia without her. Maybe she could have given me more insight on why Katniss loved Peeta, he was so annoying. Maybe she could have held my hand during the suspenseful part of the movies so I wouldn’t kick so many of my fellow viewers who also paid good money to see it. Maybe.

Have radical, open conversations with your kids about what they are reading. Find out why they like something, why they don’t. It could be their way of telling you the truth about their lives, because it’s easier to point out our flaws in girls who can survive the Hunger Games than our own.

“How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I’m certain I love?” Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

More than meat loves salt,

EGG, part Prim, part Katniss (minus the impeccable aim with a bow and arrow)





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