I confess: I had a week of nightmares about The Hunger Games.
If you haven’t actually seen The Hunger Games, or you’re living under a rock, I should warn you that some spoiler alerts may be hiding out in the writing below. I give you permission to stop reading now.
For everyone else, let me start here: I saw the movie without reading the books on a wednesday morning with a good friend; at 11:00 in the morning, mind you, when two other humans sat in the massive theatre and the sound was far too loud without the din of breathing from the empty chairs. Afterwords, captivated by the story, I dived into all three novels, which I was done with in five days.
So naturally, it was Wednesday night when the dreams started. Real horror filled stories where I am characters in the story, or I am myself, and it is my own group of friends who are playing against me, or I am watching my own friends play the games. I had them for a full week before they subsided back to my regularly scheduled nightmare.
When I confessed this to the group of teenagers I sometimes teach on Saturday’s, they were not sympathetic. One fourteen year old rolled her eyes and informed me that she has been waiting for these movies for years. The rest of them looked at me with pitiful glances before moving on to other topics.They did not see the story line as anything to settle on, and they did not understand why I was dwelling on it.
I did, however, find sympathy in one of my closest friends, who experienced The Hunger games in the same way I did. Nightmares, less then a week of reading, and the same emotional obsession had overcome her life. We ended up praying together for a break in the hold that the story was having over us. And yes, eventually things turned back to normal.
But I’m still impressed by how much Suzanne Collins was able to break into my life.
And I’m also mystified by the reaction that I had to these books which young girls and boys are reading with no issues. They love the story lines, the characters, and the sacrifices that Katniss makes for those she cares about. They love the romance element, and the craftiness that some of the characters use in order to win. I wondered for a while if today’s kids were somehow more blood thirsty then when I was younger, but came to the realization that though these stories revolve around a game where everyone is meant to kill one another, the deaths are only a focal point in the fact that they get you one step closer to the main characters surviving. Maybe kids just want a character to root for. The good guy to win. The sacrifices that are made to mean something- all things that I would have jumped on when I was fifteen.
I remember my favorite character from that time in my life- his name was Luke, and he was a teen that the family took in on the TV show “Growing Pains.” He got into a lot of trouble and made a lot of big messes, but underneath his rough exterior, it was impossible to believe that he wasn’t amazing and good hearted. I loved him because I saw good in him that wasn’t at the surface yet, but that I believed would one day over take the bad-boy exterior, and make him the kind of future man that I dreamed of. I loved Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World for the same reason. I wanted so badly to believe that these people were going to turn out okay (which in their respective television shows, they pretty much did).
But now, re-watching those old shows, I know better. I recognize that in real life, at least for the most part, those boys turn into the kind of men who I avoid- jerks who think they can get away with anything and are invincible. I have seen the real life repercussions of the past, and I know more now.
I attribute my reaction to the hunger games to this “knowing better.” I understand the effect of the tragedies that befall Katniss. I know what it feels like to lose important things, important people. My friend, the one who shared my obsession, says that Collins must have experienced and extreme loss in a sudden way, because of how she describes how Katniss behaves after some of the events- she recognizes the symptoms, because she went through them in her own sudden, extreme tragedy. We, the newly recognized adults, are feeling the pain of this story in our own lives, because we understand what they really mean. But our teenage counter parts didn’t know- didn’t fear these things because they had yet to experience them.
I understand now what it means to go back to being a child- to believe like one, to love like one, to wonder like one. I wonder if it’s ever attainable again, or if we just have to move on with the knowledge under our belt that we can’t live in the past, and hope that one day we can achieve it. I wonder if I’m destined to be attracted to the Abed’s of the world now (community reference- look it up)- the emotionally unattainable kind, who is safe, sweet, and the kind of person you never fall fully in love with, which means you never fully lose.
In a Hootie and the Blowfish song called innocence, the words ring true- “I’m stuck up here with you/ I never thought we’d get this high/ I used to be afraid of falling/ Now I’ll spread my wings and I will fly.” Maybe one day I will fly again, or at least try, ignoring the things that I think I know. Because knowing more does not equal knowing better. It just means having been through more that I am afraid will repeat.
In the meantime, maybe I’ll stop reading teenager books for a while. Or at least wait until I can afford to stay awake for a long time afterwards.