WARNING: SPOILERS - This story takes place years after the end of the very last book in the Hunger Games series. If you haven't read all three books, this will be full of spoilers. Also, you might not understand what's being talked about in my story, nor understand the significance of each reference to the original books.
Author's Note: Now that I've finished the books, I don't want the story to end. This is my way of continuing it, even if only for just a little bit longer.
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games series and I am not making any money by writing this.
On the outside I am cool, calm, and collected, but in the inside my heart is racing and there is so much excitement welling up inside of me that it's all I can do to not run towards my goal. I've been planning this for a while, however, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardize my mission by losing my head and rushing into things. And so, I have to fight to keep every step at a relatively normal pace. I can't help but do a half walking, half running thing when I know no one's looking, but for the most part I try to look as unsuspicious as possible. Past the rows of crops I go, each fruit, vegetable, and herb being carefully attended to by a resident of District 12. Past the large medicine factory whose cargo will reach every far reaching tip of Panem. It comforts me to know that Grandma, all the way in District 4, will be one of those people receiving our meds. On and on I go until I'm in the heart of town. I can smell the sweet aroma of newly baked bread floating out from the open door of the bakery, but I resist going in because I know that once I see my dad, I'll be completely distracted and lose the chance to do what I came here to do. There will be other chances, of course, but I don't think I can stand another night laying wide awake in bed in anticipation of what I'm about to do now. Finally, I reach my goal...District 12's public library.
It's the peak of summer, school is out, and I have no reason to be here, but the librarian doesn't even raise her head when I open the door and walk in. I've been here more times than I can remember, checking out books as often as I can. I love District 12, don't get me wrong, but there's only so much peace and quiet one can take before you go mad from boredom. Reading books are my way to escape, not that there's anything keeping me in. The only fence District 12 has is by the forest and that's just to keep the wild animals out. And it's not like my family doesn't travel to the other districts. In fact, we can't help it seeing how Grandma lives all the way out in District 4 and Uncle Gale lives all the way out in District 2 with my aunt and cousins. That being said, we travel out of District 12 at least a couple of times each year. But there's something about escaping mentally into the world of books that I find invigorating. If I didn't have my daily dose of a good book to read, I'd feel empty and lost.
But today, I am not here in search of another good book to read, although the thought is tempting. And so I put my blinders on and try to stay focused on my goal, trying not to get distracted by the rows and rows of temptations on either side of me. And then I see it, towards the back of the building, rows and rows of not books, but tapes, each carefully labeled.
I feel the racing in my heart again, and again, it's all I can do to not break my cool and calm facade and let myself give into my inner excitement. My head is spinning now as my eyes dart the shelves quickly, trying to find as quickly as possible what I'm looking for. And then I see them, the only two tapes I'm interested in watching right now, ever, in my entire life. I snatch them up and walk as quickly as possible to the nearest viewing booth. I find one furthest away from other prying eyes and take a seat in my little three-walled cubicle. I pop the first tape into the cassette player and watch eagerly as the anthem begins, the symbol of the Capitol emerges on screen, and the event is announced as the beginning of the 74th Hunger Games.
If my heart wasn't racing before, it feels like it's about to explode now. It's not like I would get in trouble for watching these tapes, not exactly. Normally, watching anything so violent wouldn't be allowed for someone my age, but this is "educational" and so I'm allowed, the tapes open to the public as a reminder of the horrors that were, and hopefully, the horrors that will never be again.
No, my heart is racing for another reason. Finally, FINALLY, I get to see the games in which my parents are so well known for. It's not like my parents kept it from my brother and me. It's not like they could if they wanted to. From the moment a child steps into school, they are taught about Panem's past, the Hunger Games, the First Rebellion, and the Second Rebellion because, as I said before, it was so that we could remember the past, learn from it, and hopefully not repeat it. It's our history, our roots, it's what makes us who we are. It's also a way to honor and respect the lives lost both in the Games and the Rebellions. After all, those people had committed themselves to the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do is to remember them.
When I was around five years old, I remember finding a book. The book wasn't hidden, but it was put up high on a bookshelf so that neither my brother or I could destroy it. The problem, however, is that I'm a good climber. Even my dad likes to laugh and tell me that I'm just like my mom in that way. So, I climbed the bookshelf. I realize now how stupid doing something like that was. The entire thing could have come crashing down on me, but my parents are smart and they baby proofed the entire house. I climbed that bookshelf in safety because it was screwed into the wall behind it. Besides, even at that young age, I loved books. I loved it when my parents would tuck me into bed and I would fall asleep listening to the sounds of their voices, and nothing as trivial as a tall bookcase was going to keep a book that had caught my eye from getting into my eager grasp.
My parents didn't seem displeased about my finding the book. On the contrary, they were amused that I somehow managed to not only capture it, but come down safely with it as well. Also, they seemed pleased to see the book again. Up on the highest shelf of the bookcase, it had begun to collect dust and even when my dad blew on it, a small puff of brown smoke forced at least a couple of sneezes out of each of us. The minute the book flipped open, I recognized the drawings done in my dad's hand and the words written in my mom's hand, but what I didn't recognize were the faces the drawings or photos portrayed. There was one in particular that caught my eye as my dad flipped through the pages of the book. It was of a young, wispy looking girl. She looked so timid, so sweet, and it was that sweetness about her that made me want to know more about her. The moment I made my request, I caught my dad quickly look up at my mom, checking for her reaction, checking to see if she'd allow it. At first, she seemed on the verge of tears, as if to say, "Of all the pictures in this book, why is it this one that you want me to begin with?" But before my dad can tell me to pick another picture or to put the book away completely and forget about it, my mom simply says, "That's a good choice. We'll start with her. She's my favorite, after all."
There were times during the storytelling that my mom seemed choked up and it seemed like she couldn't go on. If fact, there were times where she indeed couldn't go on. It was during those times that my dad would ask my mom if we should stop, but she would just shake her head, ask him to pick up where she had left off, and after she had composed herself, she would pick up where my dad had left off. On and on we went, reliving the lives of as many people we could that first day. There were so many in the book, however, that we had to put it away and save the rest for later.
It wasn't an empty promise because sure enough the next day, my parents reopened the book and again, I sat or laid down, sponging in everything they had to say about the people in this book. Retelling who these people were and why they were important seemed important to my parents. As if reliving each and every one of those people's stories brought those people back to life.
And always, my mom would go back to talking about the girl named Rue, sometimes because I requested it, sometimes because my mother requested it herself. Rue was both our favorite, after all. She brought a certain light and sadness to my mom's eyes. Rue was a bittersweet memory that reignited a life in my mom that would have otherwise been buried by the passage of time. And ever since then, that book became my favorite book and I would have my parents read it to me the way other children would have their own parents read them a fairy tale book. This book was anything but a fairy tale book, however, but I didn't mind. All I knew was that the people in these books meant something to my parents and that was enough for them to mean something to me too. Now that I'm twelve, I feel like I know each of those people in that book so well that it's as if I had known them myself, been there for every act of kindness and self sacrifice. No wonder my parents refuse to forget them.
So between being taught at school and that special book my parents made, it's not like I was in the complete dark about the Hunger Games and my parents' role in them. They seemed to know beforehand that someday I would ask and someday they would have no choice but to tell, so answer my questions they would. The problem, however, is that books and stories can only tell so much. So here I am, holed up in a little cubicle, headphones over my ears, my face inches from a TV screen, trying to figure out what it was like when my parents were inside the arena and what it was about them that gave an entire nation the courage to rebel. I know from my own studies at school that the tides of change were already turning long before my parents ever set foot in the arena, but what was it about my parents that helped bring that flickering candlelight flame into a full blown blaze?
I can't help but watch, my eyes glued to the screen, as the ritual of the Reaping plays out before me. Yes, it's a completely different thing all together to watch it play out in real life. On screen, each child in the town square looks terrified, but sitting safe and sound in my little cubicle, I can't help but watch with a bit of detachment. I should be terrified for them, I know. These kids are around the same age I am now, after all, and I know that if I were in their place, I'd want every eye watching me to be feeling my own terror and sending out their sympathies out towards me, but there's something about watching things on TV that can't help but bring that sense of detachment, like watching a heart wrenching moment on TV that brings you to tears and then having the scene suddenly switch to a loud, colorful commercial about the newest, fastest car.
On screen, it's only when a girl comes running out of the crowd of other children and screams to the Capitol representatives on stage that she volunteers to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games that I snap out of it and I'm suddenly paying more attention. Mom. That's my mom.
It's so strange, seeing my mom on the TV screen only four years older than I am now. It makes me wonder how I myself will look when I'm her age now. At present time my parents are still fit and strong, true athletes even decades after the last Hunger Game was ever played, but time has a way of catching up, and both my parents have wrinkles at the corners of their eyes brought on not only by old age, but what they have been through in their less than idyllic lives. Well, now it's idyllic, at least I hear them whisper so to each other when they're wrapped up in each other's embrace and think no one is paying attention. But I'm paying attention. I'm always paying attention. I pay attention because I love my parents and I love what they have and I wish that someday I'll have what they have now for myself in the future. But no, my parents' lives weren't always so idyllic. At such a young age they had to go through what most of us don't dare to hope to go through in our own lives, ever, and because of my parents, we don't.
I dwell on the familiar, but younger features of my mother's face on the TV screen for only a few seconds before my eyes zoom in on the blond little girl the younger version of my mother is frantically trying to hide behind her back. Aunt Prim. I've seen her in the book my parents made, but again, to see someone in pictures and hear about them in stories is completely different from seeing them alive, moving, breathing, as alive as they can ever be captured on film. I watch captivated as things play out, my mom walking up on stage, the audience showing their sign of support, three fingers to their lips, before another scene completely envelopes me instead:
"Peeta Mellark." Aunt Effie calls out.
Again, I see the familiar, albeit younger, features of my dad and I know that's him. Dad. My sweet, kind dad being called out to the Games. Being called out to die.
I'm no longer detached. I know how the story ends because, after all, I'm here and so is my little brother, but this is my dad, and there is my mom, both only a few years older than I am now, and I'm placing myself in their shoes and I can't help but scream in my head "NO!"
But the tape continues and I'm forced to watch...No, I force myself to watch because I have a burning desire to know what was so special about my parents that they stood out from all the other Tributes, aside from winning the game.
When the Introduction of the Tributes comes on screen, I get a hint as to the reason why.
"Why ever not?" says Caesar, mystified.
"Because...because...she came here with me."
Cut to my mom's half open mouth.
A burst of thrilled laughter escapes from my mouth and suddenly I have a few curt shushes directed at me, as well as several dirty looks, and I remember that I'm at the library. Sure, most of the people here are just here for the free AC, but still, you're supposed to be quiet in the library.
"Sorry" I mouth, and sink into my chair both out of embarrassment and to also make myself smaller as if to say "See how small I am? I'm harmless!" But again, my eyes are fixed on the surprised look on my mom's face at my dad's declaration of love for her and I can't help the big grin on my face. I'm smiling so big and for so long that my cheeks hurt.
But soon enough that silly grin is wiped clean off my face as the Hunger Games begin and I watch as each Tribute is picked off one by one.
I want to turn the TV off, scream at someone "Don't you see how wrong this is?" but I don't. I force myself to continue watching because at the very least I want to see the part where my parents win. I could always fast forward the gory parts, but I don't. It's like witnessing the aftermath of a car accident. You just can't help but look.
As the game progresses, there's one underlying thing that keeps me truly tuned in: The growing romance between my dad and my mom. For the most part, my dad is sweet, kind, and thoughtful as ever. And whenever he and my mom kiss, you can tell that he truly, deeply loves her. My mom on the other hand...Even I want to reach out and slap her on the face through the TV screen, shake her shoulders and yell at her "Just fall for him too, you idiot!" But I already got reprimanded for laughing in joy at my dad's declaration of love for her. The last thing I need is to be kicked out of the library completely for damaging library property too. Besides, things are turning around all on their own.
Even in the darkness of their little cave, I can see my mom seeing my dad differently for the first time. And when they kiss again for what seems like the hundredth time, this time it's different. My mom kisses my dad back full-heartedly, not hesitantly as she had those ninety-nine other times. Finally, finally, my mom is beginning to feel an inkling of what my dad had been feeling for her, for how long did he say again? Oh, that's right...since he was five years old. I remember being five myself and having a crush on a certain boy, but most certainly nothing in comparison to what my dad felt for my mom.
So when it gets to the part where it's decided that only one of them can indeed win the game, my heart truly does go out to them. It had taken my dad so long to finally win my mom over, and this is how it's going to end? It's so unfair. It's more than unfair. It's just plain wrong. As wrong as these games themselves.
When my mom pulls out those berries and proposes a Romeo and Juliet suicide, I quietly pump my fist in my little cubby. I mean, not that I want my parents to kill themselves, but I am alive, after all, and so is my little brother. If my parents had indeed died in the arena, then I wouldn't be here now, watching this tape of my parents, cheering them on to defy the Capitol. And that's when it hits me: This is how my parents got an entire nation on their side to rebel against the Capitol. It wasn't fueled by hatred...Well, not completely because there was definite hatred for the Capitol and its unfair ways, but my parents revealed another side to the rebellion as well. One fueled by love.
I don't hesitate to pop in the second tape, the one marked "The 75th Hunger Games." I don't care much for the gore and horror that's sure to be there, but I do care about my parents. I care about their being forced into the arena a second time, and I care about seeing how the romance between my mom and dad plays out.
"Maybe I'd think that, too, Caesar," my dad says bitterly, "if it weren't for the baby."
What, what? Baby? What baby? At first I think he's talking about me, but I quickly realize that my parents didn't have me until years and years after this game. Did I have an older sibling I didn't know about? And if so, did he or she die because of the game? He or she must have. There's no other explanation. My poor mom lost her baby because of the stupid Capitol's games! Again, I can feel that burning rage inside of me. It's enough to make me want to burn something down in real life. This must have been what the rebels felt at the time and they indeed had their share of burning buildings down.
But as always, despite the rage, despite the gore, one thing keeps this wretched story down to earth: My mom crying when a boy named Finnick brings my dad back to life...My dad giving my mom a pearl that my dad found in a clam shell while diving for food. She still has that pearl. She keeps it stored away in a bit of silver cloth, tucked away in a dresser drawer. I found it once when I was trying on her clothes to play dress up...My mom kissing my dad back so intensely, I feel my face heat up in embarrassment at watching my parents so obviously hot for each other.
Love, love, love. Of all the weapons that could be used, my parents innately discovered that this was the most powerful one to use against the Capitol.
By the time the game ends with my mom being thrown back by the arena forcefield as it blows up, the message to fight back is already burned deep into my heart.
Oh, mom. Oh, dad. No wonder even now people who were around to watch the games still seek you guys out. No wonder those avid fans seem genuinely thrilled to know that my parents are, in fact, still together, that they had my little brother and me, that they are alive and happy and living on. When I was younger I didn't understand any of it, why random strangers would come up to my parents and seem to know so much about them, especially when we were visiting a different district far, far from home. We're so isolated from other people that it didn't make sense that these other people, whom I had never seen in my entire life, seemed to know me, or at least my parents, so well. It was because of these tapes. They saw a side of my parents that I myself had not known about until now.
But there's also a downside to knowing all this now, because it's greatly terrifying to have to follow in the footsteps of two people who were so strong, so smart, so admired. I didn't see this growing up in the middle of nowhere. In District 12, I viewed my parents simpler. My dad was a baker, my mom was a hunter, they were my parents, and that's all there was to it. But now...
I shake my head, shake myself out it. I can hear my parents berating me for trying to be like them. They've never forced their fame and glory upon me. If anything, they've done a pretty good job of hiding it from my brother and me. The only times we realize what a big deal our parents are is when they're stopped by those avid fans or when we hear people talk about them, thinking we can't hear them, but we do. After all, when you hear anything that sounds like it's remotely related to you or your friends or your family, you can't help but aim your focus at what's been said. Fortunately, what was being said about my parents wasn't anything bad. On the contrary, they put my parents up on a pedestal, so instead of being angry at the whispers, instead of being protective of my parents, I couldn't help but puff my chest out a little in pride for them.
The bright light of the sun hurts my eyes when I finally step outside of the library. Now that I've accomplished what I had been dying to do for so long now, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. Personally, I'd prefer to seek out my little brother and tell him everything that I know now. In fact, it's already guaranteed that he and I will sneak into the library one day to watch the tapes together. He needs to see them for himself the way I had to see them for myself. Unfortunately, he's hunting out in the woods with our mom at this very moment, however, so I'll just have to tell him later, maybe tonight when our parents have gone to bed.
I'm so excited to share this with my little brother because I understand so much now and I want him to have the same kind of understanding too. Even my own name makes sense now: Deedee, Dee for short. Up until this point the only thing I knew about my name was that my mom chose it as an abbreviation of one of her favorite flowers, the dandelion, and how a dandelion once reminded her that life could go on in spite of how bad things could get. To my mom, I had become a representation of that renewal born from the ashes of her and my dad's tormented, tortured lives. I had come to represent all their hopes and dreams for a better future.
I've already decided to not tell my parents that I watched the tapes. I don't know why, but for now, the knowledge I have now is something that I'd like to keep to myself and my brother. Maybe someday I'll tell them, tell them that I know about the horrible things they had to go through, the horrible things that they were forced to do, how I don't blame them or shun them or anything of the kind. Instead, I'll tell them how it makes me see them with a new found respect, not only for being so strong in surviving it all, but for trying to live life as normal as possible for both my brother's and my sake, for trying to face the nightmares and flashbacks with only each other for comfort, but also for their dignity shown not only in those tapes, but in the way they hold their head's up high, showing that, even now, they are not just game pieces to the deranged Capitol's games.
When I was younger, I hadn't known the origins of the game "Real or Not Real." I thought it was just one of those games that everyone knew and played as children. It was only when I was in District 4 visiting my grandmother and playing with some neighborhood kids that I realized that the game was a game solely of my parents' creation.
Nowadays, when I see my father push a strand of hair away from my mom's face and tuck it behind her ear, or when I see my mom tuck herself into my dad's warm embrace, I see the young boy and the young girl in those tapes and see what the audience back then had also seen, but now I know what they don't know...It's not all for show. My parents truly love and care for each other. It's the most real thing that I know.