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War and (hunger) games

The first time someone asked me if I killed anyone I was taken by surprise. It’s a deeply intimate question, but a question that some people seem to ask so flippantly. It’s a taboo, even in my small military circle of friends. One that I don’t talk about and one that we will certainly not be talking about today. I’m reading, or rather rereading, the Hunger Games trilogy and it made me think about the first time I read it.

I had just found stable footing again. I had moved out of my car and into a semi-nice apartment. This was post-suicide attempt and things were slowly… very slowly, starting to come together. I had just gotten my education back on track and the military finally admitted I was partially disabled. Spoiler: I was fully disabled and had been since before I got out basically, but it took almost ten years (ten!) after my discharge before they would admit and recognize that. I’m now considered totally and permanently disabled and it’s a fight I’m glad is now over.

Back to the story. A non-military friend from school recommended the Hunger Game books to me. I’ve always loved to read and just this summer alone I’ve read 21 books out of my 20 book goal for the year. It was, and is, my escape from reality. A way for me to not have to think about my shitty life. For a moment I could just… be.

The books left an impression to say the least. I had a hard time reading them. War is a hard subject to write about. It’s a harder subject to read about when you’ve just gotten home and were still transitioning to being a full time civilian. Yeah at that point it had been a few years since I left, but in some ways you never really are gone. I’m reminded of an interview with a world war 2 vet who said his war was 70 years ago and yesterday. I think a lot of us who served can relate.

By the time I was finished with the first book, I was sure I had made a mistake. They were depressing and while slightly watered down for the target audience, I was surprised by how well they captured the feelings of PTSD and being alone. The transition from something life altering to your old life is one that you never really get to make, you’re always stuck in a sort of limbo, never quite free. I think part of the popularity of the books is the fact that this limbo is captured so well.

I connected with the books because there wasn’t a happy ending. You no longer get to live life, you sort of survive it, no matter how good things get. That’s what I do on a daily basis, I survive. Life loses its luster, it’s dull like a grey film has been pulled over it, and frankly I don’t think that will ever go away. It’s something I’m living with and while I’m not happy about it, I’ve also had to make peace with it.

I’m rereading the books because I enjoyed them, but also because it reminds me that my experience isn’t so abnormal. In fact, it’s such a common one the author managed to capture it in perpetuity through a book made for a young adult audience.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that the books were turned into movies or that they were so popular. People have always had a fascination with war and the books do a surprisingly good job of capturing some of the emotional baggage that comes with being thrust into the middle of it. In the end, the books hold a special place in my heart because Suzanne Collins didn’t shy away from the after. Coming from a military family, it doesn’t surprise me that she would get this right and I’m thankful she did.

While the books remind me of some very difficult times in the military and the transition I made afterwards, I am still very thankful for them. At the time I read them I was still feeling very alone and broken. I still feel those things if I’m honest, but the books remind me that my experience isn’t as unique as my brain wants me to think.


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