Katniss and Her Call

Katniss Everdeen

I dreamt about my mom last night. We were holding a memorial service for her, but she was there. It was along a wide and murky river, something like the Columbia near Sauvie’s Island outside of Portland. In the dream, mom was a version from the past, a 1978 mom. Oversized glasses, a fading perm that fell just below her shoulders with natural brown hair free of hair dye or greys. Her pant legs were rolled up and she was laughing; a wide smile with a loud belly laugh. The guests and I were sharing stories about mom, like it was a graduation or anniversary party. Suddenly, the spotlight swung and someone volunteered me. Mom was gone, and I was standing there with expectant faces turned up, the brown water of the river out beyond the open windows.

Upon waking this morning I had to write this down immediately. The word volunteer rang through my mind and the next figure that appeared was unexpected. Katniss Everdeen.

When I teach the Hero’s Journey, I use the story of the Hunger Games as a contemporary example of the journey (which I talk about here). There is her Ordinary World in District 11, and her Call to Adventure as she volunteers as tribute, and the drunken, compassionate mentor Haymitch, and on and on. The story is an excellent example because so many of my students have either read the books or watched the movies. It is horribly violent, classically dystopian, and my favorite aspect is its critique on our values as a society, and on our young and entertainment.

In class, I use a scene from the Hunger Games to illustrate the Call to Adventure. The tribute ceremony is where the current oppressive government, the Capitol, selects two teenagers to participate in the televised Hunger Games from each district. The district watches silently as the names are called, including Katniss and her mother, and little sister, Prim. When Prim’s name is called out, and she begins to walk up to the stage, Katniss crazily screams out: “I volunteer!” In the movie version, the actress Jennifer Lawrence is frantic, emotionally running to Prim and instructing her to find their mother. The camera pans to the mother, who is stoic and unmoving, and I’m careful to point out that it is not the mother’s call to adventure. That she had lost too much already; her husband, her livelihood. Katniss had become the provider.

“I do believe this is the first volunteer for Tribute we’ve ever had,” Effie, the Capitol representative, says from center stage as Katniss steps up to the microphone. She is dazed, and looks shocked; she has responded to her call impulsively. There has been no refusal, which happens often in these stories, but instead she has volunteered without a second thought, as though she had no choice.

I wonder about my dream, and if the link that my mind and heart is forming is that I am volunteering spontaneously because I had no choice. I was thrust into this role of being motherless and now I must step up to the mic and move forward. My family dynamic is shifting so swiftly it’s hard to keep up: my husband and I separating, my mother vanishing. What will this new phase of life look like?

Maybe the call isn’t so black and white. Or maybe my call is less of an adventure and more like an exploration, more of a tentative step into a new way of life. I have been wholly focused on being a mother for the past 17 years. I have not paid much attention to me, in fact I haven’t been paying much attention at all. The years breezed by. I want them back.

I volunteer to come back to me.

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Tess Williamson

Tess Williamson

Morning job: writing, meditating, yoga. Day job: teaching kids how to collaborate and write stories. Night job: reading + watching stories. Always job: mama.