***Hunger Games spoiler alert***
"I really like Haymitch, even though he drinks too much alcohol," my eight-year-old Katie announced from the backseat of the car, seemingly out of nowhere. We were in line to drop her off at school. It was too cold and windy for our spoiled suburban asses to walk, so we got in line with the other parents who had the same idea. We hadn't been talking about The Hunger Games, or alcohol, or anything related to the subject, but I long ago gave up asking what Katie's comments have to do with anything in the present moment.
"Yeah, me too," I said, meeting her eyes in my rear-view mirror. "You know why he drinks so much, don't you?"
"He drinks to numb the pain."
"Well, you know, he won the Hunger Games when he was younger, that's how he gets to be the mentor for Katniss and Peeta. So, can you imagine how awful it would be to live your life knowing you've killed other kids?"
"They're not kids. They're teenagers," Katie corrected me.
"Teenagers are kids, just big kids. So Haymitch drinks so he doesn't feel so awful all the time about what an awful life he's had," I explained.
"Oh. Why don't the other victors drink, too?" Katie asked.
Katie's questions are getting harder and harder to answer as her thinking becomes more complex. "Well, everybody handles their pain differently. Abusing alcohol is not a healthy way to deal with your pain, but it's a very common way. Those other victors from--was it District Six?--were addicted to morphling, which is a made up drug, but it sounds a lot like morphine, which lots of people use for pain control in the real world today. But some choose not to dull the pain, but to use it to fight the cause of the pain, like Katniss with The Capitol."
"I think I'd drink alcohol, too, if I were in The Hunger Games," Katie said.
"Yeah, well it's good to try to understand why people do unhealthy things, but if you're ever in that kind of pain I'd hope you'd talk to me or Daddy so we could get you some help that's not going to harm your body. I've known too many alcoholics in my life. I'd really appreciate it if you not become one yourself," I smiled.
"Yeah, like Uncle Pat?" Katie asked. Katie was just four when my brother died of liver failure.
"Exactly," I said. "Uncle Pat was not a bad person, just like Haymitch is not a bad person. Many alcoholics are kind, caring people who just don't have the strength to fight to make this world a better place. But you're not like that, are you?" I asked, glancing back at Katie. "You're more like Katniss. I'm not worried about you," I said, wishing I really meant it. Maybe if I pretend I don't constantly worry about her, Katie will keep charging ahead bravely.
"Yeah!" Katie said, opening her door. We'd finally arrived at the drop off spot. "I'm like Katniss. I'm not going to be an alcoholic when I grow up!"
One of the teaching assistant's was standing there, holding the door for Katie. She'd obviously heard just the last statement Katie'd made, which when you think about it is a pretty odd statement for a third grader to make at 8:00 in the morning. She gave me a strange look and said in a robot voice, "Have a nice day."
I smiled awkwardly and said, "You, too." Then I called out to Katie, who was already half-way to the front door, "Have a great day, Punky!" I looked back at the teaching assistant and started to explain myself, but she shut the door before I got a chance.
It wasn't until hours later in the day, when I looked at the calendar, that I realized it was January14th. Four years exactly to the day since my brother Pat had passed away. There's no way Katie could have known, and yet, somehow, it's as if she did.