Saturday, March 23, 2013

Life Lessons 26: Starvation

What would it be like to starve? That wasn't a question most nine-year-olds pondered over, but this wasn't the first time Nickel had thought about this question. Occassionally they'd be eating dinner and his dad would make an off-hand remark about his childhood and the previous lack of food in District 12. His mother would immediately scold him for the remark, and Peeta wouldn't say anything more about it. By that time though, the words had already made their mark in Nickel's mind.

His teachers had said things about District 12 being a poor district before the rebellion, but a lack of food was something that was never discussed. If it had been, Nickel would have known. He always paid specially close attention in history class. Nickel had always secretly wondered what it would be like to go without food. He couldn't imagine not eating three full meals a day and maybe a snack or two. It was another thing he added to the ever growing list of horrible things he couldn't believe his parents had gone through.

One day Nickel decided to go a day without food. Not because he wanted to go without it, but because he wanted to see what it had been like for his parents. Nickel had always had an insatiable curiosity, and he always wanted to not only learn things but experience them if at all possible. He didn't plan to go without food forever. He wasn't going to actually starve himself. He just wanted to go one day to see if he could kind of understand his parents' situation. Needless to say, he didn't last the whole day.

The first problem Nickel encountered was his parents. He guessed their own years of limited food had led them to be much more adamant that their children recieve the correct amount of nourishment. That meant eating enough to be full, but not enough that they'd want to take that puking drink his parents had mentioned in disgust a few times. Nickel wasn't at the table for more than a few minutes that morning before his mom asked him why he wasn't eating. Her concerned look made it apparent that Nickel wasn't going to get away from the table without eating a decent breakfast.

Unable to come up with a way to avoid eating under his parents' watchful eyes, Nickel began to pick at his breakfast disinterestedly. He was swirling around some scrambled eggs and taking the occassional bite when he heard his father speak, "Nickel? What's wrong?"

Looking up for the first time in ten minutes, Nickel realized that not only his parents but also his sister were watching him. While his parents' faces both held looks of concern, Dani just look slightly interested in the events unfolding.

"I'm just not very hungry," Nickel stared down at his eggs to try and hide the lie. Peeta and Katniss seemed to see right through this, and Nickel could hear them sitting their silverware down as if preparing for a long conversation. Dani took a bite of sausage as she watched the others intently, careful not to miss anything.

"Really?" Katniss asked in a disbelieving voice. "You haven't eaten in the twelve or so hours since dinner, but you're not hungry?"


"Are you sick?" Katniss sounded as if she already knew the answer.


"Then what could be the cause of you lack of appetite?" This time she didn't yet know the answer to the question.

Nickel was quiet for a moment as he thought about what to say. His family was watching him intently, and his unfortunate inability to lie wasn't helping matters. "I just don't feel like eating," was the lie he finally chose. He just prayed the growling his stomach was doing wasn't audible to the entire room.

"Nickel," his mom started in a voice that told him he was going to be revealing the truth rather soon.

"I just don't want to eat," he quickly defended himself. It was his last ditch effort to get away with not telling the whole truth.

His father was studying him closely. "There's more to it than that. People don't just decide they don't want to eat. Not when their stomachs are growling loud enough for the whole room to hear."

So they had heard that. This wasn't working out the way Nickel had hoped. "I just wanted to see what it was like." Although it came out as a mumble, his parents seemed to have heard him. Katniss' face showed confusion, as if she didn't understand what he meant, but Peeta seemed to understand immediately.

His father leaned over and placed a hand on his shoulder before speaking. "Nickel, starvation isn't something a nine-year-old should experience, and skipping one meal won't really help you understand anyway. You'd have to skip a whole lot of meals all in a row or eat very little, and there's no way your mother and I are letting you do that. It's not healthy, and you shouldn't even think about attempting it. A lot of people went through some pretty horrible stuff so that you don't have to worry about starving, and you should finish your breakfast to show them that you're thankful for it." When Nickel chanced a look at his mother, he noticed that a look of horror had taken up residence on her face now that she knew what was happening. This was the very reason Nickel had wanted to avoid explaining himself. Without even saying a word, Nickel looked down at his plate and took a giant bite of his now cold scrambled eggs. He didn't even look up as he continued shoveling food into his mouth at a break neck speed.

Katniss seemed content to drop the issue now that Nickel was eating. He could see her turn back to her food out of the corner of his eye. Dani had also lost interest in what was happening, but Nickel could clearly feel that his father's eyes were still on him as he ate his meal. This caused the young boy to continue staring at his food even when most of it was gone from his plate and his stomach had finally been satiated.

Dani excused herself soon after finishing and left to go into town with her friends. Nickel had hoped for a similar escape, but he lost hope when Peeta spoke. "Nickel, I think we should talk more about this."

For the first time since he began eating, Nickel cautiously looked up at his father. It wasn't that he was scared they'd be mad. Rather, he was scared of their disappointment or sadness. Nickel didn't even know how to explain himself to them. He'd just been curious, but something told him his parents wouldn't understand that. They just seemed slightly horrified. You'd almost think Nickel had tried to starve himself to the point of death. All he'd wanted to know was how if felt to not eat one meal.

"Nickel," his father began. "You don't want to know what it's like to go without food. One meal wouldn't matter much, but you'd have to go without for much longer than that to really understand. And you shouldn't have to understand."

"This is way too much for a nine-year-old," his mother finally spoke. Nickel wasn't sure if her words were about his attempt at not eating or his father's speech. She wasn't looking at either of them. Instead, her eyes were firmly on the table in front of her, and the deep frown she wore made Nickel feel even worse. He almost wished he had more food in front of him. Maybe he could fit a little more into his stomach.

"Katniss," Nickel's father moved around the table to be closer to his mother. "It's fine. Nickel's fine. He was just curious, like always."

"He shouldn't be curious about this," she whispered. Nickel shrunk back in his seat. He felt trapped and wanted nothing more than to escape. Katniss looked close to tears, and Nickel felt his own stinging his eyes.

"Mom," Nickel whispered before slowly getting out of his seat and approaching her. "I'm sorry," he mumbled quietly into her shoulder. Katniss gripped him tightly, and both mother and son stayed wrapped in each other's arms for several minutes.

"It's okay," Katniss whispered in his hair. "Just never try something like that again."

"I won't. Promise." And it was the truth. Nickel was determined not to do something that had proved to cause his parents so much pain.

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