Haymitch Abernathy was born in the futuristic world of Panem, previously the continent of North America. Panem is run by an all-powerful city called the Capitol, surrounded by 12 districts that perform manual labor for it. District 12, where Haymitch lives, is one of the poorest districts. Haymitch, being one of the two victors of District 12 and the only one alive, lived in the Victor's Village alone.
Every year, as punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, every district is required to send a male and female contestant, called tributes, between the ages of 12 and 18, into an arena to fight to the death. Although the Capitol citizens view the Games as an entertainment event, many of the districts take no pleasure in watching them and dread the Reaping, where the tributes are picked by lottery.
During his early years, Haymitch lived in the Seam, the poorest part of District 12, with his mother and his younger brother. Haymitch was reaped for the second Quarter Quell, a special version of the Games that happens every 25 years to keep the memory of the rebellion fresh in the minds of the citizens of Panem. That year, four tributes instead of two were reaped from each district. At that time, Haymitch was a handsome young man with a good sense of humor and a sharp mind, which allowed him to charm the citizens of the Capitol.
Haymitch allied with another District 12 tribute, Maysilee Donner. During the Games, by chance, he broke through the foliage surrounding one end of the arena, and discovered the force field surrounding the arena to prevent the tributes from escaping. He noticed that anything thrown at it would bounce back. He wished to investigate further but Maysilee did not. Soon, the two tributes parted ways. Immediately after the two broke off their alliance, Maysilee was killed and Haymitch stayed with her until she died, holding her hand.
Haymitch continued the Games and ended up being one of the last two remaining tributes. Both tributes were grievously wounded—Haymitch had been nearly disemboweled and the girl was bleeding profusely from an empty eye socket. Haymitch made his way to the edge of the arena where the force field was, with the girl in pursuit. The female tribute threw an axe at the now-collapsing Haymitch, which bounced off the force field and rebounded on her, killing her and making Haymitch the victor of the 50th Hunger Games. However, President Snow, the leader of the Capitol, was furious about Haymitch's trick with the force field, which Katniss would later describe as being "almost as bad as the berries." Snow ordered the death of Haymitch's mother, brother and girlfriend in revenge, leaving Haymitch alone but with no leverage for the Capitol to use against him.
For the next 25 years, Haymitch trained the tributes for District 12 alone. Due to the horror of the Games, his grief over his family's deaths, and the fact that every tribute he trained was killed in the arena, Haymitch turned to drinking and isolated himself from the rest of District 12. He began sleeping with a knife in his hand and refused to let anyone into his house.
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