In the fourteen chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the final confrontation arrives, and the narrator experiences guilt over the outcome. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Trigger Warning: There’s talk of bullying and of death in this story.
For years, I believed I was responsible for Eddie’s death.
Eddie starting bullying me in fourth grade. In hindsight, I don’t know that he was particularly cruel so much as that he was able to tell precisely what my insecurities were. Then he’d exploit them. It initially started when he found out that I was of Mexican heritage, but couldn’t speak Spanish. Then I came to school with a hideous pair of glasses stuck to my face. They looked like aviator goggles, and my mother made me get them because I’d be “safer” in them. The “four-eyes” names came not long into that first day, and by the end of day, he’d rallied his fellow bully friends around a new game: throwing things at my face to see who could break my glasses first.
When they were bent and shattered by the end of the month, my mother said it was my fault that they were ruined.
Too often during those few years where Eddie and his friends would bully me, I heard a common refrain if I did tell on them: “Boys will be boys.” I was always told that Eddie was just being a little rough, that it was all fun and games, that I should learn to be more like the other boys if I was ever going to survive in the real world. That last bit confused me the most. What about my bullying wasn’t real?
I only stood up to Eddie once. We were in the far field at Terrace Elementary, our sixth grade class paired off against another sixth grade team, and it was my turn to kick. As I stepped out from behind the chain link gate that stood to protect everyone from stray kickballs or baseballs, Eddie’s taunts started up immediately. He told our teacher that we should just give our team an out because I surely wasn’t going to kick the ball. I nervously missed the ball during the first pitch, and as the students laughed, my teacher urged them to stay quiet. “Just give him a chance,” Mr. Shearer said, frowning.
He pitched the ball, slower this time, and as it rolled towards me, Eddie shouted nonsense at me, his voice pitched high, and I kicked the ground instead of the ball.
More students joined him in laughter, and I spun around to glare at him. “Mark can’t even kick a ball when Mr. Shearer rolls it super slow!” he said amidst guffaws and cackles.
And without a second of hesitation, I blurted out, “Well, at least I have a father!”
Eddie’s dad had been shot when he was four, and I knew this was a sore spot for him. After years upon years of never standing up for myself, I thought this was the only way I could make him shut up. And yet, when he burst into tears after a stunned bout of silence, I felt terrible. I wanted to take it back. No matter how much he’d hurt me, I suddenly wished I hadn’t said that. Mr. Shearer rushed over to comfort Eddie, and when he looked at me, I thought he was going to tell me to apologize to him. Instead, he just seemed sorry for the both of us.
Months later, near the end of the school year, Eddie confronted me about what I’d said, but not in the way that I anticipated. As I watched him approach me on the field, where I stood idly on the sidelines of a football game I secretly wished I could join. He stood next to me for nearly half a minute without saying anything, and in the silence, my heart raged in my throat. We had not spoken since I had brought up his father. He had stopped bullying me, and despite that I was happy that I was left alone, I still felt miserable about how I’d achieved that.
“Sup,” he said to me, watching the other kids on the field run by.
Not much, I replied.
“I wanted to thank you for something.”
I turned to him, suspicion. Would this be another gay joke at my expense? A trap?
He continued. “I been spending a lot of time with my brother,” he said. “You know, since you…” He let the sentence trail off. I knew what he meant. “And I just wanted to thank because I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t made… well.” He stopped, and I saw him drop his head down to his chest. “I just miss my dad is all, and I don’t want to miss my brother, too.”
I didn’t say anything to him because… shit, I was twelve. What could I say to him? The fact that he was thanking me for insulting him for having a dead father was strange enough for me. So when he walked away from me after giving me a curt smile, I figured that this was still part of some sort of prank.
Eddie was killed in a car accident four months later, in the opening weeks of junior high. He was riding in the passenger seat of his brother’s car, who also died.
- For years, I believed that I had killed Eddie, that it was my words that got him into that car. That guilt tore at me until I finally talked to a friend in high school, who said it was unbelievably irrational to blame myself. Hadn’t he bullied me for years? Hadn’t I needed a way to defend myself and get him to stop? Plus, his brother was apparently drunk at the time of the crash; wasn’t it his fault that Eddie died? Guilt is a funny, complicated thing, though, and I think Gaiman deals with it carefully here. The narrator’s guilt might be a bit unfounded from our perspective, but the kid is seven years old when Lettie sacrifices her own life to save him. Why wouldn’t he feel guilty? The world is still simplistic and black and white for him, you know? Despite that he has seen and experienced so many terrible things in the past week, I think he still views the world as a dichotomous thing, and that’s because he lacks the ability to appreciate nuances. All he knows is that he let go of Lettie’s hand, and he ran out of the safety of the Hempstock land, and he blames himself for it.
- I’m very certain upon reading it a second time that Lettie does cut the narrator’s timeline to protect him. He experienced the violent wrath of the hunger birds, and she quickly cut time to insert herself into his history.
- AND THEN THERE IS OLD MRS. HEMPSTOCK, WHO MIGHT VERY WELL BE THE BEING THAT CREATED EVERYTHING EVER. Or something like it!?!?! There are all these tiny clues about her existing forever. Plus, the hunger birds speak to her with a fearful reverence, as if she’s some sort of being who rules over them. Even if I’m totally off-base, that’s fine. I like that she’s ultimately left to be ambiguous in origin.
- Y’all, the way that Lettie is sent away through the use of that massive wave is just so haunting. It’s fitting, too, since for the narrator, she is the person who introduced him to the ocean in her backyard. It’s the way she leaves, too.
- The ocean imagery is so terribly fitting for this book. Washing a person clean; dark, unknowable knowledge; death; chaos. It works.
- Ginnie says she’ll take the narrator home. But where is that now? How will his family act after all that has transpired?
Please note that the original text/videos contains use of the word “idiot.”
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