In the fifteenth and final chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the narrator tries to remember. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
Chapter XV / Epilogue
I didn’t want to disappoint my father, but I worried that I was going to anyway.
My brother and I sat across from each other at our old dining room table, and the notepad in front of me was blank. I stared at it, willing myself to come up with something, anything, that might be… worthy? Respectful? None of it seemed to be the right tone for me, and I cursed myself for being unable to string together words when I most needed to.
I excused myself silently and went to my mother’s bathroom in the back of the house, knowing that I could get a few more minutes privacy before someone figured out where I was. I closed the bedroom door and then the bathroom door behind me, locking it. I pulled the letter, written on yellow legal paper, out of my front pocket, and I sat down on the toilet to read it again.
It must have been the tenth time I’d done so that day, and I suppose I believed that by reading my father’s final written words to me, I’d feel inspired. I didn’t. I just missed him more and more, and I knew I disappointed him. “Don’t get any more tattoos,” he wrote at one point on the second page. “Make sure to find a wife to carry on the family name.” That one confused me because he knew I was gay and he’d never once expressed a desire for me to be straight.
And he spoke of family. Respecting and honoring them. Treating everyone with kindness and to put family first. How many times had my sister viciously argued with my mother in the past day? Was he referring to that, or was she exempt from the family rules once again? Still, I couldn’t help but feel like this warning, this postscript request, was intended only for me. I knew he was always saddened by my desire to run away from home, even if he understood why I did it. So I sat there in the bathroom, stealing a few more minutes’ time in solitude, and read the letter again. And again. And again.
Maybe he’d come back if I kept reading it.
I wandered back to the dining room to see my brother staring off into nothing. I left him to it and walked into the living room. My father’s bed had been folded up and carted away, but his recliner was still there, and I saw my mother staring at it. I stood in front of the fireplace, running my hands over the trophies my brother and I had earned over the years. My brother had more of them, for achievements in track & field and cross country, and I was certain that my father had once stood here, looking at these same glimpses of the past, and he had felt as I did right then: wistful. Wishing that one of his sons had done more with his life, that he’d been the son he wanted, not the kind of man who ran away from home, who wanted to write for a living, who found company with other men, who appreciated poetry and emotion and music.
Anger burned through me, washing throw my face, and I felt my cheeks redden. I couldn’t change who I was, and I didn’t want to. My mom had walked up behind me, and I felt her hand brush against my left arm briefly. I didn’t turn to face, but simply told her that I wanted him back.
“We all do,” she replied, and I could hear her heart breaking as she said it. “But he’s not coming back.”
No, I thought, he’s not. And there was no point to wondering whether or not my father wanted more of me. He wasn’t here to tell me so.
- Generally speaking, I’d say I have a good memory. At times, that’s not something I find to be an advantage, especially when I’m triggered or haunted by a memory I’d rather not experience again. Reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an exercise in deliberately seeking out memories of mine, challenging myself to write them down as accurately as possible, and finding ways to reflect themes or tones or ideas brought forth by the narrative. It’s with this final chapter that we understand the full scope of the narrator’s life and how the events that took place when he was seven shaped him for the rest of his life. However, memory doesn’t always work in a conscious way, and the narrator briefly understands that. (He can’t know everything, right?) He comes to learn that his memories fade, they burst, they revisit him at specific times, and like most things in life, they fluctuate. He remembers his cat Ocean, and then he doesn’t. Everything he’s experienced is skewed by his perception, which is something I brought up earlier this week. It always will be, too.
- But these memories still mean something to the narrator, even if he isn’t sure what that is. (Which reminds me of his lines about not understanding certain lyrics.) What Lettie did for him obviously affected his entire life because he wouldn’t have it without her. And I think that deep down, he’ll always remember the Hempstocks and their kindness and their perfect food. Clearly, he’s drawn back to that house, even if he doesn’t always remember that he returns there again and again. I was pleased in a way to learn that the narrator did not have some squeaky clean, perfect life after this. No, his memories haunted him, too, and he sought comfort in Lettie, even if she wasn’t ready to see him.
- Truthfully, the narrator has to figure his life out on his own, though I find comfort in the idea of the Hempstocks, these motherly beings who know how to cook the perfect meal and brew the perfect pot of tea and tell you the most honest truth you need to hear. Maybe we’ve found the Hempstocks in our own lives.
- This was a fairly terrifying experiment for me, but now I get why so many of you were so adamant about this being the most perfect book for me to write about as I’ve done. I’ve had to talk to people or talk about things I haven’t in many years in order to assemble a few of these memories from my life, and it’s neat to me that I, too, misremembered certain details I was very sure about before I started writing. I’m sure I ultimately got some things wrong, but I did my best to recall them as accurately as possible.
- Mostly, I’m thankful. For a community like this, that allowed to get away with a project this ridiculous, and for Neil Gaiman, for writing what might be my favorite work of his. I hope you’ll understand when I say that this was a very personal read for me, and I’m satisfied that it was. Mark Reads is about celebrating fiction, but it’s also about the experience of reading. I hope this experience has been as lovely as it has been for me.
As a reminder, tomorrow we start Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; commissions and reviews are doubled up due to the shortness of the chapters. Please check the Master Schedule and the Video Commission page for more details! Thank y’all.
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