Marc never went to school like I did; he went to a special school, in a taxi, every day. I knew he hated it, because I had to work hard to cheer him up every day, when he got home. I don’t know why he hated it, but I hated it too... just because it made him sad. He never learned to read, or ride a bicycle, or play football.
There were a lot of things he couldn’t do but there were so many more things he could do. For one thing, he could climb like a demon, given half the chance. He climbed trees, mountains, climbing walls, anything and anywhere, and I mostly got the blame, not that I minded, because he was happy when he was climbing, and when he was running, or riding.
Once, we went on an outward bounds course for... I won’t call it by its name because it doesn’t apply to Marc. Marc isn’t and never has been disabled, handicapped or challenged; he was, and is, just... special.
The course was good, though. It gave Marc the kind of freedom that he lacked at home and everyone was surprised by the way he took to the challenges. He was like a fish in the water, and wasn’t afraid of anything.
Once, when we were standing on the top of a tower, waiting to jump off, trusting a rope and a few pieces of metal to get us to the ground, he put his arm around me and smiled his smile. “I’ll take care of my Jamie,” he said, and then he pushed me off. I screamed all the way down, but he didn’t. When he landed he grinned at me.
“I thought you were going to take care of me.”
“You’re okay,” he said smiling, as if that explained everything and then he hugged me. I was fifteen and that was the moment I knew, for sure, I’m gay. The smell of him; the warmth of his arms; the softness of his hair. Although, later I felt guilty about it; about the way I felt; about who I was feeling it for, at that time, that one glorious moment I was totally and absolutely in love with him.
In some ways, Marc never grew up. As we got older, his childlike innocence became more and more pronounced, as he reached the age when he really should have left it behind. He never learned how to lie, how to cheat and steal, or how to hurt people. Marc would no more have hurt another person, than he would have pulled his own teeth.
That didn’t impress everyone. There were some who like to spoil perfection, to corrupt innocent. There were some who wanted nothing more than to tear him down and hurt him and, every time they did, I kicked their arses and built him back up again. It was never hard. Marc always found it easier to be up than down.
I thought that was because of the way he was, but I should always have realised that it was actually because of the person he was.
When he was fifteen, almost sixteen something terrible happened to Marc, something he never recovered from. He lost his best friend; his supporter; his protector; his other half. He lost his sparkle, his shine. He changed. He was broken.
I didn’t know that any of that would happen, when I accepted the place at an university, almost two hundred miles away. I didn’t know that I would hurt my best friend, so badly that he never completely got over it. I didn’t know that I would never see that light in his eyes again; that from then on every time he looked at me, there would be a shadow.
At first, when I tried to explain to him what was going to happen, that I was going to leave, to go to school, but I would come back for weekends and holidays, he really didn’t understand. He had no frame of reference. He had no concept of a life without me around. He didn’t understand and that was why he accepted it. It made me feel that it would be alright, even when I knew, deep down, that it wouldn’t
Both sets of parents reassured me that I was doing the right thing. His parents thought that, without me around, Marc would find a little more independence, that he would have to. I acknowledged that Marc relied on me totally, maybe too much, and so I believed then. My parents thought that I would find more freedom, a life of my own, a girlfriend maybe. I let myself be persuaded that it was the right thing to do, and I have to admit that the thought of total freedom was a rush.
I started a degree in technology, with a major in interstellar travel. My mother always said I had my head in the stars, and I was learning to design star drives; helping people travel to them. It was exciting, stimulating, all consuming. I thought there were no limits, no boundaries.
I had believed that Marc would learn to accept. I spent hours explaining what I was going to be doing. We looked at star charts, watched programmes about transports and cruisers; I even rented movies about university life or star travel. I really thought that he understood, that he was okay, even happy for me, but I was wrong.
The moment I saw the confusion replaced by pain in his eyes; the moment I hugged him for the last time and turned away, and he ran after me; the moment he looked into my eyes and begged, “Don’t leave me Jamie,” I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life. But it was too late. Way too late.