The first time I came back for the weekend, my heart broke. I went straight over to Marc’s house, even before I unpacked. He was in his room and I knew from the look on his mother’s face the moment she set eyes on me that he wasn't in a good place.
When I opened the door and saw him sitting on his bed with his knees dawn up, staring out of the window with blank, empty eyes, my heart broke and the minute he looked up at me, it crumbled.
“Jamie went away.”
“I know, but I came back. I told you I would come back. I’ll always come back.”
He shook his head and turned back to the window. “Jamie went away.”
And that’s all he would say... for hours. It took a lot of encouragement and cajoling to draw him out of his shell enough to speak to me, and even then it was in single words with downcast eyes.
I tried so very hard but it was as if he had shut a door somewhere inside which he never opened for me again. He never opened it for anyone else either and as the months and then years passed he withdrew further and further behind it.
When he was almost eighteen and I was twenty one I finished university. I came home to find him so changed I wouldn’t have recognised him if I had met him in the street. I hadn’t been back for three months because I had finals to study for and parties to go to. I’d had a life and I thought that by immersing myself in that life I could shut out the images that haunted me... images of blue eyes filled with tears.
As soon as I walked through the front door my parents told me straight away that I needed to go and see Marc. They said that his parents were worried about him and they thought I would be able to help. I wasn’t. He didn’t want to see me. He wouldn’t talk to me and I grieved for how much I had let him down. He was a precious, precious gift, a sunflower and I had crushed his petals. I didn’t know what to do to make him alright again.
After three hours when he still hadn’t said a single word to me I went downstairs to get a drink and his parents asked to speak to me in the kitchen.
I sat on a tall stool at the kitchen table and they stared nervously into their drinks.
“We’ve been contacted by someone through Marc’s school; a doctor. They’ve been doing experiments; research and development about conditions like Marc’s.”
I had learned a long time ago that Marc was the way he is because of complications during his birth that had starved his brain of oxygen and cause irreparable brain damage. At least until now it had been irreparable.
“They think the can do something for him.”
“Better?” For some reason I felt angry, so angry I wanted to hit them. “How could you say that? There is nothing anyone could do to make him better. He’s perfect the way he is.”
“Jamie... It couldn’t have lasted. Maybe three years ago I would have listened to you, believed you. Three years ago he was whole, he was happy but now...” She stopped.
“You couldn’t have stayed with him forever. You have your own life. You have friends, a career, a future. You couldn’t have given all that up for him and that’s what it would have taken to keep him whole. You were always going to have had to leave sooner or later and it was always going to have broken his heart.”
“I would never have done that.”
“You did do that Jamie. I know you didn’t mean to. I know you would never have hurt him deliberately; but you did. When you left it tore the heart out of him and he has never been the same since. He’s broken, Jamie. Somewhere deep inside he’s lost his sunshine. He doesn’t smile any more; doesn’t speak, barely sleeps or eats.
“Marc was never going to be independent. He was always going to need someone to look after him all his life but we never meant to make that person you. We never meant to put that responsibility on your shoulders.”
“But I don’t care about that; I want it. I want to take care of him. I won’t leave him again.”
They exchanged glances and I didn’t know what that meant. By that time I was so scared, so angry, there were a lot of things I wasn’t noticing.
“Jamie, no one could expect you...”
“I don’t care what anyone expects. I’ll get us a place together and I’ll take care of him.”
“And how would you support yourselves?”
“I’ll get a job; work anywhere.”
“And who will take care of Marc while you’re at work? Or were you planning on leaving him in your home alone? Do you think he would cope with that?”
“No, I... I’d find a way.” I felt desperate, as if the conversation, Marc’s life, was slipping through my hands.
“What about when you fall in love?”
“What...?” Shit do they know?
“Sooner or later you’re going to meet someone and want to make a life with them. You’re going to have a wife and children. How are they going to fit in? You couldn’t just put Marc aside at that point. It’s a lifetime commitment.”
How could I tell them? How could I admit? How could I explain how I had tried? I had tried so hard to open my heart to someone else. There had been girlfriends... and boyfriends but none of them lasted because none of them could compare.
I knew that there was never a possibility of Marc and I being together that way. I knew he loved me as much as I loved him but, with Marc, it could never have been anything more than innocent; strictly platonic and I was happy with that. I was sure that I could live with him, love him and never compromise him.
“I’ll make it work,” I said stubbornly. They smiled sadly at me.
“We know you mean that. You’ve always been a wonderful friend to him but you’re a man now, Jamie, a man with your own life, your own responsibilities. Marc can't be first with you any more, and you can’t fight the world for him.”
“I’m sorry Jamie. I know this is hard for you but it’s happening. Marc’s booked in for the surgery on Wednesday.”
“What? So soon but...”
“We’ve been thinking about it for a long time, Jamie. We didn’t want to worry you with the details until we were sure. We didn’t want you to worry when you were so far away.”
“Does he know?” I was stunned, completely stunned but my main concern was with Marc as usual.
“In a way. He knows but he doesn’t understand.
“How can you do this? I can’t understand why you would hurt him like this... for nothing.”
“He’s hurting anyway, Jamie. He can’t cope with an adult world and you can’t stay a child for him. These have been... worrying times. He’s growing up Jamie. It’s been delayed but in the last two years he’s become a man and...” She sighed and shook her head and I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. I wasn’t aware of it but she knew, even then she knew.
“He’ll never find love, Jamie, never have a relationship, never know what it’s like to hold someone in his arms; to kiss. He’ll never have a job or a family and what will happen to him when we are gone.”
“I’ll take care of him,” I said dully, but I knew the battle was lost. “Is it... is it dangerous? Will it hurt him?”
They exchanged glances again and Mrs Harmon bit her lip. “Yes,” she whispers and I couldn’t take any more.I heard them call after me as I strode from the room.