Marc Harmon is an extraordinary person. He is special. I have loved him completely since almost the first moment I met him.
I was on holiday with my parents and his family had the cabin next door. The very first day, while my parents were unloading the car I ran off exploring and saw him sitting on the balcony that ran along the front of their cabin. I ran straight over and stopped a few steps away.
He was beautiful, the most beautiful person I had ever seen. He had curly blonde hair and the biggest, bluest eyes ever.
We stared at each other for a while and then he smiled at me. His smile was beautiful too, even though he was missing a front tooth.
I started kicking at the dirt with the toe of my shoe and sending him shy looks from under my fringe. After a while his smile faded to be replaced by a look of confusion. He must have wondered what on earth I was doing. No, knowing Marc he was wondering why I hadn't touched him yet.
Marc is a very tactile person; he loves to hug and be hugged. He is so sweet that everyone wants to hug him. Certainly at that point he was prone to throwing his arms around anyone who came close enough and kissing them. It's one of his most endearing traits.
Of course, at the time he was only five years old so it wasn't quite as off putting to strangers as it is now he's almost twenty one.
When his face started to pucker and tears to squeeze out from under the long thick lashes I did what I have always done since... I ran to him and hugged him.
Instantly the tears disappeared and that bright sunny disposition re emerged. He hugged me tightly and laughed. He has a wonderful laugh. No one who hears that laugh can help but smile, at the least.
By that time Mrs Harmon had come out onto the balcony and she gave me her smile, which is only a shade less wonderful than Marc's.
"Hello," she said. "And who might you be?"
Being only eight myself, I wasn't quite sure what she meant. "I'm James?" I said hopefully and she smiled again.
"Well hello James. I'm very pleased to meet you."
"We're on holiday. We're over there." I pointed towards our cabin and she smiled again.
At that point I was distracted by a gentle touch on my arm. I turned and looked down into pools of liquid blue. I have always been quite a bit taller than Marc but it was more pronounced then. While I was staring into his eyes he touched my face and said, "Pretty."
I smiled even though I didn't really know why I was smiling. If I had thought about it I would have realised that Marc's actions weren't exactly normal, even for a five year old, but I didn't see anything beyond his angel face and bright smile. He made me feel warm, he's had the same effect ever since.
"Would you like a drink, James, or some biscuits perhaps?"
"Yes please," I responded instantly, being at the age when affairs of the stomach overrode just about any other consideration.
"Do you want to see my special stone?" I asked Marc as she turned to leave. He smiled at me but didn't answer so I took out the stone and held it out to him. It was my most treasured possession. I had found it on the beach the year before and it had not been more than a foot away from me ever since.
For a moment Marc stared at me and then he stared at the stone. Gently he brushed the stone with his fingertips and then looked up again, his eyes wide with wonder.
"You can hold it if you want," I said magnanimously and he took it from my hand and lifted it close to his face to examine it carefully.
The stone is about the size of an egg and fits snugly into the palm of the hand... at least for a child. It is blue, shot through with white lines, making a criss cross pattern through the stone. I thought it was beautiful; so did Marc. He still has it.
When the time came to take back the stone he gave it up readily but looked so sad that it hurt my heart. There were tears in his eyes and his lips were trembling. I have never been able to stand seeing him cry and so I handed it straight back over, hungry for the beautiful smile that rewarded me.
I was way too young to know it right then but in that moment, when I handed him my stone, I also handed him my heart. He still has that too.
In the days that followed our families met and became fast friends and Marc and I were inseparable. Even when I discovered that he was different, not the same as anyone else, special, I adored him with a passion and spent every possible moment at his side.
I was fiercely protective of him and would move the earth to make him smile when he was sad.
Not so much then but, as the years passed and we spent every summer together, I would fight anyone who made him sad or tried to hurt him; and there were a depressing number over the years.
After the third or fourth year of meeting up every summer our parents became so friendly; initially they told me later because of the relationship that had developed between Marc and me; that we started to spend other holidays together. Marc visited my home and I went to him. It was one of those friendships that only grew stronger with separation.
When I was twelve Mr Harmon was promoted in his job and the family came to live only a short bus journey from my home. By then Marc had a sister, Judith who was four years old and as pretty as he was, although very different. She had the same sunny personality and sweet smile but she was bright and inquisitive, quick witted and talkative.
Marc was much quieter, tending to sit back and watch; waiting to be presented with things rather than seeking them out. He barely spoke and when he did it was usually single words or short, disjointed sentences. He made himself well understood though.
By then I had realised that Marc wasn't the same as everyone else, as anyone else. It wasn't just his beauty and his sweetness; it was more, much more. Strangely it was never an issue between us and it was a huge shock to me the first time I heard someone make a derogatory comment to him.
I found in unbelievable that anyone would want to hurt Marc, he was so gentle and loving but one time we were at the beach and there was a group of boys, about my age. I was eleven and Marc was barely eight. We were walking through the arcade hand in hand.
Our parents were next door in a bar and I think it was the first time I had been allowed to take him anywhere on our own.
The boys were gathered around one of the gaming machines and they started nudging each other and giggling. Marc was, and is, very distinctive looking, with his baby blonde hair and vivid eyes, which are always wide with wonder at everything.
We were lost in the colours and sounds of the arcade and Marc was bouncing with excitement. When the boys appeared in front of us he grinned at them and reached out his hand to touch a colourful wristband worn by the nearest boy who instantly snatched it back causing Marc to frown.
"Are you two gay or what?" One of the boys asked. I didn't even know what gay was, not then.
"Yeah... you're a couple of fags."
"I..." I had no idea what they were talking about but I knew danger when I saw it and I was seeing it in the form of four large pre teens with mean streaks a mile wide. If it had just been me I would probably have put up a fight. I was well built even then and have never run from confrontation. However, Marc was with me and the thought of him being hurt or scared was unbearable so I just took his hand and walked away, down one of the aisles.
Unfortunately the arcade was almost empty and there was no one there to help us.
"Hey freaks." One of the boys called after us and I felt Marc jerk. I stopped and looked at him. He had blood on his cheek. He had been looking back, curious about the boys and not understanding at all why they were being unkind. He'd been hit by something one of them had thrown after us.
For a moment Marc had stared at me, his eyes shocked, and then he had blinked hard as the tears came and he started to cry. Of course the boys loved that and it whipped them into even more of a frenzy.
"Aww, is the poor little baby crying?"
"Why don't you take your boyfriend home to his mammy?"
For myself I could have ignored them and walked away but Marc was here. Marc was bleeding and crying and I had to protect him at all costs. I carefully let go of Marc's hand.
"Stay here," I said gently and guided him backwards, pressing him firmly against the machine.
He shook his head and gripped my arm. "Don't leave me." He said in a small scared voice looking up into my face. I forced myself to smile and loosened his hand.
"Marc, it's alright. I promised to take care of you and I will. Just stay here and you'll be fine."
"Jamie no. I'm afraid. Jamie no."
"It's alright. I'll take care of you."
Marc shook his head.
"What's the matter? Doesn't your boyfriend want to play?"
"He's not my boyfriend."
"No, no, no," Marc moaned getting more and more frightened by the situation, the threat that was now almost palpable. "No Jamie, no. I want to go home. Home Jamie, home."
The boys had sidled closer and they were staring at Marc as if he was some kind of exotic bug.
"What's wrong with him?"
"There's nothing wrong with him," I snap. "Leave us alone."
One of the boys put his hand into his pocket and took out another stone. He drew his hand back but before he could throw I threw myself at him and caught him in the middle, knocking him to the floor. When he was flat on his back I pummelled him until I heard Marc's wail behind me.
I leaped to my feet and grabbed the nearest boy by the back of his neck and flung him against one of the machines. Marc was crouched on the floor, hugging himself, with his face half turned away. The boys were poking him and making derogatory remarks.
I don't know what would have happened if the arcade attendant, probably alerted by the wail, hadn't appeared and taken control of the situation. Seeing Marc and the state he was in he ordered the other boys out of the arcade and, with threats and curses, they left.
"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" He reached out his hand to Marc but he shrank away and wailed again. I crouched down and reached out to stroke his hair. Slowly he turned his head and showed a face streaked with blood and tears. I smiled at him and a hesitant smile came back.
"It's alright now, Marc," I said in a careful, even voice; the one I always used when he was frightened or hurt. "It's all gone away and I'm here. I'll take you back to your mam now. You know me don't you; you trust me?"
"Jamie," he said flatly, his eyes still blank and hurt. I hated myself that I hadn't protected him from that.
"Is he alright?"
"He's... different. He gets upset. He trusts me."
"Are your parents far away?"
"Are you sure?" He looked concerned. He was a nice guy.
"I'll take care of him."
"I'm sure you will. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I'll take care of him."
I was a stubborn kid. He looked at Marc, who by now was smiling his sunny smile again and looking at me with adoring eyes. The man smiled and nodded and then left us alone.
I took Marc by the hand and led him back to our parents and all hell broke loose. Marc's parents were very protective of him and they were all for calling the police. After first being cast in the role of villain for not taking care of him, once my mother pointed out that there were always going to be arseholes who didn't understand Marc and that it wouldn't be fair on him to keep him close all the time, I was suddenly a hero.
There were other times over the years when I fought to defend him, sometimes in more subtle ways as we grew older.
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 was disabled, handicapped or challenged; he was 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 about; 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 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 there I was about to be designing 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.
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."