There were two different ways my life could have gone this autumn―and the one I chose has felt a bit like when you pick up a puzzle piece and it locks smoothly into place with the other pieces. It is nowhere near the final piece, but still, it is part of the big-picture-in-progress.

One possible path was to stay at home again, daunted by the prospect of stacks of work to manage, and lead myself through a syllabus on my own. I’d take my habitual walks and notice the teenagers shuffling toward the school near my house. I would wonder where I could possibly fit in to that puzzle.

Instead I decided to try a school again, for the first time in two years.

Two things happened this Monday (the first day of my first full week at school): in the lucid state between dreaming and wakefulness, sleepy old feelings about my last school crawled to the front of my mind. I remembered that awful morning feeling of not wanting to go―not a normal feeling of reluctance, but a force so strong that I would actually not go. I would do almost anything I could not to go. Monday morning I realised that this time, I had no choice but to go to classes. Not because of outside pressure or demanding parents or uncaring authority, but because I gave myself no choice. I liked that power.

On the way home for lunch, walking through the familiar church yard that somehow looked different, I noticed a bench that was not there when I had left for school that morning. It was as if it had plopped out of the heavens, clean and fresh, not one human hand seeming to have touched it. It seems like the most insignificant thing, but I thought, Wow. I wasn’t here to notice that. With so many days I used to have to fill on my own terms, I had become the principal of noticing meaningless changes in my vicinity―I needed such things to flex the muscles of my vision. These included a woman I would see from time to time reading to a man who, along with his dog, seemed not to have a home; a man who rode a motorbike to the library, where he would use the computers, once a week; a new signpost; a new park playground; a new bench.

Everything took on a new significance in the days leading up to my first day of a new term at a new school, as a new person. Everything feels different now. When you’ve lived outside classrooms for so long, it is quite odd to find yourself inside of one, realizing you’ll be here when it rains, when it snows, when the leaves drop, and when they grow again. These are the signposts on my current track, taking the place of new benches. ♦