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arcel and I have been walking to school again.

The middle school isn’t far—12 or 15 minutes, maybe, on foot—but the neighborhood that lies between our house and seventh grade can be confusing. There is no grid really, no straight lines to follow until they obediently run directly into another straight line running the opposite way. Instead, the streets curve into one another; at one point, one even has the audacity to change its name to something else while you’re walking along it.

It’s confusing.

We tried walking the distance between home and school at the start of sixth grade, too. We would leave the house at five ’til 8 and Marcel always managed to make it through the doors by the time the first bell rang, but I knew that I was still driving him just as clearly as if we’d been in our car.

I walked, he followed. Eventually, we reached our destination. But between the place where we started and where we ended up, nothing had changed. Marcel could no more have retraced our steps than if I’d had him blindfolded from beginning to end. He wasn’t paying attention. He was simply following my lead.

It may be silly, but I never really considered that anything would be different from last year. As we left the house yesterday, I anticipated that this walk would be the first of many that, substantively, went nowhere. Marcel and I might cover the distance but it wouldn’t be like we were actually going anywhere.

But from the moment we left the house on Tuesday, it was different. Marcel was looking around as we walked, monitoring our progress from one bend and around the next. I slowed intentionally at quiet intersections allowing him to dictate our next turn. Unerringly, he led us in the right direction.

“I remember this,” he said as we turned one corner after another.

Darn, if I hadn’t been thinking the same thing all along the way: that I remembered the way it had been before, every frustrating, seemingly pointless minute of that exercise. I had it wrong, though. I only had my perception of his experience to carry around with me all these months, my sense of what he was learning as we repeated our route together.

His memory has served him so much better than has mine.