She’s standing right there, which isn’t good motivation either way, but at least there’s the opportunity.

Last year, she was my girlfriend, or, Laura told me she was my girlfriend, right after Laura told everyone else, and our only date happened at the beginning of music class, when Jillian Freitag looked through the box for another cowbell, but I grabbed the only cowbell, so I gave it to her. As boyfriends do.

At the beginning of the year assembly I sat in the back row, I didn’t know the back row was reserved for fifth graders, that fourth graders were supposed to sit in the third-to-last row, but Macy went to sit in the chair in front of me and I pulled it back and she fell on her butt, and everyone said I did that because I liked her. I didn’t like her, I swear I didn’t, I just always wondered what would happen if I pulled out someone’s chair, and Macy suffered a bruised tailbone and needs to see a chiropractor. I don’t dislike her, she’s fine, but I don’t like her, not at all.

But that’s apparently the way things are done. When Gina farted at lunch and Grant made fun of her all day, everyone said it was because he liked her. When Marcus nailed Hailey in the face with the kickball, like nailed her, she fell backwards, parallel to the ground, and that’s just what boys do when they like girls. Human nature.

So Jillian Freitag stands at the edge of blacktop, past the four-square court, on the other side of the basketball hoop, and if I shoved her and if she fell, she would fall in the grass, which would hurt way less. She might get grass stains on her clothes.

I could help her up after the shoving. Then she would see that I meant well. A nice shove. The gentle kind.

When she marries me someday, she will come home from her job as an astronaut and I will come home from my restaurant and our kids will ask how we met, and she’ll laugh and say, “Oh, your father shoved me on the playground one spring day in fourth grade,” and our kids will ask me, “Why did you shove her? Were you mad at her?” I’ll say, “Not at all, that’s just the way we did things back then. After that we held hands in fifth grade, kissed in eighth grade, went to prom in high school, then your mother went to college in China and I went to college in New York, and then we met up and got married.” And then Jillian Freitag will come across the kitchen and we’ll kiss and she’ll say, “I’m so glad you shoved me.” “Me too,” I’ll say. And then she’ll shove me and I’ll tickle her and our kids will roll their eyes because when adults do that, it’s super gross.

Recess will be over soon, and I’m supposed to shove Jillian Freitag. That’s what she wants. I think that’s what she wants.

Eric Rasmussen teaches English at Memorial High School in Eau Claire and is a regular Volume One contributor. He likes milk, but not enough to drink it every day. To read more of his work, visit his website.