black mark

"Would you live in New York, if you could?"

He was leaning back in his chair, his body angled sharply away from me and his legs crossed. The noises of the busy cafe had already set my nerves on end - the tinny crashing of porcelain saucers against marble tabletops; the heavy din of caffeinated conversation bouncing off unadorned walls. I was exhausted. It was exhausting trying to figure this person out. What he wanted from me. What he was willing to give back in return. 

"Would I live in New York?" I echoed, surprised. Of the few personal questions he'd asked me, this one was especially unexpected. It was apropos of nothing, as best I could tell, and it felt accusatory. I felt my mind limbering up to do the mental gymnastics required to win one of his smiles. 

"Yeah," he said. Then, after a pause: "You just seem like the kind of person who'd live in New York."

And that's when I knew. It wasn't a question. It wasn't even a trap. It was simply another nail in a coffin he'd been constructing for weeks. He already knew the answer, and he already didn't like it. Which is precisely why he'd asked it. It was one more shovel full of dirt to throw on what he saw as a dead end. I was just making it that much easier for him, by being exactly who he knew I was.

His disapproval settled on my skin like ash while I struggled to answer honestly. The truth was I would, of course I would. But I wouldn't want to stay there. Not forever. That would be too much. But as I cobbled together my reply, I saw in his eyes that he'd already checked out of the conversation. 

It was the last black mark I'd be given a chance to earn. Later I'd think back and tally the others, clues to my inadequacy delivered via small, cutting remarks and condescending cracks that went unregistered by my crush-consumed brain.

Well, I thought, as I watched him float away from me, at least now I can quit with the gymnastics

One injury per summer is plenty.