“He’s so talented,” my grandmother is saying about my partner. “Is there anything he doesn’t do?”
I grin, lit up by the mere mention of my partner. When we first met, it took a long time for my brain to adjust to the reality that someone like him would even want to be my friend, let alone anything else. I’m awfully proud that I even know the guy. I can’t believe he married me.
“You don’t know the half of it,” I tell her. “We have so much in common.” I reveal that my partner is musically gifted as well — just like I am. He was almost a music teacher (again, similar to me).
And my face is practically glowing, thinking about all wonderful similarities and shared experiences in our backgrounds when my mother says something I never expected her to say.
“Oh yeah? Well, I bet he doesn’t play saxophone better than you do!”
My mouth hangs open. “Uhh… what?” I say.
“I said, ‘I bet he doesn’t play saxophone better than you do,” my mom repeats.
“Mom, it’s not a competition,” I say. “”I was just saying we have a lot in common.”
My mom frowns. It’s hard to understand where she’s coming from here. I know she was highly competitive with Dad when he was alive (he passed away in 2020), to a degree that puzzled me. Whenever they’d go on diets, she’d get upset when Dad lost more than she did, to the point where I’d proudly catching her lacing his sandwiches with mayonnaise trying to slow his loss.
Profoundly insecure. Competitive. Cruel. I forget sometimes that’s how my mother is, because these days we don’t talk all that much, live a long ways apart. I’ve intentionally become a very different kind of person than her. And my life is so built around this that I do forget how far I’ve come. How I could have easily been someone else.
Mom will not be sated by my assertions that it’s not a competition. She presses me to come up with something I can do that my partner can’t. I’m inclined to ignore it, but then my grandmother urges me. “Brag a little,” she says.
“Well,” I say. I think for a while, combing my mind. And then I have it. I speak foreign languages better than my partner does. “It comes in handy when we travel,” I explain. “He’s actually pretty good at them, better than most, but he gets frustrated sometimes that he doesn’t do it better.”
“We get it,” my mother grumbles. “He’s perfect.” She rolls her eyes.
“Well, I’m happy for you,” my grandmother says.
“Thank you,” I reply.
Later in the park, my grandma regales me with tales of her late husband, how sweet he was to her, how he reminds her of my partner. Mom looks bored out of her gourd. She misses Dad, that much is sure, but it’s almost like it’s physically painful to give the man a compliment, even in hindsight. (For the record, Dad was a wonderful person, my hero.)
And I find myself wondering what that’s like… to spend your life with someone you can’t bear to compliment or think well of. Why would you do that? What is the point?