I got a splinter yesterday, and last night as I tried to get it out I got angry at you. The last time I removed a splinter it was yours. We were at your place, and you held out your hand to me. Can you help me with these? you asked. It took me by surprise.
You had everything: tweezers, a sharp needle, a match to sterilize the needle. You sat by the window, where the light was good, and I squinted at the soft heel of your palm, muttering and trying not to hurt you. It's harder to take out someone else's splinter than your own, maybe, because you can't feel the pain and in your imagination it's much worse. I hated the idea that I was hurting you, clumsily chasing the tiny sliver embedded in your skin. I winced inwardly as I worked the deep one out. There were two of them, and I got them both. You never flinched. You sat, quiet and brave, reassuring me that I was doing a good job.
Last night, alone, I didn't have anything. If I have a sewing kit I don't know where it is. I buy a new one every six months at the drugstore and immediately forget where I stow it. I got an old blunt pin, the back end of a brooch, and didn't bother to sterilize it. I couldn't really see where it had gone in, or hold my hand in a place where I had a good line of sight. I had to pull back the skin on my pinky with my thumb, awkwardly, while I stabbed around at it with the other hand. I was clumsy and ineffective. It stung, and I kept giving up, then realizing it would hurt more if I didn't take it out. I got mad at you, mad at the memory of me taking care of you. I was mad because I was alone, and mad because I wouldn't have noticed but for the intrusion of your memory.
I've learned lately that I am not very good at asking for help. It's not just asking for help, a friend corrected me. It's accepting help, being helped. I'm no good at that. Last night as I poked dully into the flesh of my finger I thought about how nice it felt to take care of you. What surprised me when you asked me to take out your splinter was how simple and intimate it can be to trust someone else with small things, flesh wounds. It wouldn't have occurred to me to ask you, then. And now, when it might have, you're not here.
I wish you were.
But I did get it out, eventually, without anyone's help. And it only stings a little.