Friendship can be such a pain

Wendy is not doing well. I am not doing well. I'm quite certain that Wendy's not-doing-well is a lot worse than mine, but that is only when mine quiets down enough to let me think about hers. It's hard. I'm driving. I want to pull into a drugstore, but it's three lanes over.

"You want to pull into that drugstore and get some Advil?" Wendy says.

"I think I'll just brave the pain until I get home," I say.

"Oh, you were thinking about your pain," she says, pursing her lips. "And here I was thinking about mine."

"I should have been thinking about yours," I say.

"No, I should have been thinking about yours."

I want to debate the point but it hurts to talk. When you have a severe headache, the sound of your own words can fly like shrapnel into your skull, and right now my skull is busy getting whacked with a weed whacker, thwack, thwack, thwack, trimming the nerve endings of my frontal lobe. This is not even an interesting headache, this is a headache born of stress from too many nights of not sleeping, thinking about too many people accusing and needing and not understanding, which is all my own fault for making too many promises -- inward we go, thwack, thwack, thwack.

"I'm fine," I say to Wendy. "I'm just a little . . . cranky."

"Well, I'm fine too," she says. "It's just this . . . throbbing."

Wendy's throbbing is coming from the middle fingers of her hands, both of which, a few days ago, got caught under the electric garage door, which Wendy had tried to close manually, due to a power outage, and she was trapped there with her fingers caught while her daughter was buckled in the car seat and the dog, in the front seat, was sitting there panting and certainly not cognizant of the fact that it was supposed to be on the way to the vet to get the stitches out from a horrific, giant puncture wound it had sustained a week previously. And there was Wendy with her fingers trapped under the garage door, and her husband off getting his hair cut, and so, really, she had no choice but to just pull, which she did, and then she went diving into the snow, crying in pain.

She has fractures. She has splints. The painkillers make her sick so she's been popping Advils, which mostly work, but she forgot to bring them on our little outing this morning --

mutual dentist appointments, a grand way to start anyone's day.

"We are not doing well," Wendy says.

"No, we are not."

Soon there is another drugstore ahead, and so I negotiate the three lanes, thinking of Wendy's pain, not mine, which makes me feel better about myself, which makes it all about me again, which isn't right, which gets the weed whacker spinning. Wendy hops into the store, hops out with a triumphant look. Advil! We head off for the half-hour journey home, which is now all highway, a straight shot.

Wendy opens the pills, doles out a pair for each of us. The problem occurs to us simultaneously, I'm pretty sure. Is there any liquid in this car? Any liquid at all? Yes, there is a single slurp of cold coffee left over from this morning. I tell Wendy to take it. She tells me to take it. We are castaways on a desert island and we have but one tablespoon of hope between us.

Well, two splints and throbbing fingers beat a headache anytime, so in the end Wendy takes the slurp. We don't talk much on the ride home. The silence has its own kind of hurt. Ours is a friendship built on gab. I don't know the quiet Wendy. She doesn't know the quiet me. Are we losing each other?

Later that evening, post-throb, I call her to check up on her. She says she was just about to check on me. "Are you mad at me?" she asks. I tell her I was worried she was mad at me. "For what?" We can't remember why either of us might be mad at the other. We say there must be a lesson of friendship in this day, but neither of us can quite get at it.

Wendy says maybe the point is that friendship isn't like marriage, where you have those tiny things that aren't really important but somehow build up, like tartar on teeth. I have no idea what she is talking about. "You know, when you're really cranky or in pain, you sometimes can't put up with a lot of nonsense," she says. I tell her I'm really not sure where she is going with this.

"I put the dog gate up," she confesses. The dog gate? She says her husband was doing one of those nonsense things that isn't wrong, exactly, but, well, with all she's been through, she just lost all patience, so she went to bed and she put the dog gate up. Normally the gate is intended to keep the dogs out. "But I have the dogs here in the room with me," she says, "and him out. You think that's too harsh?"

I tell her this, in the end, is probably what friends are for. To tell each other to take the dog gate down.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is