The blue jeans had hung in four different closets: in Milwaukee, San Diego, North Carolina, and Ohio. The stitching on the back pockets were playful enough to give them style, the pocket flaps made them chic. Unlike my other pair of jeans–ones which adorned pearls and twice as much stitching–these did not set off a security pat-down at the airport every time I flew home to visit relatives. The waistline hit just above my hips but below my chest. It is a hard place to find on me. Most pants can’t do it. They are confused as to where they should fall on my short torso. Too low and they slide over my backside. Too high, and they seem to cut into my ribs.
But these jeans always knew me so well.
The jeans adjusted as my weight fluctuated. I gained pounds, the waistline stretched. When I lost the weight and they barely stayed on my boney hips, they found a friend in a belt, and happily slid off without even undoing the button. Then my stomach and thighs rounded to softly accommodate 20 pounds that attached itself to my average frame. The jeans did not care what I looked like. They endured all seasons of weather, and all seasons of my body. They always hugged me just right. Even when everything in life was not.
The September day in 2010 when we visited my sister and her husband at their home and said, “you’re going to be an aunt and uncle!” I wore those jeans. Together with a red T-shirt lined with infinite gray O’s, it was an outfit I wore many times since. I was still thin (and probably my near my thinnest weight with morning sickness so fierce) as it was early in my first trimester. The jeans girdled my body effortlessly. I wore them nearly to the end of my pregnancy with that baby as our daughter did not stay in my womb beyond 20 weeks.
The jeans stayed much longer.
As I stood in the doorway between my sister’s kitchen and living room, my hand held my stomach. It touched my jeans. It felt the very fabric that touched the outside of my skin. It rubbed against the flesh on my belly and–just beneath that layer–of my uterus. The very surfaces that hardened slightly and readied themselves for pregnancy were the sole barriers that kept my fingertips from touching my daughter. It kept my jeans from grazing my insides. Yet it was the same block of cells–those that kept her protected from the hazards of the world–that was forever the link between my daughter and my jeans.
The day my daughter was born–and perished–I wore black yoga pants and a white-and-black-striped shirt. It was my “going home outfit”. It had also been my “I’m being admitted to the hospital at 10pm” outfit three days before. I stopped in my hospital room bathroom to take a peek at what 20 weeks of pregnancy did to me. What it did to my stomach, my shape, my physical self. I looked at my image straight-on. I turned sideways. I looked the same as I did four months before. The same as when the jeans still fit. When they slid partly off without a belt. If I hadn’t just had a baby earlier that day, even I wouldn’t had realized I had been pregnant at all.
A couple years later, we moved to North Carolina. I can’t remember exactly when the rip began. Perhaps the trauma of it caused my memory to blur. The jeans that had held up through a collective several years before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and after pregnancy were beginning to show their age. The once tightly woven denim on my left knee was thinning, as an elderly woman’s silvery hair does as it falls out into the bristles of life.
I washed them less than I used to in an effort to save the fabric. I began crossing my legs the other way–left over right–to protect the softening cotton. I inspected them each time I wore them, hoping that I had done all I could to keep what remained of my jeans.
When the tear began, my heart sank. My fingers felt frantically around the edges. Maybe I could stitch around the hole? Maybe I can prevent it from getting worse? Would it look bad if I stitched the edges of the hole to itself?
Just as how learning of the fetal demise of our child was followed by the death of our daughter two weeks later, I knew that once the ending of my jeans began, there was no stopping it.
The remaining fabric was weak and frail.
It was only a matter of time until the hole expanded. I continued wearing the jeans, occasionally getting my foot stuck in the hole on it’s way down the pant leg. I always scolded myself on those occasions.
It was only a matter of time until the other knee weakened. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t not sit with my legs crossed. I knew it was killing my jeans. But old habits die hard. Just like my resolve to hang onto those jeans.
With two ripped knees, white threads fraying the edges, and strips of endangered fabric running up each thigh, I kept wearing my jeans. I reserved them for only the warm months. The holes are actually kind of nice, I told myself. People pay a lot of money for ripped jeans, so stylish! I thought.
When my second pair of jeans–the overly ornate ones that ensured I got targeted with a body check with friendly airport security–finally ripped, I decided they needed to go. They had been a good second pair, but were nothing like the first. They never sat quite right on my hips. They were disposable. With no jeans left unscathed, I knew I needed new ones.
So, yesterday, after nearly a decade with my favorite jeans, I took them from my closet, gently folded them up, and placed them in a plastic bag that had brought two new pairs of jeans home from the store just a few hours earlier. I carried the bag downstairs. I found my husband in the kitchen.
I almost made it through the words without crying: “I think it’s time I throw these away. I have my new jeans, after all.”
Tears flooded my eyelids and created rivers down my cheeks. I faced away from my husband, ashamed of crying over jeans. He didn’t understand, but hugged me anyway. I told him “I wore these when we told my sister we were pregnant the first time.” He tried to lighted the mood by saying “I don’t remember what I was wearing–do you remember what I was wearing too?”
Even with a smile through my sobs, I couldn’t make myself take the jeans to the garbage can in the garage. I got as far as the laundry room–the space the connected our kitchen to the plastic coffin–and I left them on the dryer. I went in the bathroom and cried. I felt foolish for being so weak. I felt silly for crying over jeans. I felt old for having kept them this long. I felt confused because I can think about my lost daughter a million times a day and not shed a single tear, but why did these jeans make me an emotional mess?
I never did throw away the bag, but two days later it was gone. My husband did for me what I could not.
When we lost our baby, I had to figure out how to come home from the hospital empty-handed. I had to learn how to remember her without feeling anger toward the universe. I had to move on with her memory, and create the space she deserved in my heart–one filled with love and tenderness not deafening sadness and debilitating grief.
I have found peace with living with my daughter’s memory and not with her, and now I must make peace with living without the last blue jeans to have hugged her as they wrapped around my waist.
Goodbye, Blue Jeans. You will always be the jeans that nearly touched her.