January 3, 2023

What My Jeans (of All Things!) Taught Me About Love

I don’t know if it’s apocryphal — that by the time they finish painting the Golden Gate Bridge they have to start painting it all over again. But that’s how it is with my jeans. I am never not in the process of mending them.

“Oh, shoot, I have to patch my jeans,” I say, inspecting them fresh from the wash, and my husband says, deadpan, “That’s surprising.” I have repaired them so many times that all the patches are patched. They weigh a hundred thousand pounds. They are the only jeans I wear, and I wait for them by the dryer the way a child waits for the one-eyed teddy bear you have finally insisted on washing but only after it got barfed on in the car.

I started mending them, innocently enough, simply because they were good jeans. They were comfortable. They had the exact right highness of waist: they kept my crack covered when I sat, but I was not zipping them up to my boobs like a teenager or your grandpa. Plus, they made my ass look great. Now, of course, they make my ass look like a quilt your great-aunt pieced together out of rags torn from Depression-era prairie dresses. Also, thanks to my long commitment to this particular pair of pants, my ass itself has… I want to say changed. But I think what I should say is gone away.

Ironically, I am not allowed to wear them to the hospice where I volunteer. I understand this — it’s reassuring to the residents and their families if we look professional and kempt, not like we skateboarded over from the weed dispensary. But the irony is this: I am committed to things, even in their tatters and decrepitude. To people. I don’t give anybody up willingly, even if they’re a little worn at the knees. I will paint your nails even if you are likelier than most people to die later this afternoon. Sometimes when I am bedside while someone is actively dying — we call this “sitting vigil” — I mend my jeans. It’s the perfect amount of activity: I’m not just sitting there, pressuring a person with my gaze to produce a meaningful experience for me. But also I’m not, like, watching TikToks of a porcupine eating a Hubbard squash. I’m just there with my sewing. Also, it’s a good time for my jeans to actually get mended, since I’m not wearing them.

You’ve probably heard of the Japanese practice of kintsugi — the art of mending broken pottery with gold. Even reading the Wikipedia entry about it makes me want to cry: “As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something to disguise.” Amen. It’s related to another Japanese philosophy, wabi-sabi, which highlights the beauty inherent in imperfection. And it’s related, in fact, to yet another Japanese practice, which I probably should have started with here given its precise relevance, which is sashiko — the art of preemptively reinforcing indigo fabric with white thread. Visible mending. Visible mendedness.

What if we saw gold seams threaded through each other? What if our wounds and grief were lovingly patched in denim and cotton florals? If you have touched a lover’s scar in devoted wonder, you know what I mean. Let me frame the damaged parts of you in precious metals! Let me cherish you, broken and pieced together as you are.

These jeans of mine — they’re very beautiful now. People come up on the street to tell me how cool they are, which I love. Partly because I love to be cool. But mostly because I crave connection, like everybody else. Or maybe I just want to be seen: Holy and whole, holes and all.

Catherine Newman is the author of the parenting memoirs Waiting For Birdy and Catastrophic Happiness. She also came out with a funny grief novel, We All Want Impossible Things, about two friends. She has written for Cup of Jo on many topics, including what it’s like being an empty nester and raising teenage boys, and her house tour broke the internet.

P.S. My boyfriend weighs less than I do, and all the mothers I have been.

(Top photo of Catherine at home by Lyndsay Hannah for Cup of Jo.)

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