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I had this pair of jeans that my mom purchased for me on some Saturday afternoon during my sophomore year of high school.

We’re in Albuquerque, maybe Santa Fe, browsing at a TJ Maxx when I come across these jeans in the young woman’s section. They're dark blue, soft, and have medium-sized rips on both knees. I love them instantly. As a conscious shopper, the second thing I reach for after running my fingers over the velvety cotton is the price tag. Small piece of paper for such a large sum of money—yikes. I grab them from the rack anyway, hoping to at least show them to my mom as a prototype of jeans I’d buy at a cheaper price.

I wander the store for a while, searching for her tell-tale dark brown hair and glasses that bob a few inches above the racks of clothing. She’s a small woman; energized in anything she does from driving her red minivan around town to chatting non-stop with her mother, sisters, and friends over the phone. I find her sifting through shirts in the petite section; she has a few hangers tucked under her arm and holds them out to me as I approach her. Shirts she found for me—surely since she’s always been bad at buying things for herself. "Mira Pau", she says. "Que piensas?" She shuffles through them and shows me a shirt that isn’t really something I’d wear. I tell her so in as nice of a way as my hormonal teenage self can, and show her the jeans I’ve found. She loves them; tells me that she thinks they’re exactly my style. I hastily tell her the price and she avoids my eyes, looking at the tag and telling me that Joe’s Jeans are a notoriously high-quality brand. She’s never seen them sold at a TJ Maxx. "Do you think you’ll wear them a lot?" "Yes, I do", I reply. And, as always, she asks me what I would wear with them. A piece of clothing is useless if it doesn’t pair well with what I already own. "Yes", I answer again, smiling at my preparation for the question and picturing which t-shirts will look cool tucked into them.

A few years pass and I’m still wearing those jeans at least once a week. I wear them after cross country races, after brutal defeats that had me wanting to curl up and be driven home by my mother, who always found the right words to say to me. I wore those jeans after victories that made me want to step all over the world; victories that made me run into my mother’s arms and celebrate with a milkshake, a large side of fries, and a boisterous bus ride home with my teammates. No matter what, the fabric was worn-in leather on my calves, egging me on to boldness or cradling me into comfort. I wore them during early mornings and late nights—times that eventually became my fondest memories of high school: romping around canyons, climbing water towers, driving into the woods and singing in basements. I wore them after homecoming; I wore them to my friends’ graduation parties; I wore them as I moved into Garcia Hall; I wore them to my first classes; I wore them as I received a call from my best friend that NMSU was closing down and going online for the rest of the semester. I packed them up with the rest of my freshman dorm and drove them back to my hometown. I wore them in the garden as I prepped the soil for spring planting, listening to a podcast lecture for one of my classes. I wore them as spring turned into summer and as COVID, protests, and political disarray flared throughout the country. I wore them as I went for long walks around my neighborhood, finding comfort within the streets that raised me as the world seemed to be going up in flames.

One afternoon, I’m going through my closet and creating a pile of pants and shirts that I haven’t worn for a while. I put the stack next to the staircase with the plan of taking them to the donation center sometime this week. A few days later, I can’t find my blue jeans anywhere. The last time I saw them; I tell my mom; I had hung them on the stair-way banister after washing them (I don’t like putting them through the dryer). Her face turns a little uncomfortable and my stomach turns at the words that have just come out of my mouth. "I think", she says, "I think I accidentally donated them with the pile of clothes that you put by the stairs". I can’t help it, but my face heats up and I ask her why on earth she thought that I’d be donating them. My mother, my dedicated, on-top-of-everything mother who took my clothes to the donation center as a genuine favor, has just donated a pair of jeans that I adored throughout high school and my first year of college. She knows I’m sure of it, how much those jeans meant to me.

While they were physically no more than pieces of blue cotton woven together, they meant much more to me than that. These jeans were my comfort from the world—the absence of them made me realize that we find protection within great things: our mothers and fathers; our religions; our family legacies as well as small, seemingly unimportant things: the playgrounds we grew up on, the birthmarks we discovered as children, our favorite mugs and, perhaps, if we’re lucky enough to find the perfect match on a sunny, Saturday afternoon: the blue jeans we wear.

I'm Paulina Burnside, a second-year English Literature Major with a minor in Art and Geology. You can find me running, eating chocolate, staring at the sky, or tending to my many photosynthetic children at most hours of the day. Thanks for stopping by!
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