It was just an ordinary Sunday afternoon phone call to my son, who happened to be in his second month of college five hundred miles away. Okay, I’ll admit it. I hadn’t heard from him for two weeks, and the mother in me had begun to conjure up all kinds of disturbing scenarios: he had sunk into a deep depression and dropped out of school; his dorm was under the siege of terrorists; he had joined a cult, and was roaming the country in his bathrobe. I desperately needed to hear Justin’s voice. However, I tried to sound casual when he answered. “So, what have you been up to?”
“Not much. I’ve been playing some flag football lately. That reminds me, Mom. Whatever you do, tell my brothers about bleach!”
What an odd request! The fact that his two statements might actually be linked, however, seemed stranger yet. “Sure. I’ll tell them.” I couldn’t help but grin into the phone, imagining how unenthused his brothers would be to learn the finer points of bleach usage. “Is there anything in particular you want them to know about it?”
“I ruined my favorite jeans; that’s all. I didn’t know bleach could do that.” I knew which jeans he was talking about. I had fudged on the family clothing budget to buy them. Now I envisioned them splotched with white.
“You know, some people pay big bucks for jeans with rips or bleach spots. Or, if you don’t like the spots, maybe you can just bleach them some more, until they are a lighter shade of denim.”
“Mom, you don’t get it. I don’t even have the jeans anymore.” I seemed to have touched a nerve somehow, but I was incredulous.
“You threw them away just because you got bleach on them? Those were expensive jeans!”
Exasperation resounded in the heavy sigh emanating from three states away. “Okay. Here’s what happened. I played flag football in my new jeans. It was stupid. I know that now. But it wasn’t as stupid as using bleach to try to get the grass stains out.”
“Ooooh…I’m starting to get the picture. Go on. Did you accidentally splash them when you poured the bleach into the washing machine?”
“I asked a girl in the laundry room how to bleach something, and she said to soak it. So, I poured a bottle of bleach into an ice cream bucket, and then I put my jeans in to soak while I went to the library to study for a while.”
“You're telling me you poured the whole bottle of bleach in the bucket? How much water did you put in?”
“No water. She just said to soak it in bleach, not water.”
I stifled a snicker. “So what did the jeans look like when you came back from studying?”
“They looked pretty light, but I figured I could deal with that. So I just dumped them in the washer and put my quarters in.”
“You didn’t take them out of the bleach?”
“And you didn’t put any other clothes in with the jeans?”
“Well, at least we can be thankful for that!”
“I guess they were just too messed up then, and you had to throw them away.”
“You could say that. When the cycle ended and I opened up the washer, my favorite jeans were in tiny little pieces.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No. I'm not kidding you. The biggest piece I found was the zipper. Just tell my brothers about bleach.” Justin emphasized each word of his final sentence.
My overactive imagination had eased by the time Justin and I finished our conversation, but the moment I hung up the phone I burst into uncontrolled laughter. I could relax. My son was actually learning some practical lessons, and of all the disturbing scenarios I had envisioned, his laundry error was pretty tame -the net loss being an overpriced pair of jeans, and perhaps a little dignity.
Justin’s brothers were informed and entertained by the tale of disintegrating blue jeans. I’m fairly certain they won’t repeat the same mistake; although I did hear them whispering something about the sweaters Aunt Sally gave them for Christmas. Just in case, I’m hiding the bleach.
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