Clearing Space

Clearing Space 150 150 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

My wife purchased clearance pants and shorts from Kohl’s—she’s great about finding deals. They arrived two weeks before my 40th birthday and waited in their plastic-wrapped stack for those weeks.

I was too busy to care.

On the evening of my birthday, kids already tucked in bed, I thought it was as good a time as any to confront that stack beside the lamp and sewing table.

First a pair of light gray chino shorts. The fabric was lightweight—always a plus in Texas—and comfortable against my skin. They fit well. I tried on another pair, this time brown. They fit, too, with some room to spare. The number printed on inside of the waistbands was 38.

15 years ago I wore pants that size, a time when I weighed the most I’ve ever weighed. (“The horror! The horror!”)


I suspect the same is true of many people in that their clothes are a functional time capsule: contents minus the container. My clothes are linked to various versions of myself, and regardless of the specific point in time, all are linked to the particular body obsessions.

When, for example, in 2005 I was 175 pounds, I remember shopping at Target with my wife, and I tried on tan 33/32 corduroys. They fit. Comfortably! I remember asking her, Wouldn’t it be great if I could eventually get to a 32/32? Her response was nonplussed. She probably said something along the lines of, those are just numbers. I didn’t want to hear that, though. To get to 32/32 would be a substantial accomplishment. That was the size pants I wore ten years earlier as a senior in high school.


I opened plastic packaging for a pair of pants: 36/32, my size for quite some time. I could button them, and I tucked in my shirt. Really, though, they were too snug.

Before I was willing to endure discomfort for a day, the tightening across my waist, the constant pressure, leaving the impression of my boxer waistband imprinted into my skin, like some kind of temporary self-flagellating tattoo.

I would endure the discomfort because I treated a number (a number!) is though it was directly linked to my value (or lack thereof) as a human being.


I sorted through the remaining pants—they were, unfortunately, the same style and same size, but different colors. There was no reason to try them on. I left them in their shrink-wrapped state.


Not long ago such a series of events would have left me morose and depressed, culminating typically in one of three responses: 1) binge eating something(s) 2) designing a rigorous and unrealistic workout and diet regimen that I might sustain for a while, with some results, but which would require a degree of concentration and continual rumination, leaving me exhausted, and dominating my thoughts or 3) 1 followed immediately by 2.

But not this night. Over a year into my therapy for an eating disorder, and I see the old lies are showing their age and vulnerability: floor bowed, cracked caulk along the trim, paint faded, sheet- rock tape showing through.

“I’m going through the closet,” I told my wife. “I’m going through my jeans and shorts, weed those out that don’t fit.”

[Pairs that haven’t fit for years but that would fit some day when I weighed less. Subtext: pairs that would fit when I was some day no longer a failure.]

With the shorts, I didn’t even bother. I kept the three newest pairs I’d gotten in this spring. I stacked the rest on the floor beneath the towel bar.

The jeans were next. I pulled the top two pairs off and set them aside since I knew they fit fine.

Of the remaining pairs, I tried them on one by one, and I as I pulled up the legs on each pair, I knew before even attempting to pull the zipper that I would not be able to button them.

So then there was a second stack, this one of jeans.

I carried each stack out to the garage—the staging area for the garage sale my wife will have in three weeks—and let loose my grip, leaving each stack on concrete in front of plastic storage bins. Then I turned off the light and shut the door.


Back inside the bedroom closet, the shelf that once held so many shorts, so many jeans, was sparse—two pairs of jeans, and three pairs of shorts. The three new (and bigger) pairs of shorts sat in the laundry basket on the closet floor.

Those tall stacks were gone, visual reminders of the mental self-flagellation, visual reminders of my “failures.”

I don’t need those reminders of the past, reminders of living a life obsessing over numbers.

I don’t need to bother “repairing” those old lies—they’re past repair.

I’m living somewhere else, and there’s a lot more space.



Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter,, &

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