The Trauma Cleaner

OMFG. This book is beautiful pain, is more than enough, is belonging. The Trauma Cleaner is a biography about Sandra Pankhurst, “husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, business woman, trophy wife”. The author Sarah Krasnostein shares her friend’s life story while asking the question how do we form true connection. She pieces the answer together through the events of Sandra’s life and her Trauma Cleaning Services clients – people who have reached “a level of disconnection and self-neglect that is, essentially, a living death.”

Sarah starts Sandra’s story at the end, when Sandra is a widow who owns a Trauma Cleaner service, and then jumps to the beginning, when Sandra was Peter – a vulnerable boy physically abused and in need of love. From alcoholism and poverty to the sex work, LGBT rights, and gender reassignment to marriage, murder, and divorce, Sandra’s life records significant historical changes in LGBT history and the depth of life.

And yet she can barely remember it. Sandra was never surrounded by people who wanted to know her as a “whole person” and thus, she never told her story in full. According to Sarah, “This is how true connection occurs. This is how events become stories and stories become memories and memories become narratives or self and of family from which we derive identity and strength.”

This is the gift of love the writer bestows on her friend Sandra, using “words as disinfectants” and making order of her memories.

Sandra’s story opens up a doorway into the experience of those whose lives have been invalidated, those who have been forgotten, those who have had to rebuild so many times they cannot remember who they are, those that cannot make order of the trauma and instead numb themselves, never moving forward, never letting go. “If we are too good at it for too long we will numb our ability to form true connections, with ourselves and with others, which is the only thing we are here for.”

How this resonates with me, my fear that my generation is numbing themselves with social media, entertainment, and drugs, hiding behinds screens so they never have to be ‘excruciatingly vulnerable’ and preventing true connection from forming.

Sarah shares her belief that the way to create true connection is “by being terrified to tell our story and by doing it anyway.”

Perhaps this is where How to Value Your Own Thoughts comes from – this need for true connection.

The Trauma Cleaner captures the way pain is like ivy clinging to our bodies invisible to the eye. This story captures the way life can thrash you like a small boat in a storm. I believe that everyone needs to read this book, to try to experience this woman’s life, to listen to her story. I feel changed from reading this, like something has clicked in the way that life comes together and falls apart.

And as Sarah tells Sandra over and over again, and so I tell you… you belong, you belong, you belong.

This is part of the Wellcome Book Prize Blog Tour! #WBD2019