4 stars “And though it must feel like a catacomb in that dark hour, and though every hour behind these blinds has been dark, the house is spinning with movement: mould is travelling up and down the walls, food is rotting, cans are rusting, water is dripping, insects are being born and they are living and dying, Janice’s hair is growing, her heart is beating, she is breathing. Which is to say that this, too, is life. Like the creatures that swim in the perfect blackness of the ocean floor, the ecosystem here would be unrecognisable to most people but this, too, is our world.”
The Trauma Cleaner is the first book by American-born author, lecturer and researcher, Sarah Krasnostein. She first met Sandra Pankhurst, founder of Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services, at a conference. Learning about her tumultuous life happens as Sarah accompanies Sandra and her STC team on cleaning jobs. As well as seeing a side of life to which most of us are not privy, it quickly becomes apparent that Sandra’s own background makes her ideal for this sort of work: “Aside from a vast amount of technical skill that needs constant updating, I ask Sandra what else the work requires. ‘Compassion,’ she replies solemnly. ‘Great compassion, great dignity and a good sense of humour ‘cause you’re gonna need it. And a really god sense of not being able to take the smell in, ‘cause they stink. Putrid.’”
The situations of the clients in the jobs may also trigger memories that Sandra has lost: “Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten, endlessly interchangeable, neurotically ordered, conflicting or loosely tethered to reality. She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory … It is also my belief that her memory loss is trauma-induced.” That chaotic past includes a cruelty-filled childhood, two marriages (one as a husband, another as a wife), fathering two sons, a sex-change operation, the death of a lover, a violent rape, a career as a drag queen, prostitute, taxi-cab scheduler, funeral arranger, hardware store owner, Chamber of Commerce President and cleaner.
With regards hoarders, we learn that dead bodies are preferable to live ones, because no bartering or getting agreement or manipulation is required: the mess and smell are about the same. “…she is completely alone and living in a house full of books and yellowed newspapers and cats and their shit, which for years she has been unable to clean or unwilling to acknowledge so she presses newspaper on top like a layer cake.” Discussing this case later, the author’s father asks ‘What kind of hoarder was she?’ ‘Books and cats, mainly,’ I tell the man who loves his cats and who I know is now actively considering his extensive book collection. ‘What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?’ he wonders. We are both silent before chuckling and answering in unison: ‘Faeces.’ But the difference is this phone call. And others like it I could make. And how strong we are when we are loved.” A fascinating look at life as few of us know it. This unsolicited copy received from Text Publishing for an unbiased review.