Book one hundred

My Good Reads goal this year was to read one hundred books; having surpassed this number earlier than expected, I have decided to reflect upon book one hundred as it is a story which I know I will remember, regardless of time passing.

Book one hundred was The Trumpet by Jackie Kay. It had been on my want to read list for over a year. I believed it to be a poetry collection by Kay. I was wrong — The Trumpet is a novel, released in the nineties, and a book I’m glad I came to without any prior knowledge.

To ruin very little, The Trumpet follows the weeks after Joss Moody’s death, a celebrated, Scottish born, Black trumpet player. In the hours after, the coroner discovers and declares Joss Moody was biologically a woman, despite presenting as male for most of his life and his entire career in Jazz. The fall out impacts his wife, who always knew, and their adopted son, who had no idea.

As the media press for all the inside information, Joss’s wife and son attempt to grieve. This, and how Kay writes about grief and the grieving process in this novel, is what moved me the most; because while she explores gender identity, race, stereotypes and ignorance, Moody’s life experience and that of his wife, Molly, and his son, Colman, is characterised by grief and how it can be felt in many forms, not just in death.

“There is something so repetitive about grief. First the stupid hope, then the violence of remembering.” - The Trumpet, Jackie Kay

Reading The Trumpet helped me come to terms with how omnipresent loss is and how natural losing or letting go are. But the pain, or the violence as Kay writes, never gets easier to handle.

Of course, as we become more acquainted with loss, we learn to understand our body’s physiological response. But the initial pain — the empty coupled with the harsh snap of feeling broken in two, and the chest pain, oh, how your heart speaks then — will always suck the breath from your lungs.

This book, however, made me question if it would be helpful to see this process as beautiful, even though it feels so ugly.

This is not to belittle or to deny how grief can hurt and break us. It can only be beautiful if there is love and Jackie Kay taught me this. She taught me of the dichotomy of love causing grief in the first place while being one of the only emotions to help us heal from loss. Molly’s love for Joss protects her as she processes he will never return. Colman’s love for the father he knew, allows him to forgive all he didn’t know.

And I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m learning to access love as a way to heal too. If I cite the EMDR therapy process as an example, the reprocessing of trauma and firmly held beliefs about yourself — born in childhood and exacerbated in adulthood — feels a lot like grief because all of a sudden you are letting go of moments, words and memories you had used to define yourself for years. This loss is incredibly intense as it also forces you to get to know yourself again, to love and care for the parts which have been ignored for so long.

But, there is only so much love we can carry ourselves without succumbing to exhaustion. I’ve spent years trying to focus on loving myself enough to heal, yet I’ve continued to struggle; plumbing depths of self-worth only to hear echoes.

In the last two weeks though, after sobbing more than I have in months, I finally gave myself permission to access love from elsewhere. For me, it is my partner. Instead of self-soothing sleepless nights, I’ve turned to him. When I can no longer carry myself, I’ve asked to be held. Perhaps this sounds simple, but when history tells you one thing, for me, asking for love, for help has always been hard to voice, as has been relinquishing myself to love — believing it is true and, most importantly, that I am deserving of it.

Grief, the initial pain, remains difficult, but recovery is more tangible for the first time. It has taken years and maybe seeing love as the answer is cliché but the love isn’t the freeing part, it’s the permission.

Give yourself permission to let others love you. Give yourself permission to believe you are worthy of love, of being listened to, of feeling safe. And, give yourself permission to uphold boundaries elsewhere to ensure you find love and safety far quicker than pain, far quicker than ‘the violence of remembering’, you deserve it.