Myriam Gurba’s Mean is a bold memoir telling the tale of a mixed raced queer going through her adolescent years. The book is full of brutal honesty and blunt commentary adding humor to rather serious topics. Sexual assault is a prominent topic in Mean, the book opening with a detailed rape scene. The ending parts of her memoir depict the idea of PTSD and the long lasting effects of traumatic memories from her personal experiences of sexual assault. It shows Myriam trying to move through the rest of her life as an adult woman in the world. As she is trying to move on , and overcome her past, the memories and past trauma keeps creeping their way back in, creating a lasting effect on her.
By the end of the book, Myriam is coming to terms with her past and taking back her life in her own unconventional way, attempts to sleep with married men. She sees this as a coping method, confronting “the chaos of memories” (154) that stem from her traumatic experiences of sexual assault head on. Sleeping with a man is her attempt at making her past sexual experiences her single view of sex. Gurba begins describing how “some memories are too personal to be recorded” (154) or shared with others. Traumatic memories stay with people replaying in their minds. Sophia did not survive to allow her story to replay in her own mind, so her story stuck with Myriam. Myriam, who suffered from the same attacker, see’s life in a sexual way even in something so little as a donut. There was a donut titled “The Michael Jackson: a chocolate cake donut covered in white powdered sugar” (163). While her friends see the food as racist, she was thinking about the accusations of him molesting kids. Her experience followed her everywhere, conveying the PTSD she lives with, creating thoughts and images in her head.
Myriam carrying around Sophia’s story results from the guilt she feels about surviving. They were attacked in similar ways by the same man, only Sophia did not survive. Myriam was fortunate in that she survived but she “felt guilty about being alive” (168) and that Sophia was less fortunate. When reading this section of the book I remembered from Gurba’s interview that she states “for 20 years I carried around a lot of survivor guilt because I share a lot in common with the other victim that didn’t survive.” This forced me to recognize how common these situations are for women around the world , and how little attention is brought to the situations and victims. In addition, it struck me as odd that she would feel guilty for living. I would not have thought one who was lucky enough to live would feel in the wrong.
Gurba discusses how not all victims want to be known for the awful things they have gone through. Trauma is an individual experience that Myriam feels partly should remain private. Gurba kept details to herself , internally coping with the ambush of the horrid past trauma when things trigger a memory. She overcame her experience and made herself stronger from it. She was first molested in History class by McCauley. Although history was a traumatic scarring experience Gurba states that that “history made me cum laude” (156). She took back history as she “reclaimed the destructive power” of genitalia “for her own use” (146) through sleeping with a married man. She took her traumatic experiences and turned them into something else.
There is a particular theme in this section that is made up of all Myriam’s thoughts and feelings that I have discussed. Even though she has moved forward in her life, the trauma from her past keeps reappearing. She states how she has stopped obsessing about Sophia and that she “never lets herself think about Sophia” (157). Just when she thinks she has moved past it, she begins obsessing about the Black Dahlia. She cannot escape the traumatic experiences similar to the ones she has gone through. The idea of sexual assault and her attack remain forever in her mind living through stories of experiences that other woman who have not survived went through. These thoughts are constantly triggered through simple concepts such as a name, like Michael Jackson. Her PTSD is woven in throughout her book depicting the long lasting effect her attack has and will have on her. In the ending we see Gurba moving on, getting married, living her life, then these thoughts come creeping back in?
(1)-Can you find any moments or quotes in the book where something is triggering her PTSD? ( example donut / name Michael Jackson)?
(2)-Lets see if we can think of very minor examples of PTSD from our own childhood. Have you had a bad experience or memory that has created an irrational fear, or scarring moment in your life?