Mean: Trauma and its Forever Lasting Effects

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?


6 thoughts on “Mean: Trauma and its Forever Lasting Effects”

  1. Madeline, great job going into depth about her PTSD in the book. One quote where I saw her being reminded of her PTSD problem is when Gurba writes, “but dead and dying girls have a way of taking up vivid residence in the post-traumatic brain” (164). This goes back to the fact that throughout her life, little things here and there will remind her of her trauma, the murder of the other girl by her own attacker was a traumatic experience in insenf on top of her already traumatic assalut, and now there are even more things that trigger that in her memory, which almost has her living in a constant state of remembering these things. It has all become a part of her.

  2. Maddie, you bring up a lot of points in your blog post that I recognized as well. The way which Myriam tells her story, she kind of sprinkles in triggering moments throughout her life that have brought up the trauma from her past and her coping with her sexual assault and dealing with the guilt of Sophia’s ghost, this acts much like the way PTSD can trigger at any moment for a survivor. In “Spring Semester 1997”, Myriam talks about when she was jogging after her assault and was triggered on a run, “In front of a two-story house with a menorah large enough for a crucifixion on the lawn, invisible arms encircled my waist. They held me. I turned around. No one was there.” (142). The uneasy and anxious feeling can come at any time for someone with PTSD. The last page, featuring the final segment titled “Radio”, is a call back to the ending of the first story, “Wisdom” when she talks about wondering why “Why am I listening to this?” and talks about how Sophia’s ghost enjoys music through her (175). There are a few moments throughout the text where Myriam talks about details she left out as she doesn’t want them to be part of the historical record, as you mentioned when she talks about her assault, but she also talks about details she left out previously. In “Doing Donuts” she says “And Ofelia tried killing herself the day after I got subpoenaed. I didn’t mention that earlier because I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be part of the historical record. I wasn’t sure how detailed I wanted to be regarding dead and dying girls overwhelming me that winter.” (164). In this meta moment, the author brings up a detail previously omitted. There are some details which she feels have their place at certain points in the story.

    I have personally experienced my own form of PTSD, in a way. Since I can remember I have had an irrational fear of puppets, specifically marionettes. I hate the strings; the idea of being caught in them and having your limbs tugged around, losing your own autonomy. I have a memory, which turned out to be a fabricated one or a vivid nightmare, of being brought to a puppet show as a young boy and the stand being knocked over and all of the marionettes fell on me. I became tangled in the strings and the children around me laughed at me, of course my mother always told me none of this really happened. It took me many years but one day I realized that my fear may have stemmed from having seizures since I was a child till I became an adult. I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was eight and have had my seizures under control for several years now, but growing up with it was quite a lot to deal with and I always seemed to bottle it up.

  3. Maddie,
    A few pages in the last section of the book mention the power of history. History makes her think of her molestation. Although the subject of history makes her re-live those bad traumas, she still loves history. She loves taking history classes.”Yeah, history class was where I got molested. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop taking history classes” (150). Ironically enough, she becomes a history teacher! Even in history records, where you expect the truth to be revealed, texts of this nature still lie. When rapists are found not guilty, as their victims watch the trial hoping for justice. Or how the details of the sequence of events of the crime get twisted. Myriam Gurba is fascinated with history and how every little thing has a history of it’s own. Her’s being a traumatic one that she shares with many other victims, including Sofia.

  4. Question 2: Have you had a bad experience or memory that has created an irrational fear, or scarring moment in your life?

    When I was about ten years old my mom was in a bad fire. I watched out the window as the outdoor wood stove blew up and caught my mom on fire. The only thing I remember distinctly is yelling that her head blew up because that is exactly what it looked like to me. She is completely fine now with only minor scarring but to this day I have an excessive fear of fire. When I was younger, I used to pack a bag every night before bed so that if the house caught on fire I could grab the bag and be prepared with anything I may need. I don’t go to that extent anymore but I am still cautious of everything relating to fire, even lighting a candle.

  5. 2.) Throughout my life I’ve been in multiple car accidents. The first one I remember was when I was really little. My grandpa was taking me home and we hit a deer. I wasn’t in danger or hurt but it frightened me. Within the next couple years I got in another accident with my grandparents, we were leaving a restaurant and someone backed into out car, again not a terrible accident but this made me realize that other drivers can be more dangerous than the people in my car. One time i was with my dad when we t-boned a car, that was scary, the passed two summers I’ve been in a car when the driver rear-ended another car. Those ones stand out to me the most because I watched both of them happen. Unlike the deer they didn’t just come out of nowhere, I was watching the road (because im a paranoid passenger) and when i expected them to stop the car they never did. Fortunately Ive never been involved in an accident where someone was hurt, just cars. My friends aren’t as lucky. Three summers ago I was at a party and we ordered a pizza, the house was out of the range for delivery but we knew the driver and it was late so the manager let him take the delivery. We got the pizza and life was good. When the night came to an end we heard that there was a lot of police cars at the end of the road (keep in mind this took place out in the country) by the morning we heard the news that our friend, team mate, and neighbor was dead. His breaks either malfunctioned or he was driving recklessly, nevertheless he hit the guard rail sideways which flipped his small truck into a telephone pole that folded his vehicle. The
    fender benders in my life have made me overly cautious of myself and others on the road. To this day, head on collisions are my biggest fear. RIP Nick Tillinghast

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