The Haunting of Myriam Gurba

In this section of the book, Gurba uses ghosts to signify her past that haunts her. On the third line of page 157, Gurba talks about her obsession with wanting to think about Sophia. Gurba shows how single minded the obsession made her by giving each thought its own line as she sought a surrogate for Sophia, and puts the word obsessed in italics to show how much power the need had over her.

After choosing the Black Dahlia murder as a surrogate for Sophia due to the startling similarities it shared with Sophia’s case, Gurba decides to agitate the ghost of the Black Dahlia by stealing dirt from her grave. Subsequent to her stealing the sand, Gurba was now haunted by two ghosts, one she had asked for, and one that she cannot seem to get rid of. Gurba’s solution to her agitated haunting was to throw the dirt she had stolen from her grave into the ocean. Gurba’s final thoughts in this passage is “I wasn’t only trying to get rid of the Dahlia. I was trying to free myself from the other ghost, too” (161). These final thoughts clue the audience in on Gurba’s attempt to free herself from Sophia. Due to the similarities in both cases, Gurba believed that perhaps the Black Dahlia would take Sophia with her…She didn’t.

In a final effort to free herself from the ghost of sophia, Gurba sets out on a pilgrimage with her family to the place of the murder,Oakley Park. While on this pilgrimage with her mother, Gurba finally dresses Sophia who has been haunting her for decades. On page 174, Gurba addresses Sophia by realizing that she is happy to be alive. Gurba then lists individual moments that occur throughout her life that would be otherwise unnoticed and forgotten. Instead Gurba acknowledges them specifically and discusses how she is glad that she can keep listening to right-wing radio for fun.

This realization did not free her of Sophia, however it has allowed her to understand that Sophia lives on through her. The things that she is able to enjoy while she is alive, are ways that Sophia is able to live on and enjoy things through Gurba. To Gurba, the ghost of Sophia represents not only the events that occurred to her, but also the events that occurred to Gurba and her ability with the guilt of being a survivor. However, Gurba understands that she must live her life to its fullest and enjoy being alive in honor of Sophia, who was never given a chance.

Discussion Questions:

What do you think the ghost of Sophia represents?

Gurba has been haunted by these events for her entire life, what do you believe has changed that she is now able to live with the ghosts of her past and not try to free herself of them?

6 thoughts on “The Haunting of Myriam Gurba”

  1. I view Sophia’s ghost as a personification of Gurba’s trauma. Sophia’s case was very similar to Gurba’s, and yet, Sophia is not Gurba. This provides some distance from the trauma itself. I would like to say that Sophia is a personification of Gurba’s intrusive thoughts, but that is not the full truth. To quote you, “Sophia lives on through her.” Sophia is more than just a disembodied collection of thoughts– she was a real person. Perhaps, if ghosts exist, Gurba is literally haunted by Sophia.
    Interestingly, the book implies that Gurba was literally (as well as figuratively) haunted by The Black Dahlia. On page 160, Gurba details how her roommate, Bob, woke up early one morning and saw The Black Dahlia. Now, Bob did have a few drinks, and he did just wake up (hypnopompic hallucinations are more common than you would think). It is possible that he hallucinated her… but I ask you, does it really matter? The Black Dahlia haunted Gurba’s conscious. Gurba decided that she “had to get rid of that dirt” (160). She wanted to be rid of her ghosts, but as we later learn, this didn’t happen. Still, she learned to live with these ghosts– the ghosts of her trauma, the ghost of Sophia, the ghosts of her past, etc. By reading about them, we are learning a piece of what Gurba herself has learned through them.

  2. I like that you addressed how Gurba realizes that she is happy to be alive, when she very well could have been killed by the man that killed Sophia. She becomes familiar with her reality and accepts that she feels as though Sophia lives through her. “She enjoys music through me. She enjoys food through me.
    She enjoys sunsets through me…” (Gurba 175). For Gurba to remember Sophia like this is very respectable and honorable in my opinion. If I were in that position I think I would try to suppress any thoughts of Sophia because it would remind me of my experience, which would be even more damaging in the end.

  3. I like that you addressed Gurba’s realization in the end. This last chapter really supports the idea that the ghost represents Gurba’s survivor’s guilt. She had tried and tried to get rid of Sophia for so long and couldn’t. Gurba says “I eyeballed my tribute, waiting for relief to wash away my shitty feelings, but my offering suddenly seemed insignificant.”(171). From what we’ve learned of Gurba she doesn’t usually act so serious as she did in this last chapter. This shows that she finally couldn’t mask the guilt and the pain so well anymore and finally was able to understand Sophia and herself. After letting all of this sink in she finally came to the conclusion that she cannot hold on to this traumatic experience in such a way and she says “I’m not glad you’re dead, but I’m glad I’m alive.”(174). This i feel is one of the most powerful and enlightening statements Gurba has made

  4. Throughout the story, we see that Gurba has progressed and is now able to deal with her difficult past better. I think that Gurba is now able to live with the ghosts of her past because writing Mean was a form of a coping mechanism. Writing her story was a way of recognizing and understanding the situations that occurred in her life. Writing is almost like talking to a counselor but in a more public way. Also over time, I believe that Gurba became more accepting of the ghosts in her life because she realized that many lessons can be learned through them. Gurba is aware that her ghosts are still with her and uses this to recognize the issues in her life and deal with them from there. Gurba says “She still doesn’t leave me alone. She’s still here. And it’s still mostly through the radio that she makes her presence known. I’ll linger on a station I can’t stand and wonder, “Why am I listening to this?” Then I’ll realize: she’s listening to this” (175). In this quote, Gurba is recognizing that the ghost of Sophia is still with her. It is healthy for Gurba to recognize the ghosts in her life because it allows her to make sense of situations.

  5. I think that the ghost of Sophia is more than the obvious that it is what it is, Sophia’s ghost. I feel as if Gurba uses Sophia’s ghost as a coping mechanism but also as a new way into life. Sophia is dead so she can’t live out her own life. I think that Gurba now lives her life more aware of what goes on around her because she is living for both herself and Sophia. Miriam says, “She still doesn’t leave me alone. She’s still here. And it’s still mostly through the radio that she makes her presence known. I’ll linger on a station I can’t stand and wonder ‘Why am I listening to this?’ Then I’ll realize: she’s listening to this” (175). Gurba puts herself in situations for the sake of Sophia and I think that she uses this to make her trauma seem less powerful and effective.

    Great blog post! 🙂

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