Thank You to Inkshares for providing me with an advanced copy of Carol D. Marsh’s memoir, Nowhere Else I Want to Be, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- In the mid 90’s Carol Marsh founded Miriam’s House, a shelter in Washington D.C. for homeless women infected with HIV. Marsh spent many years as the director of the non-profit, including living in Miriam’s House with her husband, Tim. Nowhere Else I Want to Be, is not just Marsh’s story, but the story of the women who both worked and lived at Miriam’s House.
LIKE- I saw Nowhere Else I Want to Be on NetGalley and requested it for personal reasons. This summer, I moved to Portland, Oregon and we have an apartment in the middle of downtown, where we are confronted with extreme homelessness and drug addiction every time we step outside of our building. Quite honestly, it’s a difficult thing to see, and I’m not dealing with it well, basically sheltering myself within our building. I had hoped that Marsh’s memoir, might give me a better sense of the difficulties that people are facing, and that the personal stories, might make me less fearful and more compassionate. On this personal level, I think Marsh’s book succeeded. It’s the personal stories that make Nowhere Else I Want to Be, so compelling and tragic.
One of the saddest stories is of a young woman, if I’m remembering correctly she is the youngest Miriam’s House resident, who had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion as a child living in Africa. Although her family had to stay in Africa, she was sent to America for medical care. Her mother desperately tries to save money for visits, but knows that her daughter is dying in America, alone. The residents and employees of Miriam’s House try to give her daughter comfort, but she is severely depressed and lonely. It’s crushing.
One of the strict rules for residents at Miriam’s House is no drugs or alcohol. Zero tolerance, so that the women trying to maintain their sobriety won’t be tempted by another’s slip-up. Many of the women relapse, several times, making their stays at Miriam’s House sporadic. Some die from overdoses and some simply disappear. However, more of the stories are hopeful, even if they ultimately end with death. These women get to die with care, knowing friendship and love towards the end of their lives. They have times where they can laugh and smile, knowing a sense of comfort that they likely would not have experienced without the non-profit. Another hopeful element of the story, is as Marsh’s time working at Miriam’s House comes to an end, new drugs and a better understanding of the virus, are extending lives and the women are learning to manage their disease, rather than rapidly declining. Miriam’s House is no longer a place where women go to die.
The part of Marsh’s experience, that I didn’t anticipate, but found so interesting, is her missteps and miscommunications as a white middle-class woman, working with primary poor women of color. Beyond the residents of Miriam’s House, Marsh makes an effort to hire African American women, which sometimes creates a cultural difference between Marsh and her fellow employees. Although, over time, this lessens, as Marsh and her staff, learn to listen to each other and work with their various communication styles. Early on, it is pointed out to Marsh, that she has a great need to be “liked” and that she needs to let go of her need to better serve the women in her care. The transformation of Marsh is as compelling as the stories of the Miriam’s House residents.
DISLIKE- Nothing. Nowhere Else I Want to Be is a very worthwhile, transformative read.
RECOMMEND- Yes. Be sure to steel yourself for some depressing stories, and have your kleenex handy for those uplifting moments that will make you cry. One that really got me, was a very ill woman who got to go on an outing to Six Flags Theme Park. There are many reminders to cherish the smaller pleasures in life.