Title: Nowhere Else I Want to Be
Author: Carol D. Marsh
Genre: Nonfiction memoir
Carol Marsh has no idea what to expect when she founds Miriam’s House, a care home for homeless women living with AIDS in Washington, D.C. Growing up in a stable, loving family, she always felt a passion for helping others less fortunate than herself, and she believed her role as executive director at Miriam’s House would give her the opportunity to serve a group of women often shunned and neglected.
What Carol doesn’t realize is that these women, who suffer the debilitating health effects of AIDS and also struggle with addiction, mental illness, and emotional trauma, would, in turn, teach her so much about herself.
Nowhere Else I Want to Be is beautifully written in the honest voice of a woman who is unafraid to reveal her own personal struggles and heartaches in serving the women of Miriam’s House. At times Marsh creates poetry with her vivid descriptions of the scenery, the women, their conversations, and the memories she’s had with them.
She uses flashbacks and foreshadowing to move seamlessly from the stories that she’s chosen to share and her own thoughts on the tragic history of black women suffering from AIDS. While Marsh’s choice not to recount her thirteen years at Miriam’s House in chronological order can be overwhelming to the reader who also has many characters to remember, it keeps the reader interested even though the book is quite lengthy.
Marsh shows her love for the women of Miriam’s House in the way she gives each woman a unique personality: She crafts descriptions of the women’s physical appearances, their voices, and their behavior in such detail it’s as if the reader has met each woman personally and spent time with her. Through Marsh’s storytelling, we’ve watched horror movies with Kimberly, sampled chitlins with Tamara, and observed interesting characters with Gina during emergency room visits.
Marsh shares the times of celebration–Christmas traditions, Miriam’s House anniversaries, and when women, like Kimberly, eventually improve in health and move out, but more often the stories are more tragic: women who die alone in the hospital, who leave young children behind, or who themselves are not much older than children. In this way, she memorializes these women, who would have been otherwise forgotten, and which makes their deaths–so many deaths–that much more heartbreaking.
As much as this is a story about the lives of these women who struggle to overcome addiction and face their debilitating health and imminent deaths bravely, Nowhere Else I Want to Be is also about the impact these women have on Marsh. What is perhaps most refreshing about the narration is Marsh’s honest reflection of herself.
As amazing as it is that she has given so much of herself to Miriam’s House, she is open about how her passion to serve others is tied closely to her need to be liked by others. In working with women who are vulnerable and mistrusting and taking on the tough role of enforcing unpopular rules to help women addicted to drugs and alcohol, Marsh realizes that true love is about serving others without expecting them to make her feel good about herself.
As enlightening as it was for her to come to this realization, it takes tense encounters and some big mistakes with the women and staff at Miriam’s House to slowly break the addiction of seeking others’ approval, which many adult readers can identify with.
During her first years at Miriam’s House, Marsh finds it difficult to assimilate into this community of black women with whom she has little in common. In order to truly help them, she has to come to terms with her own prejudices. As a white woman who grew up in a community where everyone spoke and looked like her, she comes to realize judgments that she didn’t even know existed.
Having never been addicted to any substance, she has no idea how difficult it is for these women to break this habit that worsens their health. Through living with them and witnessing their heartaches, Marsh develops a love for these women and becomes their greatest advocate.
In Nowhere Else I Want to Be, Carol Marsh describes the harsh realities that homeless women living with AIDS face. She gives the women of Miriam’s House a voice to share their untold stories–some of hope, but most of tragedy–with an elegance that makes her memoir unforgettable.
Recommended rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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