Nowhere Else I Want to Be: A Memoir
by Carol D. Marsh
Reviewed by T.J. Banks
The book that really jump-started Carol Marsh’s imagination as a teenager was Catherine Marshall’s Christy. “I dreamt of being like Christy,” she recalls, “and going to work with poor mountain families—later, Indians on reservations, and later still, overseas with the Peace Corps—and helping people who needed me.” She saw herself living “a life of service in which I would make things perfect for some small village or group of children. For that they would, of course, love and appreciate me.”
Somewhere along the way, Marsh realized that her calling was working with women in need. So, in 1996, she founded Miriam’s House, a place for homeless women in the Washington, D.C., area who were struggling with HIV and AIDS.
Each woman came to Miriam’s House with a painful back story all her own. Claudia was mentally ill. Rebecca had been incapacitated by a stroke and communicated by pointing to pictures or words in a little book that one of the interns put together for her. Laila had contracted the virus from a blood transfusion following a car accident during her childhood. Alyssa, one of the youngest residents, had been pimped out by her mother, who had “needed the money to pay the drug man.”
Marsh and her husband Tim lived at Miriam’s House, and she learned that there was much more to being the director than she’d imagined. She accompanied residents to the ER; sat by deathbeds; and dealt with staff issues and substance-abuse relapses, learning a few truths about herself in the process. But what gave her “real joy,” she discovered, “was relating on an intimate level with the residents.” Over time, “being in service” morphed into “being present” for the residents, and “[t]here was humility in ceasing to help the vulnerable and commencing to be with them. To stay with them.”
Marsh paints vivid word-pictures of the women of Miriam’s House, enabling us to enter their lives as much as it is humanly possible to. And we come away from the book moved by both the story she tells and the honesty with which she tells it.
T.J. Banks is the author of Sketch People, A Time for Shadows, Catsong, Houdini, and other books. Catsong was the winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award.