Before They Left Us

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Before They Left Us by Rosemary Ann Davis takes a stunning look at the impact of AIDS on two communities, primarily San Francisco. As Davis writes, “AIDS became my Vietnam, my Holocaust, my September 11. The Castro (district) turned into a death camp and through my visits from Minneapolis, I was let back in.” Davis lived in San Francisco in the 1970s, before the HIV/AIDS epidemic decimated certain areas of the city. This memoir is her attempt to document the periods before and after AIDS and to make us feel the very personal impact of the havoc it raised as well as the deaths it caused.

Davis writes about a few gay male friends she had in the Mission and Castro areas, and their subsequent slow and miserable deaths. Initially, I felt that it was difficult to relate to these men because Davis supplies minimal details about their lives and personalities. None are adequately fleshed out for us to see them as real human beings. However, my view shifted when, two-thirds of the way through the book, when she writes about losing her precious friend, John. Here, her words are quite moving and one can feel the loss of John the way one is shocked by the death of a close friend. We also feel and experience Davis’s sense of regret, particularly when she writes, “Had I known they would all die, I would have stayed.” We all wish we had spent more time with a friend we will never see again. Near the conclusion of Before They Left Us, Davis makes another salient point, asserting that community is key, “Our strength lies in connecting with each other.” Life is not an individual battle; it involves supporting those who need help and experiencing their reciprocity when we need it.

The AIDS crisis was a true public health epidemic that devastated particular communities. Davis’s account will serve as a valuable introduction for those who were too young to have experienced the times. This is a memoir that is life-affirming, causing us to reconsider the preciousness of life, fleeting as it is. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Simple survival is the greatest success.”

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Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 306 pages
Publisher Old Road Publishing
Publish Date 2018-09-05
ISBN 9781732284500 Buy this Book
Issue April 2019
Category Biographies & Memoirs


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