In 1986, 26-year old Ruth visits a friend at the hospital when she notices that the door to one of the hospital rooms is painted red. She witnesses nurses drawing straws to see who would tend to the patient inside, all of them reluctant to enter the room. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and immediately begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life. Before she can even process what she’s done, word spreads in the community that Ruth is the only person willing to help these young men afflicted by AIDS, and is called upon to nurse them. As she forges deep friendships with the men she helps, she works tirelessly to find them housing and jobs, even searching for funeral homes willing to take their bodies – often in the middle of the night. She cooks meals for tens of people out of discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, stores rare medications for her most urgent patients, teaches sex-ed to drag queens after hours at secret bars, and becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of a deeply conservative state.
Throughout the years, Ruth defies local pastors and nurses to help the men she cares for: Paul and Billy, Angel, Chip, Todd and Luke. Emboldened by the weight of their collective pain, she fervently advocates for their safety and visibility, ultimately advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis.
This deeply moving and elegiac memoir honors the extraordinary life of Ruth Coker Burks and the beloved men who fought valiantly for their lives with AIDS during a most hostile and misinformed time in America.