S. Kirk Walsh | Longreads | January 2018 | 27 minutes (6,711 words)
I first met Dan Cronin on an early spring evening in 1993. Michael, my new boyfriend, introduced us. We were standing on the southwest corner of 12th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. A stream of cabs, city buses, and cars surged toward the illuminated marble arch of Washington Square. The changing twilight danced through the rustling, pale-green leaves of the trees that shaded the grounds of the nearby church. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you,” Dan said to me. His smile was angelic and mischievous, his eyes, a striking slate blue. He lit a Newport cigarette, a wisp of smoke releasing from the corner of his mouth.
That night, we decided on dinner at a family-run Italian restaurant in the West Village. The three of us talked about books (J. M. Synge, E. L. Doctorow), Catholicism (the religion of our childhoods), Arthur Ashe’s recent death from AIDS, Dan and Michael’s strong allegiances to Upper West Side. It was a memorable night. As I said goodbye to them at the 14th Street subway stop, I felt a kind of certainty and contentment as if I already knew that Dan and Michael were going to be a part of my life for a long time.
Prior to that night, Michael had also told me a lot about Dan: He was a professional tenor, who had performed on Broadway and national tours around the country. He was a voracious reader of American history, passionate about all things Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jordan. He was religious in his daily purchasing of lottery tickets. (He always played the same numbers; the street address of his childhood home.) He was employed as a waiter at the famed Russian Tea Room. (He was the shop steward of the union, and the powerful position allowed him to work only when he felt up to it.) Having recently visited his ancestral town in County Kerry, Ireland, he told a story of encountering a man who could recite passages of Ulysses in Gaelic.
Over the past year, Dan and Michael had become close friends. They had many lively discussions about sports and politics, but their true bond centered on their experiences with recovery, addiction, pain, and abuse. “He’s a remarkable man with many talents,” Michael said when he first told me about Dan. “It’s sad because he’s HIV positive.” Shortly after his diagnosis seven years earlier, Dan started taking high doses of AZT (zidovudine, the first antiretroviral drug approved by the FDA in 1987) as a part of his treatment protocol.