Behind his eyes the part of him
That always knew the joke
Till at the end the only thing he needed
Was a smile.
— Gerry Storrow, from Requiem
Dan Aronie died early last Friday morning at his home in Vineyard Haven. He was 38. Dan had suffered for much of his life with both diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
He was movie-star handsome, an aspiring actor and a model in his early 20s when first diagnosed with MS. Niki Patton recalls: “Dan loved sex and rock and roll and beautiful girls and cars . . . He had wanted to have the good life — hang out. Work on a motor. Have a hot date and a beer. And then he learned that slowly but surely he would lose the capability of doing those things. He struggled and railed and raged against it. And at the same time he charmed and smiled.”
In the face of impossible odds, together with his family and friends who never left his side, Dan tried every medical treatment, surgery, medical device or drug and every alternative therapy to overcome the illnesses that ravaged his beautiful body. Throughout his struggle — and it really was a struggle — Dan reluctantly came to embody the very kind of wisdom he often scoffed at. He bore the weight of his body without the muscles to control it, and all the while dazzled us with his irreverent wit, his smile and his will to live.
In A Certain Kind of Beauty, the award-winning documentary by Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth, Dan Aronie became the movie star he had aspired to be and a role model for other MS sufferers and for those of us his life transformed. The film poignantly depicts Dan’s physical deterioration, the many treatments, the frustrations and flirtations, his wonderful encounter with Ram Dass, and through it all the sustaining support and love of his family, his caregivers and his community. It will be a lasting memory of Dan Aronie.
But everyone who knew Dan has a very personal memory of him.
Charles Shipway, a childhood friend of Dan’s brother Josh, came to know Dan through the many exploits of a young man who lived life to the fullest. “I knew him in West Hartford and also on the Vineyard. Back in those days he was known as Dangerous Dan, driving around Menemsha in his beat-up old Bronco convertible, a pretty girl in the front seat next to him,” he said.
Zack Lee recalls: “He was my best friend from the age of 11 through our teenage years there. I spent most of my time trying to keep up with Dan . . . when we were younger, fishing at the Menemsha jetty, then later four-wheeling on the beach, and fishing at the Brickyard.”
Darcie Lynn Manders Farber’s memory evokes Dan the romantic: “Dan was a close friend of mine at Bard. So many stories of our adventures to hold on to . . . my first experience on a motorcycle, arms wrapped around his waist, the absolute divine beauty of the back country road of New York as we spent a beautiful day traveling to Hartford, Connecticut — only the two of us seemed to exist in that moment.”
In high school, Dan became friends with Joyce Godin Sayre in West Hartford, and though they lost touch for a while, they renewed their friendship. She saw him again recently. Joyce said softly: “I saw him a week before he passed away. He couldn’t talk, but still mouthed the words of his fire, his spunkiness. He never gave that up. He’s a hero to me. And [even though he couldn’t speak] he told me that he loved me.”
It has been a struggle for the Aronies, too, dealing with the emotional ups and downs over the years of Dan’s changing condition. The last several months have been particularly challenging, as Dan’s health deteriorated seriously. He was hospitalized off-Island, receiving treatments that seemed to ease his condition somewhat. In December, during the holiday season, thankfully Dan returned to his home in Vineyard Haven. There were good days and bad days, but through it all Dan was still Dan — charming, funny, caustic and courageous. And always ready to offer up his dazzling movie-star smile.
Michael West is a poet who lives in Vineyard Haven. For viewing the film A Certain Kind of Beauty, a link is provided on the Vineyard Gazette Facebook page. Or go to snagfilms.com. Poems and other reminiscences about Dan have been posted to sepiessa.com.