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My Friend Dan Druid died of Aids in 1986

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

Dan Druid had a lovely name and an unlovely fate. He named himself. I never did find out why he turned away from his family and chose a new surname except that he liked the sound of it. The alliteration and Webster’s definition pleased him: a priest, magician, or soothsayer in the ancient Celtic religion. He was Dan Druid with no family history. It was 1983 when we met at WordStar, then MicroPro International. WordStar, the first word processor was struggling against Wordperfect and Word, imitators and competitors, and through many bad decisions by our founder, Seymour Rubenstein, we were losing the battle. To this day we use WordStar command Ctrl C to copy and Ctrl V to Paste. Back then, however, we were no longer the only game in town, and had to move forward. Thus the questionable plan to overhaul WordStar and call it WordStar 2000. This was the 80s, remember, and 2000 represented the glorious future.

Dan was put in charge as the best programmer in the company.

We in the Documentation Department worked closely with the programmers, coming up with a new interface. It was exciting and fun to be part of this potentially company-saving team. Dan at the helm, I as documentation manager at his side, and Alita, as Testing team leader at his other side. All of us gay. As the program grew and was tested, Dan became less and less available. He had a persistent cough. We worried. We sat at meetings like this one, but often he was home sick.

Finally he told me, he had tested positive for AIDs and his usual debonair smiling manner disappeared. He admitted to being terrified. Many of his friends were dying.

Word got around in the company, of course. In those early years, everyone was afraid of catching the deadly disease—even though we knew it was transmitted by bodily fluids, we worried about surfaces, sneezes, and that cough. As the program went out for beta testing, Dan went into the hospital. His partner Clyde, Alita, and I were his only visitors.

I would leave work most days at about 1:30 with my boss' blessings. I'd drive into into the city to visit him in a bleak hospital room. He showed me the lesions on his neck--you know what that means, right? He was not a man in denial. Much of the time he slept, but he seemed fine that I was there when he woke up. I remember the old Dan, so happy with his life, would shake his head in wonder. They actually pay me $4000 a month to write code! A few weeks in the hospital and it was clear that he was dying. He decided he wanted to go home to his Sausalito apartment. We drove him home. Clyde helped him up the stairs and put him to bed. Our new routine was set--Clyde or I would pick up something for dinner at Safeway, salad or spaghetti or pizza, and then one or both of us would sit with Dan. One evening he opened his eyes and said, Hey Joan, did you see that ship? I was just on a huge sailing ship, at the helm. I was turning the wheel and turning the ship. He laughed. Did you see it? Oh, I must have been seeing things. And then he closed his eyes, but the smile remained.

A few days later, Clyde called. He's gone. I got there in time to see them carry him down the stairs.

Several weeks later I went to see Clyde. He had decided to book a trip around the world. The apartment was packed up, boxes everywhere. I asked if he was going by himself, and he said yes I am I'm just going to do what I always dreamed about. I kissed him goodbye and within the year, I found out that he too died of AIDS.

I never got a chance to give him Dan's card key.

Wordstar 2000 came out that same year and was not a hit. We all used it and loved it, but the die-hard WordStar people it was meant for didn't want any changes they just wanted more features and refused to buy it.

I missed Dan, his sly sense of humor, his dark good looks, his clever mind.

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