[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]
Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris
The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…
I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)
Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.
Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.
It was effortless for one to love him.
It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.
I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.
The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.
So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that I never forgot you, and I never will…
About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary: