I’m nine years old. Childhood home. Mother’s house. The living room floor, late. I’m a secret down here, everyone asleep. Carpet, faded and worn. Headphones. Crossed legs. I play records in the dark, listen in the headphones. The Beatles. That crackle, the words, the images, the places. Sgt. Pepper’s. The album cover like a family photo I study. I listen to She’s Leaving Home the most, because my mom left home and I imagine what she looked like then, and I cry about her leaving. To understand my mother, to love her, was to love the Beatles. I let them raise me. Vinyl. Crackle. Home.
This summer I went to New York City with two of my best friends, right after we all got our second covid shots. We stayed in a hotel on Central Park, and even though I’d been to New York numerous times, I’d never walked through the park.
First thing in the morning, Alice and I put sneakers and summer dresses on and ventured down the stone steps into Central Park, and started to walk. And walk. And walk. She knew the park fairly well; I got dreamy and poetic looking around while she pointed things out and took direction. The park is mystical, enormous, and so exquisitely loved. Bridges, ponds, old bendy trees, lush gardens, black gating, long green slopes, and beautiful old architecture. Joggers, sleepers, kids and strollers, dogs, tourists, us.
“How far do we walk?” we asked each other, knowing we could stay there all day. “Let’s go to Strawberry Fields and walk back,” Alice said. We entered the gardens of Strawberry Fields and downloaded a recording of Yoko Ono speaking about the memorial and its dedication to John. At the Imagine Mosaic, a busker stood with his guitar, waited for enough people to gather, and played John’s quintessential song. He must do this everyday, all day, I thought. John Lennon: a tourist attraction. We took a selfie, like the other tourists, crouched down on the stone mosaic. Pigeons. Click. Swoop. Imagine. Someone killed John Lennon.
We walked out of the park to W 72nd St. where the Dakota, the building John lived in and was shot outside of, stood. Copper. Brick. Shuttered windows. Stately and regal. I imagined his white piano in one of those rooms with the windows. So many spaces inside – a hundred homes, a hundred living room floors just like my mother’s. Home – John and Yoko’s.
We walked to its front entrance. The doorman. A small courtyard. A solid gate. Gold trim on handles and fixtures. I asked the doorman, “Tell me what happened the day John Lennon died.” “Here’s the story” he said in his New York talk, quick like a yellow taxi. He’s told it a million times, I know. He must do it everyday, all day. His black overcoat with gold buttons, even in the summer heat.
“He comes out, midday, out that door” he points to the courtyard beyond the gate. “Mark Chapman’s there, asks for his autograph and gets it on a record. John leaves for the day, gets into a car, goes to some photoshoot or whatnot, comes back – Mark Chapman’s there again, it’s evening now, John’s going in the building and the killer shouts – HEY JOHN. John turns his head, Yoko’s with him I think. 4 bullets, shot into his back, he collapses on the ground there,” he points to the courtyard again.
I looked at the spot he pointed to and imagined those two men – one with the gun, and one with the song, that small space between them. I imagined how time moved in that moment, how that small space of sky held John’s name, then the 4 bullets that killed him, and how many thousands of people would have stepped in to take them. I imagine that moment in time, when the world discovered what happened, the heartbreak that rippled out everywhere.
After this moment at the Dakota, I don’t stop crying. I cry on Alice. I cry in the bed in the hotel on Central Park. I cry on the bridge over the pond in Central park. I’m heartbroken. How is it, forty years later, I’m crying over this? I remember my mother telling me that the man on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s was killed by a man who wanted to be him so badly that he had to kill him. I remember feeling it then, five years old, trying to understand the things humans do. I’m still trying to understand.
The morning we’re leaving to go back to Toronto, I go into the park alone. I put my earbuds in and listen to one of my favourite John Lennon songs, God. Maybe heartbreak is a tangible living thing, maybe it sits and waits for us to find it. Maybe it lives here in this park, in New York City, as real as the bricks, the copper roof, the millions of small pieces that built this place. I listen to the song, sobbing as I walk. I’m part of this place now. This is what we do isn’t it, fill our hearts with music? So we can feel love again and again and again, from songs that will never die or leave or change.