I heard the shots that killed John Lennon.
Did you hear that?” My sister asked as she burst into my room after the five quick popping sounds had just drifted into my room. “Did you hear those gunshots?” I gave her a look. I told her they were firecrackers. It was late and she was bothering me. I was sixteen, a sophomore in High School and she was fourteen. Therefore she often bothered me.
A few minutes later a siren began to fill the air, quiet and then louder. Then it stopped somewhere on the street below my window. My sister wandered back into my room as more sirens swelled in the distance, got louder, stopped downstairs, beneath out window. We looked at each other and after putting on some warm clothing, met at the door to our terrace, binoculars in hand.
Outside it was a nice December night, crisp and windy. A police car had pulled up and more were on the way. I remember seeing Lennon’s body or at least people standing around in a tight circle. Then several more police cars pulled up. There was movement and one of the police cars drove away. Later news trucks pulled up, though many fewer and smaller than the ones that gather at events today. After awhile we left and when we turned on the television we learned who had been shot.
Lennon lived in The Dakota, a solid building made of stone and brick that resembled a gothic mansion. Almost black with soot at the time, it has since been washed and is now brown and cream. It has a courtyard with a gate and a guardhouse. A thick black metal railing with griffins circles the base. It is filled with giant high-ceilinged apartments full of dark wood and winding hallways. Rosemary’s Baby was shot there.
My family lived across the street on the nineteenth floor. Our apartment ran along the 72nd street side and faced uptown. After we watched the news we went back outside. On weekends we listened to The Beatles, especially in our station wagon where we had an 8-track of greatest hits. We sang along. We knew that he lived across the street with Yoko Ono. As it got later people began to congregate on the street below.
The next day when I got back from school the police had put barricades around The Dakota and as a result a crowd had gathered across the street outside the door to our building. They stood quietly looking at the spot where he had been shot. As it got later the crowds grew. Some held candles, some, flowers. They stood staring, many crying. That night the singing began. At first it was an unintelligible sound like a hum but then it took form “All we are saying is give peace a chance…Imagine there’s no heaven…” Over and over they sang for weeks, mostly just the choruses. I went to sleep to the sound of them singing, “All we are saying…” floating up from the street.
Every day the crowds grew. Some days it was a struggle to get through them. I started joining them, stopping at the barricade for a few minutes while on my way home. I began to buy a flower, light a candle, look over at the doorway. The sadness would begin welling up as I walked up from the subway station on my way back from school. After a month the crowds began to thin, the singing faded. A few years later Strawberry Fields was opened in the park. “Imagine” is carved into a plaque at the entrance and flowers are laid there now. Every day tour buses stop in front of The Dakota, pausing for a moment.
I can’t listen to “Imagine” without thinking of that time and its sense of loss. It is a reminder, like the smell and smoke from the World Trade Center that today comes over the river to my home in Brooklyn Heights, that acrid burning smell that has been in the air for two months now. The smell that won’t go away and will always pull me back to a beautiful night in September when I stood on the Promenade lighting a candle and again staring across at the site of something terrible.