Thirty-five years ago last night, I was in a bar on King Street East in Toronto, talking to a young woman who found disagreement in the sight of me sitting on my own, thus she insisted that she join me at my table.
Stephanie’s eyes were damp. She dabbed at them with a tissue in her right hand.
This was rather awkward. I had been quietly reading a book in a corner booth built to seat four, and now I had a weeping woman—someone whom my eyes had not gazed upon until that very moment in history—reaching across a gnarled, dark chocolate wooden table, seeking comfort from a stranger.
“It’s so sad,” she whimpered softly. “It’s just awful that someone would do that to John Lennon.”
“Do what to John Lennon?” I asked.
“Kill him…someone killed John Lennon?”
“He was shot tonight outside his home in New York. He’s dead.”
Stephanie was probably about my age on the night of Dec. 8, 1980. We had grown up with The Beatles, who provided much of the soundtrack of our youth with their raw, simplistic rock ‘n’ roll during the early 1960s and their music with much greater complexities and deeper meaning for the remainder of a decade noted for its cultural change and civil rights upheaval.
So, yes, the report of Lennon’s murder had to be filed under sad tidings.
“I hope you don’t mind me sitting,” Stephanie said. “I don’t want to go home just yet. And I don’t want to be sitting on me own.”
“Where are you from?” I asked, noting a strong accent.
I know, what are the odds?
Stephanie and I sat and talked until last call, much of our discussion focusing on Lennon and the other members of the Fab Four—Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—and her life in Liverpool. We then stepped outside into a gentle snowfall, with those large, fluffy flakes that make you want to lie down and make snow angels. And that’s what we did. We made snow angels. Right there on a King Street East sidewalk. Tears had given way to smiles and laughter.
She started to shiver, so we ducked inside a bus shelter and held on to each other for warmth while awaiting a cab.
“You can come home with me if you’d like,” she whispered. “I can make us some coffee and we can talk some more.”
“That would be really, really nice,” I said, “but I think I should go.”
The cab arrived, Stephanie and I shared a tender kiss and a hug, then I tucked her into the back seat and trundled through the soft snow back to the Toronto Sun newsroom, just a block away, to learn that four of the five bullets Mark David Chapman had aimed at Lennon’s back outside his home at the Dakota in New York City found their mark.
I walked home that night, taking more than an hour to arrive at my tiny, basement apartment on Westminster Avenue in the High Park area. Most of that time was spent in quiet contemplation of Lennon and The Beatles, about what they meant to my generation.
Whenever someone mentions Lennon, as is the case today on the 35th anniversary of his death, I think of that night and Stephanie. I never saw or talked to her again, but I’ve often wondered what might have been had I gone home with that pretty Liverpudlian lady.