December 8, 1980
and Other Moments in History
“Wake up, Carol! Turn on your damn TV!” My sister’s hysterical voice yelled at me through the phone from the East coast – Florida.
It was 8am Denver time. The jarring ring of the phone woke me from a deep sleep. Not understanding her words, I stumbled out of bed and turned on the TV. I got back into bed holding the phone. On the Today Show, Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley looked shocked with tears in their eyes. The headline said, “John Lennon Murdered.”
Janice was talking to me – words floating around the air in my bedroom, John Lennon. Shot. Murdered. New York City. The Dakota. Yoko. Forty.Years.Old. Mark David Chapman.
Who? Why? What? Why? I felt sick.
My younger sister and I were close, despite being 4 years apart and living across the country from each other. She knew I would be devastated at the news of Lennon’s death. I was, we both were. We cried together, 3 time zones away.
We talked for a while and then hung up. I sat and stared out the window. It was one of those frozen December days in Denver, zero or below. I looked out my frosted window at a frozen world, still and quiet with the occasional sound of tires turning and crunching on ice, cars slowly moving down the street. I looked up at an apartment building across the street. On the 6th floor I saw a man in his pajamas staring out of a large window. I could see his full body, just standing there, silently gazing out. He didn’t see me. I watched him stand there and wondered if he’d heard the news. I felt we were connected in a cloud of frozen silence, shock and grief.
The radio station was playing “Imagine” while our collective hearts broke and our minds tried to make sense of the senseless. “Watching the Wheels” and “Beautiful Boy” came later. Our hearts would keep breaking as our minds tried to understand how and why anyone would want to kill John Lennon, such a peaceful guy.
I was 12 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in my 6th grade classroom when the announcement came over the loud speaker – “The President has been shot.” I remember the chaos – teachers, adults, parents – running around in circles. Kids waiting for parents to pick them up. I remember being one of the last kids to be picked up, my mother finally pulling up in our station wagon – I saw she’d been crying. Coming home, turning on the TV, Walter Cronkite on CBS News removing his heavy black glasses, tears in his eyes, “President Kennedy died at 1pm EST.”
The shock of what happened in Dallas (we lived in Houston) was seared into our memories by the Zapruder tape, being re-played on our black and white TV for days. Jacqueline Kennedy, in her pink pill box hat and blood stained pink suit, refusing to change into another outfit, standing next to LBJ, her face frozen in shock, broke our hearts.
As traumatic as that event was for the country, at 12, it wasn’t as personal for me as was the loss of John Lennon. As I grew older, I became aware of how profound President Kennedy’s murder was for our country – the loss of innocence never regained.
Many years later I was in NYC and visited Lennon’s Strawberry Field Memorial in Central Park – the beautiful mosaic circle with the word, “IMAGINE” placed in the center, a scattering of fresh flowers strewn across the tiles. An homage to yet another loss of innocence.
When Janice called early that morning on December 8, 1980, neither of us could know that almost a year later, on September 16, 1981, I would be woken from a deep sleep again – in the same bed, the same apartment. This time it would be my father calling from San Antonio saying, “Carol, it’s your father. There’s been a car accident. Janice. She didn’t make it.” More words floating in the air, connected to nothing that made any sense.
My world shattered into a million pieces at that moment. I’m still picking up the shards.