As I shuffled half-awake through our carport and down the white concrete driveway toward the curb, I craned my neck and gazed into the predawn, winter sky to check in with my favorite constellation, Orion. I first became acquainted with Orion at Trenton Planetarium. My father occasionally took my brothers and me when we were smaller to the museum, and as a special treat, sometimes we got to attend the planetarium show.
The show took us into the evening sky with various segues of classical music and narration describing the constellations that appeared during different phases of the night. Different narrators followed the same script each time, and I anticipated Orion as the black sky began to pink just a bit. Superimposed on the angular and illuminated network was a muscular hunter attacking with his bronze club. He was depicted as more modern than ancient and reminded me of my fuzzy bearded GI Joe doll poised for combat. Over again, we heard the story of his adventures and ascension to the firmament at the hand of Diana.
As a twelve-year-old paper boy, I delivered the first news that nearly seventy families received in my neighborhood each day. At five o’clock on the morning of December 8, 1980, the weather was a bit warmer than usual at about 41 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t even bother to put on my jacket to go outside. Reaching the bottom of my driveway, I looked down from my view of Orion and leaned over to pick up the bundle of newspapers. The headline on the top copy read “John Lennon Shot Dead.”
I remember loping back to the house a bit panicked with my newspapers, calling to my Dad, who was pouring coffee from a percolator and humming. I hollered as if one of my friends had been injured playing street hockey out front or maybe fell of his bicycle, and we needed an adult to come out and see what happened, “Dad, I can’t believe it! John Lennon was shot last night!”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Matthew,” Dad poured me some coffee, “What a shame.” We both sat down at the kitchen table to read the story in troubled silence.
Of course, I wasn’t but a couple of years old when the Beetles disbanded, but my sister had several of their albums that we played on the stereo in the living room. Like many adolescents, even to this day, I was deeply interested in the group and knew all their songs by heart. I even bought a copy of Double Fantasy, released just a few weeks before David Chapman fired five shots at Lennon on the street in Manhattan.
John Lennon was so real to me. I felt like I had met him. I’d read enough about him to learn the meanings behind so many of his songs as they were weaved with recent history. The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film had come out just a couple of years earlier in 1978, re-energizing Beetles’ music along with the intrigue of my friends and me. We were John Lennon fans, and all of us saw the movie and pretended to be characters in it.
After my dad helped me fold my papers, I peddled out on my bicycle, making diagonal cutbacks from house to house, delivering sad news with a discus throw toward each porch under streetlights and Orion’s fading action pose. His singular bright stars, including red Betelgeuse perhaps long exploded 642 light years ago, pressed together in my vision blurred with occasional tears. In my imagination, John Lennon climbed the sky on musical notes to join him.