Thursday, March 10, 2011

Story: The Day John Came Back

So a week or two back ago, two nights in a row, I had dreams that really kind of boggled my mind a bit, and ended up getting me thinking about them a lot, to the point where I had to do something with the dreams and the thought processes that happened afterwards. I hope you enjoy it!


It was a sunny June Friday, and I had taken my kids to a nearby park so they could play and burn off some energy. I was done with college for the quarter (with one quarter left to go in my medical assisting retraining), my son Tristan was finished with school for the year and eager to go on to second grade in the fall, and my daughter Desi (soon to be turning four) was done with Head Start for the summer. Jessi, my wife, was still working, so I had the children with me during the day. It's not a bad situation, I get to spend more time with them, and my father-in-law Roger (who lives with us) helps out with the kids as much as he can.

But it was a sunny day, as I said before, and the kids were acting a bit manic around the house. I was taking a day off from getting ahead on my blogging, figuring I'd get some guitar practice in while the kids played in the backyard, but they just needed to get out of the house. So I'd grabbed my guitar (a Yamaha six-string acoustic my wife had given to me last Christmas) and my well-worn copy of The Compleat Beatles Vol. 1 & 2 (which I'd had since the fall of 1981), loaded the kids into the van, and headed over to the park.

Oddly, for as nice a day as it was, there weren't that many people at the park. My children were playing with three other kids (I guessed they were all from the same family, since I'd only seen one other adult there, who I presumed was their mother), and I had opened up one of the songbooks and was paging through it, trying to decide which song I felt like playing. Fortunately, there wasn't much of a breeze, so the pages weren't going to flip on me.

I'd finally decided on “Nowhere Man,” which had a few chords I needed more practice with, withdrew a guitar pick from my pants pocket, and prepared to play, when a voice interrupted me.

“Excuse me, but I don't suppose you have a smoke?”

The voice was definitely British-accented... in fact, it sounded like a Liverpool scouse (slightly Americanized, to be sure). It was relatively deep, and a bit nasal-sounding. The overall effect was quite familiar to me.

I looked up at the speaker. I'm not sure where he'd come from; I didn't hear anyone approaching. That's not to say that he'd just suddenly appeared out of the blue... rather, he must've walked fairly quietly. He was of average height, average build. His brown hair was a little on the longish side – too long for a businessman's cut, although not as long as my own ponytailed hair. His brown eyes gave the appearance that he knew some kind of secret that he wasn't quite ready to share with the world yet, and this effect was accentuated by the slight smile on his lips. His nose was... well, some might call it hawklike, others might call it aquiline. He wore a pair of glasses with round lenses, which I hadn't seen anyone wear in at least two decades. He was dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, and wore white sneakers.

He didn't look like a crazy person to me. In fact, he looked very familiar.

I looked over to where my kids were playing. They didn't seem to be paying any attention to what I was doing. “Sure,” I said, reaching into my jacket pocket surreptitiously and pulling out a pack of cigarettes and my lighter. I extracted one smoke and handed it to him, along with the lighter (experience had shown me that most people who bum a cigarette tend to need a light, too). “I hope you don't mind menthols.”

“Thanks, mate,” he said, taking the cigarette and lighter from me. He lit the smoke and returned the lighter to me while taking a big drag and exhaling a cloud of smoke. “Ah...”

“No problem,” I answered. “Hey, this is probably going to sound weird, but has anyone ever told you you look just like John Lennon?”

He smiled, a close-lipped smile. “Yeah, you might say that.”

“You sound just like him, too,” I observed. “Do you do some kind of 'Beatlemania' kind of act?”

He laughed. “No, I don't do some kind of 'Beatlemania' act... at least, not since about 1969 or so.”

He didn't look like he could possibly be that old to me. I mean, I'm pushing 50, although most people tell me that I don't look it. This guy looked to be maybe 10 years younger than me... maybe a little less. I told him so.

“Yeah, it's kind of bizarre to explain, I s'pose,” he admitted. “You see, I am John Lennon.”

I considered this statement. Certainly he looked and sounded the part... but of course, there was no way this could be possible. “You'll forgive me if I find that hard to believe... because if you were John, you'd be looking pretty good for someone who was killed a little over 30 years ago, and should be pushing 70, instead of looking about 40.”

He took another drag of the cigarette. “I didn't think you'd believe me... I don't think anyone would believe me. Doesn't matter anyway. I know who I am.”

Something about the way he said it made me start to half-believe him, despite myself. Now, understand that I have been a fan of science fiction, fantasy, comic books, all that kind of stuff for most of my life, so I've read about some pretty far-out stuff, you know? I even named my dog after Krypto the Superdog (and created a Facebook page for him, in which he “reports” on his “adventures”), but I certainly don't take all the stuff I read as being possible in my lifetime, if ever. Even if I were to turn on the TV and see a news report on an alien landing, I'd be inclined to have my doubts until there was more proof it was really happening, and not just some kind of bizarre promo for an upcoming movie or TV show.

So while I've read plenty of stories of people coming back to life – especially in comic books – to the best of my knowledge, that's only happened once in reality... and that had happened about two thousand years ago, if the stories are to be believed.

“You know, going around telling people you're John Lennon might get you taken away in a jacket with long wraparound sleeves... no matter how much you might look and sound like him,” I suggested gently.

“Yeah, you're probably right... but if I said I was someone else, that wouldn't be the truth, innit?”

He certainly seemed sincere, and still wasn't setting off my “spidey-sense” – he didn't seem dangerous. I figured I may as well play along with it. “So what's the story, John? Did you actually fake your death in 1980, and been hiding out all this time, like Elvis was supposed to have done?”

“John” finished his smoke, dropped it to the ground, and crushed it with his foot, laughing to himself. “Elvis didn't fake his death, and neither did I. I did die in 1981.”

“And now you're back from the dead? How exactly does that work?” I tried to keep my tone less than mocking, although I'm sure some of it came through.

“I can't explain it. One minute, I was in heaven... and the next, I was here.” He shrugged. “I don't know the whys or the hows.”

“Heaven? I guess 'Imagine there's no heaven' wasn't quite right, then.” I don't know why I was acting like this towards “John.” Perhaps on some level I actually felt angry that someone would have the audacity to make such a claim as this guy was making, as if they were somehow trying to ruin the memory of the real John Lennon. Or maybe it was just a healthy dose of skepticism.

“Man, I only wrote 'Imagine there's no heaven,' I never said there wasn't a heaven. Not everyone calls it 'heaven' anyway... most people don't call it anything.” His tone was wearied and somewhat angry, too. I suppose if I were to buy into his story, that in the afterlife, everyone meeting him would've pointed that out to him.

“Ah, okay. So there is an afterlife, and you were there. There's a lot of religious leaders who would like some more definite information on what that's like, you know.”

“John” scowled. “I've got no use for any of 'em... they've all got it wrong, you know. There's not really any 'right' religion that guarantees you'll go there anyway. You've got to be a real asshole to be kept out, like Hitler.”

“Well, that's good,” I said. This conversation was getting really weird, not that it was going to get less weird, given how it started. “Okay, so what is the afterlife like, John, since you're the only person I've met who's been there and back again?”

He smiled as if recalling a happy memory. “It's the greatest... all you need there is a purpose. Just pick what it is you want to do, and do it. You don't have to worry about money, or a place to live, or how you're going to eat... there's no violence at all, either.”

“Kind of sounds boring to me.”

He shook his head. “You don't get it. Okay, let me give you an example: Let's say that in your life, there was something you always wanted to do, but never got around to doing it... like, say, learning how to paint pictures. You just decide, 'I want to learn how to paint pictures,' and zap! You've got an easel, paints, brushes, and a canvas, and you can go at it. You don't become an expert right away, but you've got all the famous artists of history available to teach you.”

“So if I wanted to get brushwork lessons from Leonardo Da Vinci, I could just ask for them?”

“Well, Leonardo doesn't take just anyone on, or so I've heard. Actually, I think he's been working on inventions, and given up on art. But I've taught more people how to play guitar than I can count, when I've felt like teaching people how to play guitar. And sometimes I'd just get a group together and jam for a while.”

“I guess that doesn't sound that boring.”

“It's all possibilities, mate. I could've spent all my time just meeting me fans there. Actually, that's about all I did for a while, until that got boring. Everyone just wants to ask the same damn questions over and over again.”

“So it kind of sounds like the Elysian fields.”

“The what?”

“Elysian fields. It's from Greek mythology, their idea of heaven, except that apparently the Greeks didn't think the dead would know they were dead.”

“Huh.”

He stood there, watching the children play for a few minutes, while I sat there with my guitar. I wasn't sure quite what to do or say next. Finally I had to say something.

“By the way, my name's Jon, too... but without an 'h',” I said.

“John” reached out his hand. “Nice to meet you, 'Jon without an h,” he said. “You know, there's something about you that rings a bell... what the hell is it?”

“I'd say maybe you recognize me from my blogs, except that you probably don't have internet access in the afterlife, right?”

“Interwhat?”

“Yeah, right... um... it's kind of like all the computers in the world are connected together so people can share ideas and knowledge, although everyone says most people just use it to find porn.”

“I see,” he said in a way that indicated he didn't really see at all.

“Well, I think I have one of those faces... people tell me all the time I look familiar to them.” Well, it doesn't happen all that often, but it does happen.

“Yeah, your face... damn, I wish I could remember. Did we meet before I died?”

That was probably the weirdest question anyone had ever asked me, or ever would. “Nope, I'd have remembered meeting John Lennon.”

He looked lost in thought for a few minutes. “Aha! Now I know... Barbara, she showed me your picture.”

“What?!?” That came out a bit too loud, and the woman who was there with her kids, sitting on the other side of the playground, shot me a look.

“Barbara... I talked to her there for a while. Redhead, glasses, was overweight in life? She told me about you... man, that was a while ago.”

That was really bizarre. Barbara was the name of my first wife; she'd died in 2001. As “John” said, she was a redhead (well, a bottled redhead, anyway), and wore glasses... and yes, she was overweight. I have to admit, hearing him say that made me start to believe he was indeed who he said he was... although in the back of my mind, two things did stand out... First, assuming all that he was saying was true, what were the odds that of all the people who had died, he would've talked to Barbara, long enough that he would've not only remembered her, but he would've remembered her talking about me?

The second thing was that this could be a huge put-on, although I couldn't imagine why anyone would go to such lengths. Certainly, there was more of a chance in my familiar reality that someone might have decided to pull a prank on me by finding someone who looked like John Lennon did around the time of his death, coach them in imitating John's voice, and then find out enough about me and Barbara from the internet (I'm sure there's still stuff out there from when we were together), all to pull a prank...

...at least, that was more feasible than John Lennon actually coming back from the dead. As I said, that kind of thing doesn't happen.

Then again, such an outlandish hoax is also something that would've been more likely to have happened in a 1960s “Superman” comic book than in real life, especially since I'm no celebrity, and I can't imagine someone doing a modern-day “Candid Camera” and going to such lengths.

Despite that, I definitely found myself believing him. Perhaps part of this is that I know that Barbara was a very memorable person. When we were together, we attended a comic book convention that Harlan Ellison was a guest at, and he clearly recalled meeting Barbara about 20 years earlier. I guess if Harlan Ellison could remember meeting Barbara here on the “mortal plane,” John Lennon could remember meeting her in the afterlife.

Or perhaps I was starting to lose my grip on reality. Either way, as I said, I found myself believing him.

“How's Barbara doing, John?” I had to ask the question.

“She's doing great. She told me she'd lost a lot of weight, and is having a great time. She said she was organizing conventions for all the dead sci-fi and comic book people, so that there would be a place and time for these people to meet their dead fans.”

I had no doubt that what he said was a definite possibility. Hey, it means that there'll be comic cons in the afterlife, so maybe I'd get a chance to meet all the guys I never met and talked to before they died, after all.

Then again, I was actually getting that chance right now. I mean, John Lennon's been my top personal hero for as long as I could remember, and of course the Beatles are my favorite band of all time. The kids were still having a great time playing (of course it hadn't been more than 20 minutes or so before John first approached me), so I figured I had time to talk.

“Um, John, I have to ask... what was it that made you decide to approach me?”

“I don't know... I saw you were here with your kids, and you had a guitar. Didn't know you had Beatles songbooks with you, though,” he said with a laugh. “But I figured anyone who had kids and a guitar couldn't be too crazy.”

I laughed. “Well, some would disagree, including my wife at times.”

“Yeah, that's wives for ya... either you drive them crazy, or they drive you crazy. Even Yoko could be like that.”

The mention of Yoko changed his mood some... he looked a bit grim.

“You are going to get in touch with Yoko, aren't you? Julian and Sean, too?” Julian was John's son from his first marriage, to Cynthia, while Sean was his son with Yoko.

“Of course,” he said, appearing a bit offended that I even asked the questions. “Unfortunately, I didn't arrive with any change to make a call.”

“Not a problem,” I said. I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out my iPhone.

“What the fook is that?” he asked, quizzicly.

“It's a cell phone... oh, right, they weren't around when you died.”

“A cell phone?”

“Um, you remember 'Star Trek'?”

“Yeah.”

“This is kind of like the communicators on that show, except these do a lot more than just make phone calls.” I pressed the button on the top to take it out of “sleep” mode, and unlocked it and handed it over.

John peered at the small screen for a moment, then turned it over, spotting the silver Apple Computers logo. “This was made by Apple?”

“Apple Computers, not your Apple. They were just getting started when you were killed. It's kind of a long story.”

“So what else can this do?”

“I'll show you.” I took the phone back, took a quick photo of him, and showed it to John . “I can also take video, listen to music, access the internet, play games... all kinds of stuff. It's pretty cool.”

“Yeah. So do you mind if I call Yoko with it?”

“No problem... what's the number?”

John gave me a phone number with a New York City area code, and I dialed it in, and soon heard a ringing. I put the phone on speaker.

“Hello?” a male voice answered.

“Hi. Um, this might seem like a strange question,” I said with trepidation, “but is Yoko there?”

I heard an exasperated sigh. “Yoko Ono hasn't had this number for a couple of years. Why can't you people update your contact info?”

“Sorry to have bothered you,” I started to say, but the other person had already hung up.

“She changed her number,” John said, shaken.

“It doesn't mean anything, John,” I reassured him. “People change their numbers all the time. If fans got hold of her number, she might have changed it to get some privacy. It's really easy to find phone numbers these days.”

“Yeah,” he said, noncommittally.

There was a lull in the conversation for a few minutes. John was obviously thinking over the situation. “There's a few people I could call that might have her current number, but they might have changed theirs, too,” he mused. “Do y'know if she's still in the Dakota?”

“Last I heard. I don't know any other way to get in touch with her, short of writing a letter, but that could take a while.”

“I suppose I could fly out there, if I can get some money,” John considered.

“That wouldn't really work... these days, the airports all require you to show picture ID, and I don't know of any way to get you a fake ID that would pass. If it weren't for that, I'd be happy to help you get a plane ticket.”

“I suppose it's the train, bus, or hitchhike, then.”

“You know, taking any kind of public transportation, someone's going to recognize you, and I'm not sure you want that kind of attention. There is one possibility...”

“What's that?”

“I'm on a break before my next quarter of classes...”

“You're a teacher?”

“Um, nope, a student.” This caused him to look at me kind of oddly. “These days, lots of people are going back to college at any age. Anyway, as I was saying, I've got the time... maybe I can talk my wife into letting me drive you back to New York. It'll take some convincing, though... I'm not sure how I'll be able to get her to believe you are who you are, but...”

“John,” a voice called. It also had a Liverpudlian accent, and was immediately familiar. We both looked in the direction of the voice, and saw George Harrison. Hey, at this point, I was about ready to believe anything I saw. George was dressed casually, wearing a pair of old jeans, sandals, and a white cotton shirt, mostly unbuttoned.

“What's going on, George?” John asked.

“It's time to go back, John,” he said.

“So soon? I haven't even got in touch with Yoko, or Julian, or Sean...”

“I know, but that's all the time they'll allow.”

“Bloody hell,” John said, scowling. He extended his hand towards me. “Guess we'll be putting off that road trip then. It was nice meeting you, Jon.”

I took his hand and shook it. “Nice doesn't even begin to describe it... your music has meant so much to me for as long as I can remember... before you go, I just have to say thank you for the music.”

“You're welcome. Goodbye, Jon.”

“Goodbye, John... and hello and goodbye, George.”

John walked over to George and stood next to him. As I watched, a glow begin to surround the two of them, a glow that apparently only I saw. As they began to fade away, George looked over to me and said, “It's all in the mind, y'know.”

That's when I woke up. My wife was sleeping soundly next to me. I looked at the clock, and the glowing red display indicated it was still several hours before the alarm would go off. “Not a hoax or an imaginary story... but a dream,” I murmured as I began to drift back off to sleep.

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