When I Was a Young Girl, Roy Orbison Helped Me Make a New Friend
Few things are tougher than making friends at a new school. Thankfully, I had Roy Orbison looking out for me.
Illustration: Graham Roumieu
IN THE FALL OF 1988, when I was 10 years old, my parents moved us to a bigger house across Peterborough. I was forced to leave the familiarity of St. Paul’s and become “the new kid” at St. Teresa’s: a one hallway school with no gym where the other kids in my Grade 5 class had been together since kindergarten. I struggled to break into the crowd and spent recesses playing hopscotch alone, gazing longingly at the other kids as they traded their Twinkies and Fruit Roll-Ups. I was lonely and desperate to make a friend.
One school day in early December, shortly after the move, I poured myself a bowl of Life cereal and headed to my designated spot at the kitchen table. The radio was tuned to a golden oldies station. The DJs, whose voices were the audio wallpaper of my youth, bantered between songs. “It’s a sad day in the music world,” I heard one of them say. “Mr. Roy Orbison has died.”
Oh no, I thought, how sad, Roy Orbison has died. Wait…who is Roy Orbison? I didn’t have a chance to ask. I had to get to school before the bell.
I was in Mr. Hutchison’s class, but he liked to be called Mr. 83. He used to teach in Japan and his name sounded like the Japanese numbers eight (“hachi”) and three (“san”)—Mr. “Hachi-san.” It seemed pretty clever to this 10-year-old. I think he felt sorry for me because I was struggling to fit in, so he gave me my own nickname, “Meggie McMuffin,” and I loved it. Mr. Hutchison was in my corner.
Every day after the national anthem, Mr. Hutchison would ask if there was anyone we wanted to pray for, and he’d write their names on the chalkboard so we could keep them in our thoughts. That day, Johnny, with the gelled hair, asked us to pray for his grandfather who‘d just had surgery. Emily, with the long ponytail, asked us to pray for her grandmother who had pneumonia. Clare, the intimidating popular girl, asked us to pray for her dog, Sparky, who’d just had his manhood removed.
This was it. This was my chance to fit in! Before I had time to fully think it through, my hand shot into the air, and when Mr. 83 called my name I blurted out, “I’d like to pray for Roy Orbison!”
A hush fell over the room. The other kids looked confused, but Mr. 83 could see the desperation in my eyes. No one had ever been so excited to pray for anyone in the history of the Catholic Church.
“OK, McMuffin, Roy Orbison has been added to the prayer list.” He winked.
I did it! This must be another way we Catholic kids make new friends: you just pray for someone.
I had never met Roy Orbison, nor did I have his album or know who his “Pretty Woman” really was. But I like to think we’ve played an important role in each other’s lives. If there is a heaven, Roy is there because a Grade 5 girl prayed for him.
And because of Roy Orbison, a little girl named Christine came up to me during class and said, “I’m really sorry for your loss. If you’re not busy with the funeral, maybe you can come over and play after school.”
Thanks to Roy and Christine, I was lonely no more.