Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Morgan McManus' memoir, '10:23 Tuesday'

In today's issue of Young Achievers, we profile Morgan McManus, a senior at Charlotte Christian School.

Morgan won a National Scholastic Silver Writing Award in the spring and is now one of about 70 nationwide chosen to be published in a student anthology called Best Teen Writing of 2012, available on Amazon later this fall. Her winning piece is called “10:23 Tuesday.”

Read her full memoir here:

10:23 Tuesday

By: Morgan McManus

An incoherent scream pierces the silence—the epitome of suffering. The sound chills me to the bone; I exhale loudly, heavily, as my heart rips. A tremor rocks my body, and I arch my spine, bringing my head to my knees, face buried in my hands.

It cannot be.

No, no, no…

The world is a menagerie of sorrow. And we have become a part of it.

I’m only a few steps out of the locker room and Kayla’s already crying. At first I think she’s laughing; in a few seconds, I realize this is not so.

This was odd. For the last two days, the sight of this girl annoyed me. She didn’t know how to shut up; the sound of her voice was obnoxious, it was loud, and when it wasn’t obnoxious and loud, her giggling was (for this reason, I was glad to have persuaded Allie to bunk next to me; Heaven forbid I spend my week trying to sleep with Chatterbox – inevitably running her mouth – two inches away) . But this was different. With her face flushed, the lips that were usually pulled into an aggravatingly large smile had curled into a frown. Tears gushed over her cheeks. Suddenly, I didn’t care about how agitating she’d been. Even Kayla deserved to be comforted; somehow, there was compassion left in me yet.

How utterly hypocritical.

In a few steps, I’ve crossed the gym. In these moments, I assume nothing’s really wrong — so someone must’ve insulted her. Okay, that person’s a jerk, people say mean things, I’m sorry (but you might’ve deserved it). What could possibly be so serious?

No, it’s far worse than that.

“Ian Webb,” she manages between sobs. “Has been hit by a four-wheeler.”

I search my memory for his face. Ian Webb? Ian, Ian, Ianoh! The kid whose name I can never remember…

The image of a body flying after being struck by a vehicle appears in my mind. I quickly shove it away.

“What?” I stutter. It was almost eleven at night and storming violently outside. Who in their right mind would be out there? Impossible.

The Parey twins, who stand on either side of me, prove equally dumbfounded. “What do you mean?” Allie finally asks.

“There were a bunch of kids lying down out there,” Kayla gulps. “And Mr. Kevin didn’t see Ian… and, oh God, my sister saw it…” In a fit of crying, she crumples onto her blow-up

I can’t think. This is a mission trip. Things like this don’t happen on mission trips. They just don’t.

At a loss, my eyes wander about the gym. There are so many obliviously smiling faces; this sickens me. Darkness shrouds the complexions of the girls who know. They stand in tightly knit circles, telling their friends the same news I’ve just heard.

Suddenly, words come to my mouth. “I’m sure he’s fine,” I say in a voice that reassures even me. “You hear about these things happening. If his muscles were relaxed, maybe nothing serious happened.”

Kayla nods with a whimper. “It’s just, if anything happened to him, church wouldn’t be the same. Oh, God, Ian…”

I offer Kayla a hug, and after promising I’ll be right back, I slip into the main corridor. Almost instantly, my eyes are greeted by the sight of people praying in groups. They have seen, or they know someone who has. Staff move anxiously about the hallway; their blank faces offer me nothing, so I edge towards the front doors—something they prove too busy to notice.

Blue and red light colors the raindrops clinging to the windows. It reflects off the pavement, becoming a wildly uncoordinated collage, one that would fascinate me in other circumstances; as of now, my line of sight rests on the police officers. Even as thunder rocks the building, their faces are eerily still, so still that they could be ghosts. It wouldn’t surprise me. Tonight, the heavens are angry.

I sit on a bench, pretending to pray— I figure this way the staff won’t shoo me out, so as to not interrupt piety. This works no longer than two minutes, and then I’m back in the gym again.

Singing and praying fills the facility. The information has spread like the Plague; they know. All of them.

Tension hangs in the air. Eleven o’clock.

With a sigh, my eyes flit to Kayla; the Parey twins have distracted her enough to keep her from crying. Good. But I don’t want to go back— I’m not ready to. I want to be anywhere but here. The singing and pleading and sobbing have me feeling claustrophobic; the sounds prove themselves impossibly stifling, and the walls close in without moving.

Lord, have mercy…

To my left, a group of girls discuss the accident, whispering, almost, as if it were some big secret. I edge towards them.

“There was blood everywhere…”

Oh, God.

The emotion is oppressively heavy; I move back towards the double-doors, unable to take it, my nerves falling victim to the anxiety suffocating the room. I stick my head into the corridor, peeking both ways. The coast is clear; I hang a right past the vending machines and dart outside, curling against the glass of the door so not to disappear into the darkness. Lightening illuminates the sky, highlighting the back fence; I remember the graveyard on the other side of it and shudder, realizing the frailty of the situation. Like a small child, I pull my knees to my chin, eyes watching with dead awareness as the raindrops strike the sidewalk, thoughts far elsewhere while my mind reels. Distantly, I know by body’s shivering— from fear or cold I’m not sure. But I am acutely cognizant of one thing: powerlessness.

“Let him be okay,” I murmur. “Please God, let Ian be okay.”

I groan inwardly, fingers digging into the cloth of my sweatpants as the prayers spill from my lips. For once, I don’t know what to say to Him— my disjunctive thoughts have silenced me. I ramble, knowing by instinct that I need to pray, that I should be praying, but the proper words remain out of reach. I am lost. And God feels so very, very distant.

Lord, I feel so helpless… help me, help us all.

“Or, if it is Your will, don’t let it be too bad…”

And help Kayla to be okay. God, I can’t watch this… let me bear her burden. Or part of it. Or….


The door cracks open behind me.


I turn my head over my shoulder; it’s Emily. Please don’t make me go back there.

“You need to go back inside.”

For a moment, I want to shake my head, but I willingly submit, knowing tonight is not the night
to make trouble. Emily offers me a small smile–a contradiction to her emotionally drained
physique— and disappears after I’m through the doors.

I pause for a moment and sigh, eyes scanning the empty hallway. Thunder rumbles.

Lord, give me strength.

My hands push the gym doors open. “How Great is Our God” crosses the threshold and
ruminates in my ears.

How sickening, a beautiful song trying to chase out a greater darkness. It is a disgusting
paradox—the complete opposite of this disconsolate mood— as if those singing wanted
to believe that everything was okay, that nothing had happened. As if they had the gall to
manipulate the somber ambience of the room.

…like cramming broken puzzle pieces together, trying but failing to make them fit.

The sound fades to aggravating white-noise as I switch my focus back to Kayla. She doesn’t
have to say anything for me to recognize her increased angst. I sit directly across from her and
peer into her eyes; pools of terror stare back at me.


“I need to get out of here…” she breathes, fingers running through her fawn colored hair. “I
need to get out of here, I need to make sure Ian’s okay.”

I exhale, momentarily at a loss. “I know. I’m sure they’ll tell us something soon.”

She shakes her head and groans. “It’s just, the Webbs are close family friends, and I’ve known
Ian for a long time… and… I just need to know.” A lone tear trickles down her cheek—she’s
fighting it.

God, what do I do now?

An idea comes to my head. Considering the circumstances, I almost think it’s mundane. But it’s

“C’mon— are you hungry? I’ll get you something out of the machine.” She stares at me blankly
as I reach into my suitcase for my wallet. “You know, they say chocolate releases endorphins…
endorphins make you happy. I mean, really. And you don’t have to get chocolate! I’ll get you
anything you want.”

“But are we allowed to go out there?”

I sigh, and suddenly, she understands. Kayla jumps to her feet and follows me into the hallway,
willingly purchasing a Hershey bar with my dollar before settling into the crevice built into the
wall. Her eyes scrutinize the corridor, looking for a sign –for something, anything—, yet all is
still. Even the storm seems to have moved off.

Kayla gazes half-heartedly at the immense pools of water sitting on the tile floor. “I’m so glad I
didn’t kiss him…” she mumbles, softly popping a square of chocolate into her mouth.

I furrow my eyebrows. “What?”

“Yeah, he asked me to— we were coming back from a party. And I wanted to… I just didn’t. I
couldn’t ruin our friendship like that.”

I say nothing, unsure of where her musing’s headed.

She continues. “The last time I saw him –we were in the Dock— he checked to see that no one
was around, and then he gave me the biggest bear-hug.” Kayla smiles. “The funny thing is, I
wasn’t sarcastic to him all day, and I’m always sarcastic to him. I’m so happy I did that.”

As if God was letting her say goodbye…

The thought lingers in my mind. “I’m sure everything will be okay,” I reply, very careful to
substitute ‘Ian’ with ‘everything’—I have not told her about the blood. And I cannot lie to her
now. She is motionless for a moment before finally nodding, but it is a mystery as to whether she
believes me. I want to change the subject— to make her smile again.

“Do you want anything else?”

Kayla shakes her head, holding up what’s left of the Hershey bar. And then she says something
that shocks me.

“You’re a good friend, Morgan.”

If only you had known what I thought of you earlier.

My mouth falls into an O; I recover quickly and hug her. “You don’t deserve to be alone.”

Tears begin to roll down her cheeks; she tries to dismiss them, smearing them with the back of her hands before backing from my embrace, a short laugh being emitted from her mouth.

“It’s okay to cry,” I say, my tone hushed, soothing.

She sighs heavily. “But I have to be strong for my sister.” Her eyes desperately peer into mine. “What am I supposed to tell her?”

I cover my mouth with my palm, unsure of what to say. My lips draw into a line; I remain mute a moment longer before finally speaking. “Only God knows the answer to that.”

Sniffling, Kayla gets up suddenly and grabs a rag, joining Sam –who has just worked his way up the hallway- on the floor, taking her frustration out on the puddles. I mimic her. We work rhythmically, silently, all the while pounding our weary hands against the tile; in no time, the water is gone. The anxiety remains.

Twelve o’clock— midnight.

Kayla mumbles a quick greeting to Sam before turning back to me; her blue eyes have faded to empty shells of color.

Why haven’t they told us anything yet? It’s been –almost— two hellish hours; people deserve to know.

“I hate that they’re singing,” she groans quietly, referencing the choir that has formed in the gymnasium.

“So do I.”

They’re treating it like he’s dead already.

Shaking her head, Kayla takes a step towards the door, peering back at me before entering. “I… I need to go check on my sister. I’ll see you later.”

I nod, and she disappears; with my back turned, Sam has sauntered upstairs. I am left alone, exhausted, and angry, feeling as if my own emotion has weakened me. Who knows— it probably has. In these moments, I am nothing but hormones— upset, but respectably so.

With my feet lifeless beneath me, I shuffle back into the gym and head to my mattress. The Pareys sit next to me; Allie stares at the wall in the backdrop. Becca smiles, inquires about Kayla, and then falls unusually quiet before babbling to someone else.

Christi’s voice breaks over the intercom. Finally.

“Ladies,” She sounds weak. “I need you to all move to the back-half of the gym. Pick up your stuff, please make sure you’re dressed modestly—the guys are coming in.”

Her statement further frays my agitated nerves. Dress code— really? You’re worried about that? And then my stomach knots; the realization of what has –inevitably— happened seeps into the
corners of my being.

Oh…no, this can’t be good.

I look to Allie. “Something bad must’ve happened.”

Her lips gape for a moment.

“They wouldn’t put us together like this for any other reason.”

The fear begins to bubble in my stomach as the boys file in and take a seat. Our pastor appears from nowhere, and my gut hits the floor. No one has to tell me what’s happened. I know…

…And yet I hope to God I’m wrong anyways.

No one makes a sound; the tension is unbearable. Dr. Moss takes the microphone, lifts it to his lips, hands quivering. His eyes droop like raindrops.

“I’m sorry to tell you this…”

Don’t say it…

The word “died” hits us like a sledgehammer as it leaves his tongue.

An incoherent scream pierces the silence—the epitome of suffering. The sound chills me to the bone; I exhale loudly, heavily, as my heart rips. A tremor rocks my body, and I arch my spine, bringing my head to my knees, face buried in my hands.

It cannot be.

No, no, no…

The world is a menagerie of sorrow. And we have become a part of it.

Tears spill down my cheeks.

But you couldn’t even remember his name…

My heart aches. Shrieks. Not just for Ian –the stranger that I knew— but for everyone else. The ones suffering that don’t deserve this.

Time becomes irrelevant, and I wander blindly, vanishing into the bathroom, staring into a mirror and at my own eyes as if I was peering into the eyes of God.

As if I was asking Him the Question.

{Sixteen hours later}

The flag flies at half-mast as I cross the parking lot of the church. My heart weighs heavy in my chest, seemingly adding a hundred pounds to my body as I step across the asphalt, slowing me down. Having never been in this situation before, I don black out of respect. I know nothing else.

The sanctuary is full when I walk in, but the noise-level rests only at a whisper as the debriefing and remembrance ceremony begins (for this is not a funeral).

Nothing could be done, or so we are told.

And then, we begin to sing. It is the same as last night— but now the most beautiful sound in the world. The church swells with music.

The mission trip continues. In memory of Ian.

Published: With permission from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.