December 10th, 2003. That was the day I found out Allison died. 
That morning started like any other. I woke up late, missed breakfast, and ran across the street to catch the bus as it began to pull away. I knew something was wrong. I had reading first, then writing, PE was always on Wednesdays, and then lunch. After recess we had history, and then some free time before they called the buses to go home. 

I was in third grade, eight years old. Not old enough to stay home alone, but old enough to stay home with my older sister, Kara. The bus dropped us off on time and we ran in to have a snack and watch Full House. It was always on when we got back from school, but we couldn’t tell Mom we always watched. She wanted us to do homework. 
There was a message on the answering machine that day; a short one. It was for my mom, from my aunt, just asking her to call back when she got a chance. i knew something wasn’t right, her voice was quivering. 
My mom came home a few hours later. She heard the message and called my Aunt. My suspicions were confirmed when she called us into the living room just moments after hanging up. As she spoke, her eyes began to fill with tears, her voice caught in her throat. I hated to see her cry. 
I wasn’t even sad at first, I was just angry. No one told me. Why did no one tell me she was sick. Maybe they knew how much I loved her. Maybe they thought nothing was ever going to happen. But it did. At just sixteen years old, Ali had a heart attack. My favorite cousin was gone, and she was never coming back. 
December 10th, 2003. That was the day I understood what death meant. I’d lost people before, this wasn’t the first time. But I was only a year old when my Nana died, and I was only four when my Papa died. I was sad, but I didn’t really know. This time I knew. 
It was like someone had ambushed me from behind, tackled me to the ground, stopped my heart, and left me there to suffer. My entire body ached, and there was no one that understood how I felt. How I woke up each morning knowing I would never see her face smiling down on me, knowing I would never hear her sweet, melodious voice calling my name, knowing I would never get the chance to hug her. Knowing that she left without giving me the chance to say goodbye and tell her just how much I would miss her. 
I was the youngest one at Ali’s funeral. I was wearing my fanciest velvet dress, one that I had worn just a week earlier to see my favorite musical on Broadway. I wasn’t as excited to put it on this time. My mom didn’t want me to walk through and view her body, so I was confined to the lobby area of the funeral home. I sat there with family, sharing our favorite memories of Allison, laughing at times, crying at others, but glad for each other’s company all the same. As I sat there feeling sorry for myself for losing my biggest role model, I watched as her friends began to arrive, high school students devastated at the sudden loss of a cherished friend and classmate. None of them were prepared for her to leave either, but they had to deal with it every single day at school. Although I would feel her loss constantly, her absence would only be noticed for one short week each year. I knew there would always be a part of me wishing she were there, her memory materializing every so often, but I didn’t feel so alone in my hurt anymore. 
After the funeral, my aunt let all of the younger cousins ride in the limo back to the reception. My brief moment of excitement for my first limo ride quickly subsided as I became overwhelmed with guilt for letting my excitement overcome the grief I was supposed to feel. Through sobs and shaky breaths, I told my aunt no I could not ride back in the limo. How was I supposed to compensate for enjoying myself on a day like this? My aunt then told me that not only was it okay for me to be happy, that Allison would have wanted it. Allison had so much love for her family, that she would not be happy up in Heaven if we couldn’t be happy without her here with us. So I got in the limo, and I enjoyed my ride to Allison’s house, for her. 
We were each allowed to take a keepsake of Allison’s, something to remind us of her goodness, her love of life, and most of all, her love for all of us. I took the first thing I saw after walking into her room: a small magnetic mouse that I still have, a fixture in my room. At first, I held the mouse every night when going to bed, I couldn't let go of it for that long because I was terrified that I would begin to forget things about Allison. Now, it serves its purpose as a reminder: to be as kind as Allison, to work hard and make her proud, and that I always have her memory to turn to when I need it. Now, I know that Allison will never truly be gone. 
Allison was special. She was the type of person that saw the good in everyone. She was the type of person that wanted everyone else to feel special. She was the person you wanted to look up to, and the person that gave you every reason to believe that you should. Out of everyone in my family, she was the person I aspired to be the most. She loved. She loved her family. She loved her friends. She loved her home. She loved. And she was loved.
I loved Allison. I loved her smile, her laugh. She knew how to have a good time. I loved that she was always the first one to pick up the matted, sandy tennis ball. “Pickle, anyone?” It was a rhetorical question, of course we all wanted to play. i loved that she was the last one to leave the beach every single day. She stayed until the tide moved out further than we were willing to walk. She stayed until the sand was no longer hot between our toes. She stayed until we could see the sun slowly sinking below the horizon, the pink and purple hues of the sky reminding us of it’s beauty. Of her beauty. And of her laughter, slowly fading as the sky darkened, and the moon made its first appearance of the night. 
That was my last memory of her.