Death can claim anyone at anytime, but it cannot wash away marvelous memories of laughter and love.

Although I had not seen 17-year-old Alondra (Ali) in five years, her delectable presence saturated my soul with sheer happiness for several years. When I was teaching at the YWCA, A Children's Place in the early 2000s, I had the privilege of teaching and caring for her for two years.

Alondra was in many groups during her two years at A Children's Place, including The Green Growing Things, Purple Dinosaurs, Yellow Sunflowers and ended up in my group, the Brown Bears. One specific moment embed itself into the deepest core of my memory bank.

During free play outside, Ali was one of the children seated in the large sand pit with several other children. I was kicking a soccer ball straight up in the air as high as I could and catching it, or at least trying to. One of my kicks was way out of range of catching the ball, but still very high in the air. The soccer ball hit Ali square on the top of the head.

Instead of tears and maybe a bruise on the head, which I expected, she just turned around mildly surprised as if someone had gently tapped her on the shoulder. When I apologized to her she nonchalantly smiled and continued to play with the other children.

Taking Ali and her friend's to the swimming pool at the then apartment complex was always a joy. Laughing preschool eyes and joyous shouts of gratification as she and her friend's constantly got out of the pool to jump back in again always put a smile on my face.

I dated Ali's mother for about a year and half, thus I got to spent a lot of time with her. From the time Ali was 3-6-years-old I was a regular in her life. To this day Debby and I are still friends. I helped Debby and her husband move to Nevada. I just wish I would have visited Debby and Joe a lot more than I did. When Ali was 12-years-old I spent about a month at Debby and Joe's house.

While at Debby and Joe's during that time, I reminded myself of "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave," a 70s Saturday Night Live skit in which John Belushi, portrayed a single man at a married couples house who refused to take a hint and over stayed his welcome.

Debby and Joe seemed to tolerate my presence very well, even capitalizing on it by taking a couple weekend trips to Reno, Nev. leaving me with the kids. Debby's son William was in high school at the time, so he required little if any supervision. Ali and I spent lots of nights watching kid movies including "Matilda," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants", the Harry Potter movies, and several others.

The most fun I had with Ali at that time was letter her drive Irene, (my green Saturn Vue) in the desert of Fernley, Nev. She was a great driver for any age, let alone being a 12-year-old. Obviously Joe must have taken her out on a lot of drives himself.

Ali gave me one good scare when she got to the top of a steep hill and she had to make a Y-turn because the path was too narrow for a U-turn. As Ali was making the Y-turn, she started to panic and said where going to go off the edge, and I thought the same for a brief moment. Inside I was panicked, but outwardly I was calm and told her to brake, (she did) and put the car in reverse. With my sagacious coaching, she made an excellent Y-turn which had little room for error. An error may have sent us both off the steep hill.

Initially I drove off with Ali and the family dog with strict orders from Debby to not allow her to drive. Ali told on herself when we got back, and Debby gave me an ear full, and I assured Debby that Ali drove great. Debby said Ali scares her when she drives. Ali said to her mom that I was a lot calmer than her as a passenger.

"Mark doesn't yell or scare me like you do mom when I drive," Ali said.

After life or no, heaven or hell, the simple fact remains, even though I haven't seen Ali in half a decade, my life is a lot emptier with her untimely death. The passing of my father in January 2013 also shrouded my soul with gloom and tears, but with his death it was easier to embrace life again. My dad was 90-years-old and the night he died, he was in his bedroom in bed surrounded by most of his children, grandchildren, two of his great grand children and some very loving in laws.

My mom was 72-year-old, falling victim to leukemia in 1994. Yes, her live was too short, but she passed in the same conditions as my father. Days before my mom passed, she was in the hospital and was extremely adamant about wanting to get home and she did. What is really sad about my moms passing is that she never got to meet Brook, her great granddaughter, while my dad at least got to witness Brook getting to high school.

Of course my world would be a lot better with my mom and dad still in it, but in the big picture of life, they truly lived; marriage, witnessing there children becoming adults and to spend quality time with their children, grandchildren and some of their great grand children.

I can't even phantom what Debby is going through. My life is empty right now because of the few years I got to laugh with Ali. Now and forever just as the loss of my parents, Ali's absence without return has thrust an emptiness in my heart that will never return.

...until our final breath while our loving Watchmaker loves us all to death, Neil Peart wrote in 2012. 


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