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"Why do [my cousins] say that my daddy is dead?" she asked.
"Sweetie, your daddy won't return," Birai answered. "Your daddy is in heaven."
For Leslie, heaven is San Pedro. She has often asked when they'll visit, because that's where Daddy is. That's where, during one stay, Pablo plopped Denise on his shoulders and held Leslie's hand as they strolled into town to buy fresh popcorn and frozen Kool-Aid. Pablo asked her, "Hey, you, how are you going to pay for that?" and she responded, "Well, you're going to give me money, so give me money, Daddy." He reached into his pocket, bent down and placed a few shiny pesos in her palm. She proudly presented the money to the vendor.
Four months after Pablo's funeral, Birai delivered a baby boy whom she named after his father. She began to face the predicament of a single mother of three with hardly any education -- who can neither speak nor understand English. She got pulled over for running a red light and was briefly jailed on six traffic violations. She sat at her brother-in-law's house, cooped-up day in and day out, baby-sitting Pablo's relatives' children along with her own, feeling like a burden to her lost husband's family. She contemplated moving back to Mexico but decided against it. If she stays in America, her children -- who are U.S. citizens -- will have the chance to receive a quality education.
In October, Birai left Stockbridge for Dallas, where her cousin lives, to escape the constant, painful reminders of Pablo. One of the only keepsakes that comforts her is the last item she remembers her husband picking up before leaving her that July morning.
Two days after the accident, Birai, Leslie and Denise had driven to the construction site in Alpharetta. Birai got out of the car and wandered around the fallen structure, ducking under its contorted columns. She paused next to the Sizzor lift, the one the boss told her Pablo had fallen from.
A couple of feet away, Leslie and Denise dug into the red clay with sticks. The ground was dry that morning, unlike the morning of Pablo's death, and the clay was hard and dusty. A light breeze rustled the leaves of nearby oaks and the long, black strands of the little girls' hair. Birai walked over to see what her girls were tugging on.
From under a small mound of red clay, Leslie pulled an off-white baseball hat stitched with the word "honor." The cloth was stained with dried dirt, the brim misshapen.
Birai slowly took the hat from Leslie's hand and cradled it in her own child-sized palms.
News Intern Alejandro Leal contributed reporting for this article.
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