Most people use glasses to see, but Beatriz Avilez keeps them to remember.
A pair with black plastic rims sit in a drawer by her bed in a meticulously well-kept room in a North Charleston mobile home.
Last month, she took them out, holding them in her thick, calloused hands, as she recalled the man who used them, her boss and friend, Hugo Toledo Rodriguez.
ìEl era un buen hombre (he was a good man),î she said.
Rodriguez, a robust 35 year-old, was near sighted, and needed the glasses to drive or to work. The last time Avilez saw him wearing them was on Feb. 22, when she went to bring him lunch, and discovered his body, along with the body of Felipe Victor Antonio, 38, in their mobile home in Ladson.
The two died from carbon monoxide poisoning after leaving a gasoline generator running in the kitchen.
In has been a whirlwind week for Avilez since then.
She made the phone calls to notify the families, and also helped to organize both the joint viewing and the airline fights that would take the bodies back to Mexico and Guatemala.
She didnít know Antonio that well, but Rodriquez was a close friend. He was proud to be a legal immigrant, but wasnít too proud to share his lunch when he had extra.
He was smart, and spoke near fluent English, a product of years of study and a passion for American Westerns. It was hard for Avilez to call Rodriquezís wife and give her the news, she knew that his family, and his four children, would be devastated.
As she looked back at the eight days that passed since she discovered the bodies, her grief was tempered by the gratitude she felt for the woman who made all that organization possible: Lydia Cotton, head of the North Charleston based Hispanic community organization, Colors of the Lord.
ìShe helped us with everything,î Avilez said. ìIf there was something we needed to know, like about the flights, or just sending a fax or something like that, she made her herself available to help us.î
Cotton, 45, formed Colors of the Lord in January of 2007. Since then, the organization has been busy, holding town hall meetings, and working to improve links between the Hispanic community and government officials.
As the need for the organizationís work became more evident, Cotton also became active in Berkeley County, and volunteered as a translator with both the sheriffís office and the coroner.
Now, she receives calls to assist Hispanic families in Summerville, Moncks Corner, and occasionally near Goose Creek.
ìLetís put it this way, sheís an angel. Thatís what Iíll tell you,î said Berkeley County Corner Glenn Rhoad.
Rhoad said that Cotton has been working with his office for about year, and had proven to be invaluable anytime that he or one his deputies needed to work with the Hispanic community.
ìSheís what I call a barrier breaker,î he said.
Cotton has not always been a community activist. Puerto Rican by birth, she came to the Lowcountry more than 15 years ago. She worked in customer service at a supermarket until 2003, when she went to see a doctor about a problem with her balance, and ending up being diagnosed with brain cancer.
Months later, surgeons were able to remove the tumor from her skull, but Cotton had a stroke during the operation, and spent the next year in bed.
In was during her recovery Cotton began to study politics, watch the news, and contemplate what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
ìI started to think about how I contribute, and my heart went to the Hispanic community,î she said
Cotton decided to focus on crime prevention, and once she got back on her feet, she began working as a translator for the North Charleston Police Department. Within a year, she was organizing community meetings, and laying the foundations for Colors of the Lord.
Her skills and experience were evident following the deaths of Rodriguez and Antonio last week.
She made arrangements with the Mexican and Guatemalan consulates, who each gave $800 to help the families send the bodies home. The Hilton Funeral Home also assisted, Cotton said, by giving the families a fair price for the viewings.
To help cover the costs, volunteers put up donation boxes in Hispanic stores across the area, including La Tapatia, a grocery store in North Charleston.
Rosa Mendez, 20, an employee of the store, said the box had filled up within a week.
ìItís good, that as Latinos, we help each other when there are accidents like this,î Mendez said
For Avilez, nothing can compensate the lost of her friend, or take away the memory of finding his body. Yet, when she looks back at everything that happened, and all the help she received, she is grateful.
ìIt was such a blessing, to have someone there to help with all of it,î Avilez said.
On Sunday afternoon, Avilezís and Cottonís work came to fruition: the coffins of both Rodriguez and Antonio were loaded on to separate Delta Airlines flights. Thousands of miles away, the families of both men awaited the grim homecoming, and their chance to finally begin to grieve.
Contact Jared Goyette at 572-0511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.