Love Hurts

Locked in a labyrinth of codependency, Lolly and Roger spend their days warily together

About 20 hanging baskets filled with plants line the roof of Aurelia "Lolly" Rodriguez's home. Another nine pots of blooming impatiens and spider monkeys sit on her grill. A red hibiscus blooms at the edge of the walkway. Up the path is a pink rose bush surrounded by banana leaves. Precious Moments decals are peeling off the front windows.

In past years, Lolly spent summer days weeding and planting more flowers bordering the liriope-lined path to her front door. But last summer, the 59-year-old let her garden go -- because she was too afraid to leave her house.

She was frightened of the man living in the car parked across the street from her home. From her front window, Lolly watched Roger Valdez walk up and down Jacqueline Drive laughing and talking to himself. Neighbors saw the 42-year-old man yelling when no one else was around -- sometimes ranting about people not obeying orders and delaying the 18-wheeler carrying his drug shipment.

Roger Valdez never goes too far away.
Daniel Kramer
Roger Valdez never goes too far away.
Lolly Rodriguez loves her son but is scared of him.
Daniel Kramer
Lolly Rodriguez loves her son but is scared of him.

A couple of Roger's teeth have been knocked out and he has a scar across his chin. He's five foot seven and about 130 pounds. He's been in the Harris County Jail for violations ranging from drug possession to felony assault. He wears his long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail -- in the summer he washed it with a neighbor's hose.

Two years ago, Roger asked Lolly if he could borrow her car. She said no. When she refused, she says, he pushed her to the ground, breaking her wrist and cracking her back. He spent the next two weeks living in Lolly's house before he was arrested. He killed her grandchildren's pet rabbit and hung it on the front porch.

Roger has been arrested twice for violating a protective order preventing him from being within 200 feet of Lolly's house. But when he's released from jail, he always returns to Lolly's house.

It's his home. Roger is Lolly's son.

Roger claims he works with the CIA and the FBI. He knows he's been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but he doesn't believe anything is wrong with him. He's been admitted twice to the Harris County Psychiatric Center and spent eight years as a Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority outpatient, according to medical records in court documents.

When a doctor tells Roger that his mother says he's sick, Roger asks how the doctor knows she's his mother. "People can be impersonated," he says. He insists that he's not paranoid, but he dug a ditch in front of Lolly's house because he believes the water supply is contaminated.

On an early afternoon, Roger is sitting on a red Coca-Cola crate outside the Diamond Shamrock on Wirt Road. The gas station is a few blocks from his mother's Spring Branch rental house. Nearby are a homeless shelter, a trailer park and a taqueria. Roger is wearing a red-and-black flannel shirt, dark jeans and new Converse All Stars covered in peace signs. He spent the afternoon watching Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke.

Roger says he's starred in several documentaries, martial arts movies and major motion pictures such as Traffic. "You can rent it at Blockbuster," he says.

"Do you know who Jennifer Lopez is?" Roger asks. She calls him all the time. He claims he possesses a Washington, D.C., driver's license that protects him from ever being arrested. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a Texas driver's license wrapped in white rosary beads. He points to the Texas state seal and says, "See? Washington, D.C."

Repeat the conversation to his mother minutes later and she nods her head. "That's all untrue," Lolly says. "But that's what he believes."

When Roger was 14, he changed, Lolly says. Something went wrong. "Maybe it was the drugs," she says. Or maybe he was sick. Roger had been a popular football player and a decent student in junior high. Then he started cutting school and ignoring curfew, and his brother found some drug paraphernalia. No matter how Lolly punished Roger, he didn't care. Roger dropped out of school in ninth grade. He promised his mother and stepfather that he was going to get a job, but mostly he stayed home and slept. Lolly's husband kicked him out of the house a handful of times.

While exiled, Roger slept in his brother's tow truck parked across the street. Lolly took him food and blankets; on cold nights she secretly let him sleep in the garage. When her husband was at work, Lolly allowed Roger to come inside the house, shower and eat.

She and her husband fought because he said she was too lenient on her three sons. "He thought I didn't push them enough, and I wasn't stern enough, and I bowed to them," she says. "We started having troubles."

Her husband moved to San Antonio without her. But like her son, he eventually came back.

One morning Lolly woke Roger and told him to go to work. She says he pulled a phone out of the wall and threw it at her. Then he followed her into the living room and threw an aloe plant at her chest. Her grandson was in the room, and she was afraid Roger would hit the baby.

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