Love Hurts

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

Roger pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and received the maximum sentence of one year in the Harris County Jail. Since he had been incarcerated for 16 months, he was released the first week of December 2002.

The day after he was released, Roger checked into a homeless shelter directly across the street from his mother's home. The Turning Point Center was once a crack den. Now the sign says the shelter turns lives around. The brick apartment complex has bars on the windows and statues of angels in the courtyard. A guard at the front gate requires residents to take a Breathalyzer test before re-entry.

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.

The founder, Isha Salas, says she started the shelter after seeing a woman her mother's age begging on the streets of India. The shelter is geared toward homeless people over the age of 50. Roger didn't meet the minimum age requirement, but Salas made an exception. "I knew he was not going to be here long," she says. On the sign-in sheet he wrote that he collects a $542-a-month SSI check. And he looked healthy enough to get some sort of job.

Lolly stacked boxes filled with Roger's tools and clothes and shoes in front of her garage so Roger could pick them up. She bought Roger new clothes and sent her grandchildren as couriers to leave them with the security guard at the shelter's front gate.

Roger stayed at the shelter about a month. When his disability check arrived after New Year's, he disappeared, Salas says. "Normally, people when they have a habit, they get their check and they're gone," she says. "If you leave for three days, we consider you gone. We pack your stuff."

When Roger returned, he had a "confrontation" with the guard at the front gate, Salas says. She claims Roger was under the influence of some substance and refused to take a drug test or go to rehab. Plus, the shelter doesn't house people entirely for free. Roger had income, Salas says, but he didn't give any of it to the shelter.

Salas remembers Roger. And she remembers later watching the police handcuff him in front of his mother's house. "We won't take him again," she says.

Parked between two pine trees is a matte gray Mitsubishi truck. The windshield is cracked. The truck doesn't run; it doesn't have a clutch or a gearshift. "One weekend we heard a loud backfire -- he actually got that thing started for about five seconds," says neighbor Shannon Casto, a high school journalism teacher.

Red quarts of oil sit beside the truck, and red plastic dice are on the roof. The cab is filled with newspapers, a box of Salem Black Label cigarettes and a 36-pack of rolling papers. Formerly an auto mechanic, Roger constantly works on the truck. The truck used to be red, but he painted it the unfinished color his neighbors describe as "Bondo gray." "He even takes engine parts out and paints them," Casto says.

After the homeless shelter kicked him out, Roger lived in his truck. With Roger across the street, Lolly was afraid to leave the house. She gave a copy of the protective order to her next-door neighbors and told them to call the cops if they saw Roger. Casto says she called the cops and reported Roger twice. Once, he vanished before the police arrived; another time, he was walking down the street and she pointed him out to the cops.

Roger was arrested for violating the protective order on January 21, 2003, at 9:15 a.m. Officers wrote in a report that they saw him sleeping in the truck's cab. He was sentenced to 45 days in the Harris County Jail.

Released in March, Roger moved back into his Mitsubishi. About a week later, he was arrested again for violating the protective order. That time, he spent 60 days in the Harris County Jail before returning to the truck.

Gradually, Roger began knocking on his mother's door, asking if he could have a Coke or money to buy cigarettes. He didn't hurt her, so she became less afraid of him. Her two-year protective order expired in September. She decided not to renew it.

Neighbors told Lolly they felt "eerie" having Roger live outside, she says. Her landlord told her that he was getting complaints and he didn't want to have complaints, Lolly says.

When the weather turned cold in November, Lolly asked her two other sons to let Roger live with them. "That truck doesn't have any insulation," she says. She told her sons that they didn't have to let him stay inside all the time, just give him a place to sleep, then kick him out in the morning when they left for work -- like it was a flophouse. "He's your brother," she told them. "He needs help." They said no.

The week before Thanksgiving, Lolly let Roger move back into her house. She made him sign a sheet of paper promising he wouldn't hurt her and he wouldn't do little things that irritate her, like smoke cigarettes inside the house. Her eldest son told her to get it notarized. She didn't.

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