Love Hurts

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

Lolly is a woman who throws bread crusts out for birds. She has two cats, a flea-market bunny rabbit and a parakeet. "If I can take care of pets," she asks, "why can't I take care of my own son?"

Roger says it was humiliating for his mother to make him sign the I-promise-I-won't-hurt-you contract. He says he's the best one of her three sons -- because he's always treated her with respect and kindness. He says he makes about $800 a week working at the Diamond Shamrock station picking up glass and cigarette butts in the parking lot. He's staying with his mother only until he can find a place of his own.

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.

Roger still doesn't take his medication. "I don't like the feeling," he says. "I can't stand no goddamn drugs." He throws dice, shoots pool, reads the newspaper and watches sad movies. "I don't like violence," he says. "I like anything with suffering, abused, victimized [characters] with a good ending. Something happens for the best."

Lolly says she doesn't want to get married again, or even think about dating, because she's afraid suitors would say nasty things about her kids. She doesn't want people judging her children. Asked what she does for fun, she says, "Nothing." Sometimes she watches Spanish-channel soap operas. Her favorite now is Te Amaré en Silencio ("I Will Love You in Silence").

She says the rabbit Roger killed had an ear infection, and besides, it was old -- maybe two or three years old. In Roger's mind, he was probably helping the rabbit stop hurting, she says. "He just turned his little neck," she says.

Lolly went to visit her sister in San Antonio; Roger stayed home to take care of her pets. He was supposed to scrub the kitchen walls while she was gone, but he didn't. She figures if she climbs up onto the ladder and tries to scrub them herself, Roger will see her and help her. Roger fixed the fender on Lolly's truck; when she returned from her San Antonio road trip, he washed the truck.

Lolly's eldest son, Benjamin Valdez Jr., has two children. Lolly adopted the elder, a boy, but she didn't adopt her granddaughter. "Which I regret with all my heart. I wanted to give my son another chance," Lolly says. "But I'm the one that's doing everything still for her and for him."

Lolly felt fairly safe letting Roger move into the house, because at the time, her youngest son, Joey Rodriguez, was living with her. But shortly after Roger moved in, Joey was arrested. He's currently at the Harris County Jail.

"You know how you play the if-I-win-the-lottery game? She's always at the top of my list. I would buy her a house -- on the condition that none of her sons lived in it," says next-door neighbor Casto. "She's heartbroken all the time. They disappoint her."

Lolly's back constantly hurts. It takes her seven hours to iron her family's clothes. Her doctor prescribed her codeine to dampen the pain, but she doesn't take it. She just takes ibuprofen in the morning to get through the day and again at night before she goes to bed. "I want to go dead to sleep," she says. When she tucks her grandson in at night, he tells her he will see her in the morning. "If God is willing," she responds.

Doctors tell Lolly that her back will never properly heal. Neither will her son, she says. Psychiatrists told her that Roger will never be cured. He'll never be the same. "They can control the sickness, but they cannot cure it," she says. "Just this morning I asked Roger, 'You will never hurt me again. Please, Roger, don't hurt me no more. I love you too much.' "

Letting him sleep on the couch, Lolly says she knows she's playing with her life.

"I don't think he'll hurt the kids," she says. "He'll hurt me."

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