Ellis Reddick


{Disclaimer: The name Ellis Reddick is arbitrary. I do not know a person named Ellis Reddick, and any similarities to anyone named Ellis Reddick are purely coincidental. This non-fiction story about Ellis Reddick is based on a man of another name.}

“GET OUT!” Ellis Reddick screamed with unequivocal force. Prior to that outburst, we never knew when Ellis was kidding, and he was almost always kidding. He could yell at us with teeth showing, and it was all a big, weird, and unnerving joke. He was serious some of the times, but we never knew the difference. When he eventually made it clear that he was serious this time, I was absolutely terrified. I was the other kid, the kid he was forced to babysit that day, so we could chalk my fears up to seeing another kid’s parent lose it. Yet, his daughter, who presumably knew him better than most, was just as terrified as I was. 

Why did thoughts of Ellis Reddick horrify me throughout my youth? He didn’t have the barrel chest, the Popeye-sized forearms, or the booming voice my Uncle Frank had. As I would later learn in life, Ellis Reddick was probably 5’5” at most. He needed glasses, based on his girth, he looked about seven months pregnant, and he was cursed with a squeaky, nasally voice that should’ve cast fear in no adult or child. If they put out an open call for voice overs of cartoon characters, casting agents would’ve had my Uncle Frank do voices for lions. Ellis Reddick would’ve only probably only found work for the voices of mice, yet I found Ellis Reddick so horrific that I would plead with my mother to try to find some other babysitter for the weekend. I couldn’t articulate why I feared Ellis so much back then, so my mom didn’t listen, and her options were obviously so limited that she forced me into the Reddick home so often that when I now drive by their house I consider it the other place where I spent so much of my youth. 

What made Ellis Reddick so horrific was obviously not his stature, appearance, or voice. No, what made Ellis so scary to us was his unpredictability, and when you’re seven-years-old, you don’t know it until you meet someone like Ellis, but predictability is your greatest comfort. Most adults are so boring that seven-year-olds inadvertently create a mold for adults. We learn how to act and react around them to keep everyone happy, and everyone knows the rules of individual adults. Ellis was something different. He was foreign to our experience with most adults. We tried to prepare ourselves for his erratic behavior whenever we were around him, but he loved to break whatever mold we created for him, and that he loved engaging in erratic behavior, that shook up our preconceived notions of adults, but nothing he did prior could have prepared us for this.

“GET OUT of my car Julie!” he repeated.

We were idling near a curb on a residential road, about a half mile from their house, with the sound of the rattling little engine of his red Vega echoing Ellis’s ultimatum.

“I don’t want to get out,” Julie said in defiance.

“Then give me the thirty-five cents.”

“Make me,” she said to ward off this challenge.

‘Make me’ was a popular, ritualistic challenge in our seven-year-old world. It suggested that the challenger was willing to take this matter to the next level if necessary. It was a reflexive challenge seven-year-olds made, without knowing what the next level was. The scary element of ‘make me’ for the challenged was that the challenger knew what the next level was, and they weren’t afraid of it. The other import of the challenge was that the challenged does not want to see how the challenger defines the next level.

Whether Ellis was aware of the psychology of such a threat, or if he contemplated the horror of going to the next level with his daughter, is unknown, but he did decide to make her. He went after the thirty-five cents she found in his car. He went to her hands. He tried to pry them open. He began wrestling with her. She was laughing. I was laughing. We believed that these actions were another in a long line of hilarious, erratic reactions from the wacky and always unpredictable Ellis Reddick. He was always doing stuff like this. He was irrational in a non-adult manner. He was obnoxious in a manner we didn’t understand, and he kept us on edge trying to figure out what he would do next, and we loved it.

We didn’t always understand Ellis, or Ellis’ sense of humor, but our relationship was that he was the adult, and we were the kids. In a kid’s world, an adult is next-level funny, and we were always trying to prove that we were sophisticated enough, and smart enough, to “get” adult jokes in a manner our unsophisticated peers could not. Thus, when adults joke or act erratic, we “get it” and then we hold it over those who don’t with our laughter. When other kids looked at us with confused faces, we just laughed harder whether we understood the jokes or not. 

Ellis put a surprising amount of strength into this effort however. We didn’t know why, but it turned the whole dynamic of what we thought we knew about Ellis Reddick on its head. He was still struggling, still fighting, and for a moment, we laughed harder at his progressed, erratic behavior. This wasn’t a part of the usual non-adult, obnoxious Ellis Reddick however, but we thought he might be taking his obnoxious, unpredictability to a new level of hilarity, and Julie and I were always competing with one another with regard to who got it more.

When Julie pulled out of his tussle with the thirty-five cents she had a terrified look on her face. The terrified look affected my reaction, initially, but I decided I would be gaining greater stature if I continued laughing, until Julie could come around to the sophisticated extent of this particular joke. I didn’t want to be viewed as the naïve kid who didn’t “get it” when the joke was revealed.

He went in again. Julie’s attempt to avoid whatever tactics he dreamed up would’ve been admirable had she been able to avoid crying. Her crying, combined with his screaming, caused my smile to falter, as I began to realize that I might be witnessing an altercation between an adult and a child, and if it was, it was my first.

When she popped out of the bent position she had taken to protect the coins, her face was beat red. She was confused and scared.

“Get out of the car Julie!” he screamed.

If there had been a progression from this notion that Ellis always acted erratic to one that any observer could define as a true altercation, I must have missed it. I retraced the steps that led to this point in a hopeless effort to understand, but I missed it. This erratic behavior-turned-altercation began with a conspiratorial, competitive whisper that ticked me off.

“I just found thirty-five cents,” Julie had whispered to me with a sense of superiority about her.

“Where?” I asked.

“In the cushions of the car,” she whispered. 

In a seven-year-old world, as in any faction of our world, money is power. Having money is power, earning money is power, but finding money provides the finder a special degree of power that places them in a seat of superiority in a seven-year-old world. I began searching through the seat cushions around me in vain. I was angry. I thought about how if I would’ve been sitting in the front seat, instead of her, that would be my money now. She lorded this over me for another half a beat, and she added something more to it that I didn’t hear. I didn’t want to hear it. She was mocking me with her new found power.

“That’s mine,” Ellis responded. His voice always had the elements of whine to it. Yet, it had more whine to it here, more urgency, with an ingredient of desperate powerlessness added to it. His voice sounded so powerless that most observers who knew Ellis’s penchant for humor through erratic behavior might have mistaken it for comedy. “That’s my thirty-five cents, and I want it.”

“Finders keepers,” Julie said with a confident smile.

Every seven-year-old knows this truth too. If one loses something, and another finds it, too bad. You’re out baby!

Ellis lost control. What began as pre-pubescent whining from a grown man speaking to a child, evolved to outright screaming as he informed her:

“It’s my car Julie, and what you find in my car is mine!” When that didn’t work, he reminded her: “I paid for your McDonald’s, and if you don’t give me my thirty-five cents, then you can just walk home!”

“Mmm mmm,” she said. Her response didn’t have as much conviction as the previous ones had. As I reflect back on this, I think even the seven-year-old Julie sensed that this might spiral out of control. Julie was his daughter, and she probably knew him better than 99.9% of the population, but the one thing that she probably knew better than the other 99.9% of the population was that no one could know Ellis Reddick well enough to know how he would react. In a world of children versus adults, a child’s existence is dependent on figuring out how the adults in their world will react. Some kids’ parents are on the weaker side, and some were so strict that we repeated their rules to one another so often that we had them down by heart. The one thread running through the rules of other kids’ parents was predictability. There are some parents, and I only met one, who don’t follow any patterns. Some adults are so unpredictable that a kid could spend their whole lives trying to figure them out, and they will fail. Some adults are unknowable. Julie’s reaction told me that she recognized this idea with her dad long ago, but her stubborn refusal to acquiesce suggested that she thought it was probably too late to turn back now.

This was the point when Ellis issued his first “GET OUT!” ultimatum. Then, after approaching the next level of ‘making’ his daughter on two different occasions, he reached a peak of frustration that led him to issue her this final ultimatum. He reached across her. She flinched. He opened the door:

“I want my thirty-five cents,” he said. “Or, I want you out of my car.” 

He screamed various versions of this final ultimatum, with the engine idling and rattling a half mile from her house, until she finally exited.

Julie’s whole body shook with tears, as we pulled away from the curb. I saw Julie cry before. Seven-year-olds cry when they’re hurt, scared, and when something confused us. Crying is just how seven-year-olds deal with some matters, and Julie was no different. She never cried like this before, and I never saw anyone cry like this before. I was so confused that I almost cried.

I couldn’t understand why Ellis had yelled at her with such force over thirty-five cents, but that confusion took a back seat to my fascination with Julie and her tears. The image being laid out here, may lead some to believe that I was mocking her, or that I was enjoying my new ‘seat of superiority’ in lieu of the competitive whisper she gave me when she first found the money, but I wasn’t enjoying it. I was watching realization in her tears. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, as my young mind couldn’t grasp what I was seeing, but reflection on this scene has led me to believe my fascination with watching her cry was borne of seeing a young, idealistic person lose her innocence for the first time. I was seeing a young girl lose her naiveté, as the seeds of cynicism wormed their way into a young brain that didn’t know what cynicism was.

One of the primary roles of a parents is to be a beacon of sanity in a world that is so difficult for young children to understand. Seven-year-old kids don’t see this for what it is, and one of the greatest compliments a seven-year-old can relay to a parent is that they take it for granted they will always be there for them. What happens when a child learns that their parents will not always be there for them? What happens when that parent informs that child, through their actions, that not only will they not be there for them, but they will add to their confusion? I saw the latter standing on the sidewalk, screaming with tears, as we drove away. 

The tears she cast weren’t sad tears, or even bad girl tears that result from an act that requires correction. These were the convulsive tears of a young girl having her heart broken by the one man, in whom, she thought could invest unconditional and unqualified trust. To that point in my life, I never saw devastated, broken-hearted tears before, and I couldn’t stop watching them from the rear window as we drove away.

How does a child deal with a level of betrayal that affects the rest of their life? They forget. ‘How can anyone forget something like that?’ you might ask. I’ve had other friends involved in devastating, heart-breaking events incidents and accidents, and some of them managed to forget them. My first inclination has always been, “How? How could you possibly forget it?” I could see forgetting, or losing some of them minor details of such an event, but they say they don’t remember the situation at all. Are they lying, because they don’t want to talk about it? Some might be, but others sincerely state that they don’t remember the situation you’re describing. 

“Wouldn’t you?” is the obvious question. Of course, but my question is not about should they remember but how can they forget? I would think that such incidents might mark their life in such a profound manner that they’re forever altered. I would think they would be the subject of their nightmares, and daymares, for the rest of their life on earth. The answer is that they choose to forget.  

If the subject of an incident such as Julie’s, which might seem relatively minor in the grand scheme, but in a seven-year-old world was an absolute betrayal of trust in horrific proportions, wants to avoid living a life in which they trust no one, not even their immediate family members, they’ll  manage to forget what happened to them. If they want to live a happy life, they have to learn how to move passed the fact of life that some people die prematurely. Some people just leave the Earth when we need them most. They also have to deal with the fact that some of the survivors are horrible people, and some of those horrible people happen to be parents, their parents. What do seven-year-olds do when they’re having such trouble dealing with the word as-is, only to have death and destruction heaped on top of that? They move on, they adjust, and they forget. 

Sigmund Freud, and the Freudian acolytes who followed, suggested this is the polar opposite of how survivors should deal with such matters. They suggested that the road to quality mental health was paved with memories, both good and bad. They suggested that psychiatrists must pound that road into their patients’ heads, until the patient either finds some mechanism to deal with it, or works their way through it. They suggested that while we might choose to forget, the subconscious never does, and the ramifications of trying to forget would lead to some form of a debilitating breakdown. Modern psychologists find that this is not always true, and some of the times finding a way to forget is almost vital to greater mental health and overall happiness. This still doesn’t answer the question I have of how someone could forget. I know the answer involves something along the lines of “day-by-day”, and “you just do what you can to move on”, but that doesn’t register with me. After some mistakes, with other people, I now know to avoid asking questions do that they might find the merciful power of forgetfulness, but the primary reason I interrogated them was that I wanted to learn how to apply their special sauce to my life.

I didn’t know any of this when I was seven-years-old, of course, and I didn’t have any deep thoughts about what had just happened, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the despair I was witnessing either. I was witnessing the spectacle of seeing someone’s life come crashing down around them, a spectacle that everyone but a child tries to avoid seeing.

I should’ve gone with her, and I was invited to go with her, but I didn’t. I’m still not sure why I didn’t. She was my best friend. My desire to be the child who didn’t do anything wrong may have overrode whatever tenuous loyalties existed in our seven-year-old world. Maybe I just couldn’t deal with the shock and awe of the first true altercation I had witnessed between an adult and child. I witnessed challenges to parental authority before, and verbal altercations between children and their parents were nothing new to me, but the idea of an adult following through on a ‘make me’ next-level challenge with actual physical action was new to me.

I saw Julie cry before, but she wasn’t a crier. I made her cry once, but I was sticking up for myself when I did it. Much like her dad, Julie Reddick was a bully, and she could be relentless. She was the type of bully who wouldn’t stop, until you stopped her by making a bold statement. I decided, one day, that I had had enough. I introduced her to an unfair truth: Boys are stronger, boys are ruthless, and boys won’t allow you to pick on them forever. Boys are going to stand up for themselves, and when you push them to a limit they don’t care how much it hurts when they do.

Ellis was the bully in their home, but Julie was the bully of the block. She was willing to do anything she could think up, to whomever she wanted to do it to, and everyone feared her. Some kids beat you for a reason, and some do it just because they like it, but most of them will stop when a kid starts crying. “All right fine,” is something they say. “You big crybaby.” Crying didn’t stop Julie. She saw it as a sign of weakness. Julie also saw it as a sign of victory, and she didn’t just want a victory. She piled on. She would even laugh while she was doing it, and she encouraged us to laugh with her, but we stopped when she got so out of hand. We felt sorry for the kid she was beating on, and some of the times, we stopped it. The kids in her neighborhood just weren’t used to the level of violence Julie inflicted. They were terrified of her. I became the one kid she wouldn’t pick on, or beat up, because I set the precedent that I would defend myself. As she did with her victims, I laughed at her when I defended myself and she was crying and bloody, but the difference between Julie and me was I stopped when she conceded. When I made her cry, she sobbed with the physical pain I caused her, but that ended quick, and we became friends again soon after. The tears Julie cast the day Ellis Reddick drove away from her, were the tears of pain, confusion, and all-hope-is-lost tears that only a parent can cause a child.

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