Orange Soda


A Story from a Reformed Racist:

Walking into Jobe Hall on the night of February 27th, I wasn’t sure what I expected other than earning points for my publications class and my education classes. After Madison Kalia’s reading, it was clear I was in the middle of an emotional shitstorm. All of the poets were amazing and many had similar topics within their works. Madison Kalia’s poem was about her personal experiences. It was raw and emotional. Full of rage and sorrow. Her words left the audience stunned.

I was left holding back tears, swallowing the frog hung in my throat as memories blazed through my mind.

Her poem was about her identity and experiences, but one section, in particular, ripped my heart out as she spoke,

So, white folks, / is there a sign-up sheet? / Was there a membership card I was supposed to get? / I sure wish I would’ve had it back in high school / when a white boy told me / it was nice talking to me but / his mom wouldn’t let him date black girls.

Hearing those words, I was fourteen again, a freshman in high school. I was sitting with my best friend Marcus in our Business Law class. I was in the lunchroom again convincing him to eat pickled okra. I was on a field trip with no money when Marcus bought an orange soda for us to share. And for some reason still unknown to me, I accepted sips from the glass bottle even though I hated drinking after anyone, even my family. Maybe that autumn Mississippi day was just hot enough for me to break my rule. I still don’t know.

As my throat burned hotter, I was waiting for Marcus so we could walk to class together. (little did I know at the time, he walked me to class after our Business Law class before sprinting back to the other side of campus for his own class) On this day, when Marcus walked out of our Business Law class, he was full of rage. Our teacher, Ms. Lee, had told him “To be careful around little white girls like me,” because according to her, I would one-day call rape on him. Because that was what “white girls” do to “black boys.”

Five months later, I was saying goodbye. I was moving to another town and leaving Marcus and all my friends behind. When we had our last class together on my last day of school, I hugged him tight and kissed his cheek. He was my best friend. I loved him. He was like a brother. I told myself. I loved him like a brother. Nothing more.

We kept in touch after I moved.

I got my first boyfriend when I was fifteen. Spoiler ahead. It wasn’t Marcus.

It was the kind of guy my parents would approve of. He was intelligent, tall, not much older than me, and most importantly, white. His name was Conner.

I pretended not to notice how Marcus’s mood changed every time I mentioned Conner. When we Skyped, I pretended not to see his eyes drop when I told him how similar he and Conner were.

After all, I was happy and I had taken my mother’s advice. Growing up I remember her warning me, Mexican and Indian men abuse their girlfriends. They were mean to their girlfriends. I was told to never imagine bringing one home. And the idea of bringing an African American boy home? It was laughable. THAT would NEVER happen.

My parents barely tolerated Marcus being my best friend. They constantly encouraged me to cut him out of my life. After all, I didn’t want to be branded as that type of girl. If I was known to have relationships, platonic or not, with black boys, white boys would never look at me the same way.

After about a year and a half of dating Conner, we broke up. He was in college now. He was different. Honestly, he had become a plain asshole. Right after I hung up from breaking things off with Conner, Marcus called me.

He could tell that something was wrong. He pressed me until I told him everything.

I had begun to self-deprecate.

No one would ever actually love me. (I was sixteen experiencing my first breakup cut me some lack)

This broke Marcus. He vomited every feeling he had towards me. He ripped himself open. He knew that I was lovable because he had loved me for years. Through everything. He had loved me. Through every racist comment, I made. Every time I expressed how I didn’t find black guys that attractive. Throughout it all, he held his love for me in a bottle and on that day it shattered.

Then, I ran. I rejected him. I rejected him because I could never be with a black guy. No matter what. I couldn’t. I told him all of those facts and I hung up.

I spent a year staring at my ringing phone choking back tears as it lit up with his name.

Then, it stopped. Everything stopped. I soon realized he would never call again. I should have felt relieved. I had ignored every call from Marcus so he would stop trying. I got what I had wanted….right? I cried more the second year than I had the first. I knew he hated me now.

But maybe that was better.

My first semester of college, an old mutual friend snap-chatted a picture to me. It was a picture of everyone from our old friend group, even Marcus. The friend told me that Marcus asked about me.

I replied, “Who?”


I was tormented more and more after that with memories of Marcus and a longing to reconnect with him.

Christmas 2017, I did. I drafted a long message and sent it. I weighed my options. He would either ignore it or he and I would talk about it and maybe have some type of half-assed friendship built from the ashes of my mistakes.

In those three years, I had grown.

I had loved again. Just for a few months, but it did happen.

I rebelled against my parents. I was not the racist I was raised to become. I was not the homophobe I was raised to become. I was not the perfect white pentecostal girl my parents raised me to be.

Against my mother’s caution, I dated a Mexican boy for a few months after graduation.

Those few years taught me a lot about who I was and who I was not.

It taught me about love and loss.

In January 2018, Marcus replied to my message.

All of this rushed through me because of Madison Kalia and her damned poem.

I called my mom to let her know the poetry slam was over and I would be heading home.

Then I made another phone call.

He answered, “Hey babe” “Hey.” My throat was still tight from holding back tears.

“So how was the thing? Are you okay?” “I’m okay. It was really good. The last poem was amazing… Marcus? I love you so much..”