Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
Orange juice. Oh, how those two words haunted me. Orange juice. Orange juice. Orange juice.
Sounds just like Audrey. At least according to Ronnie. Scrawny, freckled, buck-toothed Ronnie — my fourth-grade nemesis.
Once he made this brilliant connection, that’s all he called me. Over and over again in his singsongy, squeaky voice. I hated the nickname. And I hated Ronnie.
All through the fall he doggedly continued to call me by his chosen moniker. In the classroom. At the buses. On the playground:
Red rover, red rover,
Send Orange Juice right over!
The worst part? You have to run right over. Everyone knows who Orange Juice is, so it’s not like you can stay in the line quizzically looking around.
Who is this “Orange Juice” to whom they refer? Me? Certainly not.
I wanted to run right over and knock Ronnie’s protruding front teeth down his throat, but all I could do was hurl myself through the clasped hands, tumbling past their grins. The faster I got back in line, the faster they would forget. Send somebody else on over.
I hoped that the long Christmas break would cloud Ronnie’s memory. Maybe distracted by toys and candy and Santa Claus, he would forget all about me. I was wrong. On the very first day back, even before the Pledge of Allegiance, I heard “Heeeeyyyy, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss!”
I shot him my stoniest nine-year-old glare.
Wither, you moron; wither under my icy stare.
Ronnie didn’t wither. In fact, my increasing exasperation only added to his delight. “Whatcha mad about, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss?”
January turned to February, and the class Valentine’s Day party was coming up. We were going to have cupcakes and Kool-Aid. The teacher instructed us to bring Valentines to exchange. “Remember, bring one for everyone,” Mrs. Turner said.
Everyone? Even my archenemy? Even … him!?
The night before the party, I sat at the dining table with my box of paper Valentines. I looked at the cute cartoon kids with their cute cartoon animals. “Be mine!” “You’re super!” “I’d be pleased as punch if you were my Valentine!” Mentally, I went down each row in the class addressing each little envelope. Pamela. Alice. Amanda. David. Darrell. Stanley, Rachel. Mark.
Would he know if I spit in his envelope?
The next day, I got to school with my little sack of Valentines. The classroom was decorated with construction paper hearts, and the reading table held the cupcakes and Kool-Aid. Mama came to the school for the party along with some other mothers, and when everyone had assembled, Mrs. Turner said, “All right, children, you may get up to trade your Valentines.”
We began to file around the room, putting a little card on every desk.
“Where’s my Valentine, Orrrr-aaaannngggeee Joooooossssss?”
Right here! I thought, and I reared back and kicked Ronnie as hard as I could square in the shin.
And here! And here! And here!
I kicked him until he crawled under the table of cupcakes to get away. I kicked him as the rest of the class stood in stunned silence. I kicked him for every time he had called me that awful name.
I kicked him until Mama dragged me away.
Mrs. Turner made me sit in the corner for the rest of the party. I didn’t get a cupcake. I didn’t get any Kool-Aid. I didn’t care.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Ronnie, I thought with a smile. Love, Orange Juice.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.