My parents raised me to be a Christian, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that we were practicing Christians. I mean, we were Christians, technically, but Christianity, in our house, felt like more of a benevolent and perfunctory directions guide than any sort of edict. I was taught to pray before every meal—a ritual I still follow today. The Lord’s name was never to be said in vain. And there were Bibles around, somewhere. But we never actually went to church ourselves. The only time I went was for funerals and if I happened to be spending the night at one of my grandparents’ houses. (Also, I went to Catholic school from sixth to eighth grade, and I’d attend Mass when it was Mass-attending time.)
We did, however, worship at the church of Kool-Aid. And the only reason I’m comparing Kool-Aid consumption to religious beliefs is to give you an accurate measure of how fanatic about Kool-Aid we were. If you were to randomly peek into our refrigerator at any point, you’d likely find orange juice and you’d probably find milk, but you’d definitely, absolutely find a half-gallon container of Kool-Aid. If it wasn’t in there, it was because it was currently being made. And if it wasn’t currently being made, there was definitely a conversation happening about who drank the last of the Kool-Aid because that person is slacking on their Kool-Aid restocking duties.
We were so fanatical that I can tell you which flavors go best with certain types of meats. For steaks and burgers, grape is the best choice. If you’re eating seafood, orange. And if you’re eating poultry, you’ll need a glass of red Kool-Aid to best wash that bitch down.
My Kool-Aid fever stretched into adulthood. Because I loved and was addicted to the way it tastes. But also because it’s cheap as fuck. You can buy 29,000 packets for, like, a nickel. And not only did I buy the normal grapes and oranges and reds—I also bought the slightly off-brand flavors like red cherry and raspberry and the shit they clearly only sold as an experiment to see if niggas would buy it, like bacon-blueberry and pistachio. In my first apartment—a 600-square-foot space on the corner of Ellsworth and Negley in Shadyside—the only things you’d always find in my fridge were bacon, eggs, creamy Caesar salad dressing, orange juice and Kool-Aid.
And then one day that all changed.
In my apartment were two women I’d recently met. I offered them something to drink. One of them asked what I had in my fridge. I told her Kool-Aid. She replied:
“Nigga, you still drinking Kool-Aid?”
Now, as veteran “nigga” users know, “nigga” is not a word that you typically use haphazardly with black people you just met. It’s a term of familiarity—not something you say when answering an innocent question from a nigga you just met three days before. But that “nigga” was used to articulate how disappointed she was that I was drinking Kool-Aid, and how annoyed she was that I had the audacity to offer it to her. Basically, I was Kool-Aid-shamed.
And it worked. By the end of that year, it was no longer a part of my daily consumption. I stopped buying it, and would only drink it when I visited my parents. And now I live a Kool-Aid-free life, replacing it with room temperature bottled water and lukewarm whiskey.
But although I’ve come to realize how bad it is for you—it’s just sugar and water and literally nothing else—I miss it from time to time. Particularly when I’m eating chicken. I’ve also realized, over the last few years, that Kool-Aid is quite a polarizing topic. It doesn’t quite reach the level of the grit wars or the jollof-rice wars, but it’s close. Just admitting that you do (or don’t) drink Kool-Aid—and when or why you started or stopped—is the black equivalent of the Myers-Briggs. Everything that needs to be known about you can be told through your feelings about it and your experience with it.
Anyway, I want to hear about your Kool-Aid experiences. But please don’t share any pictures of you drinking it, because that might be triggering for me.