Without a Mirror


Miss Blake is concerned that everyone in my fourth-grade class has a good self-image. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. I knew that your image is what you see in the mirror, but I decided that the image that she was talking about was the one that you see of yourself when you’re not looking into the mirror.

Last Thursday she said that we should all think of something good to say about ourselves. Now, that really took a bit of thinking on my part. I wish I could have said, “I like the way I look,” as Mary Lou did. That was all right for her, with her beautiful long blonde hair and her big blue eyes. But it would never do for me. Oh, my, no! My hair is too thin and my freckles are too thick and my nose is too short. That would never do for me.

Neither could I be like Wendy and say, “I like the way I do my schoolwork.” She almost always has the highest grades in class. Not me. I’m really not very good in math. I’m better in history. I love the stories, but when a test comes along, I can’t remember the dates.

What I truly wanted to say was, “I like having so many friends.” But I would have to leave that for Kevin. Everyone likes him, me included. He lives just two houses away, so maybe that’s why he’s always friendly and nice to me. But then, on second thought, he’s that way with everyone. We elected him class president, and when Miss Blake said that it was time to vote again, no one wanted to change.

“Well, Angie?”

That was Miss Blake. It was my turn, and I still hadn’t decided on anything, so she went on to Linda and the others.

I had to think of something, something that I was really good at. I couldn’t even say that I was the fastest runner. Both Kevin and Linda could beat me at running. They knew it, and so did I.

While I was trying to think of something, I was also listening to what the others were saying. When it was Kevin’s turn, he didn’t say a word about all his friends. He just said, “I like the way I can catch high flies when I’m having a good day at baseball practice.”

There is one thing I’m good at: I notice things, and I’m honest enough to tell people what I notice. For instance, one morning Mary Lou came to school with her hair looking just awful. No one else seemed to notice, but I did. I asked her if her mother was away. She seemed surprised and wanted to know why I asked. “Because,” I said, “your hair is such a mess.”

I learned later that her mother had been away—to the hospital for a new baby—but Mary Lou didn’t tell me. She sort of stayed away from me the rest of the day. Most of the other girls did too. They just seemed to flock around Mary Lou. I guess they hadn’t noticed how weird she looked.

And when Wendy came to school with a tear in the back of her blouse, not one other person seemed to notice. But I did; I told her about it too.

“Are you ready, Angie?” Miss Blake had finished with everyone else and was back to me. I had to think of something quickly.

“Honest.” I said. “I suppose I’m about the honestest person in this whole class.”

There was a big silence, a real silent silence. I was a little surprised. Didn’t the class members agree with me?

I thought about it as I walked home by myself. I decided that I’d have to work even harder at being honest. I began the very next morning.

Miss Blake was wearing a dress that I disliked. Now, I can take most colors. But purple! I have this strong feeling against purple, particularly that purple. I had to be honest about it. As soon as school started, I spoke right up. “Miss Blake, I don’t think I can do my work very well today.”

“Why, Angie? Aren’t you feeling well?”

“Yes … I mean, I was. But I hate that purple color of your dress, and it upsets me. I thought that I had better be honest and tell you.”

Well! The silence that followed that remark made yesterday’s silence sound like a traffic jam. For the next few moments I don’t think that anyone even breathed.

Miss Blake spoke first. “I am truly sorry, Angie. I shall try to remember.”

The next recess, when I tried to join the girls playing jump rope, they quit and went over to the volleyball net. When I moved over there, they all ran into the school building.

Then Kevin ran by, chasing a softball. He got it and threw it back to the pitcher. I wasn’t surprised to see him playing in the field, even though he is our best pitcher. He says that the other kids like to pitch too. That’s Kevin, always thinking about others.

“Hi, Angie,” he said.

I felt silly standing there all alone. “The others were all thirsty,” I explained. “They all went in early.”

He just glanced at me, then started back to his game.

“Well, I don’t care!” I shouted at him. “See those mountains in the canyon, those far, far back ones? My dad and I are riding our horses up there on Saturday. That’s my favorite place in all the world, and I don’t care what these girls do or say!”

“Honestly, Angie?” Kevin called back over his shoulder. Then he stopped and turned around. “You know, Angie, some people like purple. It’s my favorite color.”

I stood there thinking about what he had said and about what I had said to Miss Blake—and about how the other kids had looked at me. Right there on the playground, without any kind of mirror, I took one good long look at myself, and I didn’t like what I saw.

And to think that Kevin liked purple! Evidently Miss Blake did too. I looked again at the mountains to the east. The closer ones were different shades of blue, but those farther away, those up against the horizon—those in my favorite place in all the world—were a beautiful, lovely purple! And it was the same color as Miss Blake’s dress. …

I made up my mind. When the bell rang, I raised my hand and said, “Miss Blake?” My voice was a little shaky, but I made sure that it was loud enough for everyone in class to hear. “I’m sorry for what I said about your dress. It’s really very nice, and I’ve decided to learn to like purple.”

Once more there was silence in our classroom. Then Kevin started to clap. After a moment the other kids all smiled and joined in. So did Miss Blake.

After school Mary Lou, Wendy, and Kevin waited to walk home with me. I felt happier than I had for a long time. I decided that I would still be honest, but from now on I was going to be like Kevin, honestly kind.

When I reached the sidewalk in front of my own house, I took another good long look at myself, still without a mirror. I liked what I saw a little better.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent