TMNT Becoming Masters is my vision of the turtles as they move on without their father. Told from April’s point of view, she recounts her history with the turtles as they become men. I hope you enjoy TMNT – Becoming Masters. Please share this article if you enjoyed it and please leave comments and thoughts about the story.
Chapter 1 – An Ending
From the outside looking in, it would’ve been a strange scene – three giant bipedal turtles kneeling around a giant dying rat. To add to the absurdity, each of the turtles was wearing a distinctive colored bandana: blue, orange, and purple. All of the turtles were crying except for the one wearing blue. He was stoic, expressionless.
I was kneeling among the turtles as tears streamed down my face. I held the rat’s head in my lap, trying to comfort him in his last moments. His black eyes twinkled and he had a strange kind of smirk across his face. He looked eerily satisfied with what was happening to him. I’d been expecting this day for quite some time. Splinter was the dying rat’s name and he was old; his age showed through his white whiskers and graying fur. He was a large rat – at least four-and-a-half feet tall. But he was no ordinary, unintelligent rodent. He was noble, honorable. He’d been like a father to me after my own disappeared and he was a father to the turtles as well. He raised them, trained them, and disciplined them to shape them into honorable men.
As Splinter laid there dying, surrounded by his sons, he spoke.
“My children. I know your hearts are saddened, but please do not be troubled. Death comes for us all. And when it comes, the only wish a dying man could have is to know he’s done his best to shape and change his world for the better. You are my legacy. And each of you is the reason I die in peace – knowing that I am as proud as any father could possibly hope to be.”
Those were the last words this father and master spoke. The eloquence and simplicity of his words were true to his demeanor. Splinter was always a man of few, but poignant, words. I felt honored being at his side as he passed away into whatever world is beyond life.
Three of his four sons surrounded him in grief as his last breath eased out of him. The introspective and quiet turtle was Leonardo. While he may not have shown it, I suspected that he must’ve taken Splinter’s death the hardest. Splinter was close to each of his son’s, but Leonardo was the one that looked up to Splinter most by emulating his philosophies and teachings.
Of all the brothers, Michelangelo and Leonardo were the most contrasting. Where Leonardo found strength in meditation and contemplation, Mikey was known for his jokes, impulsiveness, and smile. His bright orange bandana fit his personality well. But he wasn’t smiling now.
Donatello wore purple. I remember that some time after Splinter’s death, Donatello came to me confused and needing to talk with an empathetic friend. He was perplexed by death. I wasn’t surprised by his confusion, Donnie was always the curious of the group. He questioned everything and never failed to find his answers. But death seldom offers all the pieces to its puzzle. So Donnie struggled for months after his father left us, trying to find meaning and an answer to it all.
One turtle was missing from this sad group. Raphael was the second eldest brother, but he was absent now. Raph wore his emotions on his sleeve and a red bandana across his eyes. He always struggled to contain his emotions and I imagine that was the reason he wasn’t present for his father’s goodbye. We all worried for him and debated who’d be the one to tell him his father had passed on.
“April, it has to be you. Raph won’t listen to us.” Leo said with accompanied agreeing nods from Mikey and Donnie.
“Okay, boys. But I’m worried about him. I don’t think he’s in a good place right now.” As I spoke, I turned and walked away from the three of them. As I walked down the sewer-way to the dojo, my heart began to grow heavy. With each step, I became more emotional. I kept trying to think of ways to tell Raph his father was gone – somehow be gentle. In the back of my mind, I knew this wasn’t going to be gentle. Raph never was gentle; ever.
As I walked, I caught a glimpse of the neon-green moss growing between sporadic cracks in the dirty bricked sewer tunnel. It twinkled from the candle light emanating from Master Splinter’s room. The light danced as my mind wandered to the dark events that led to Splinter’s fatal injuries two days ago.
The foot had found us. Somehow they’d gotten word of a pattern of sightings where we’d disappeared into the sewer. Shredder figured it was a good enough lead so he began having the clan systematically checking the underground; they came, full-force.
Splinter was bedridden from pneumonia – he was getting sick a lot at the end; he couldn’t fight as well as he had in his younger years. He’d grown so old, so fast.
We did our best to fight them off but Shredder didn’t show any mercy. Splinter told us to run, that he’d find his own way out. He’d always been able to escape before, so we assumed he’d be able to fend for himself. He was unbreakable in our eyes. It wasn’t until his dying moments that we realized just how fragile he was. Looking back now, I wish we’d stayed and fought to bring him out with us, but he seemed indestructible. When he needed us most, we left him.
When it was all over, we went back to search through the rubble. We found Splinter wounded and near death. Irma and I did what we could to stop the bleeding but it wasn’t enough. Splinter knew it was his end. He even refused to go for medical help. He said he wanted to die with his family by his side. I was angry with him about this at first. He needed medical attention! But I later realized that getting any kind of comprehensive medical treatment would’ve been beyond any doctor. He was a mutant rat; it would take them too much time to simply understand his organs, let-alone fix them.
There were two people who isolated themselves after Splinter’s injury: Raph and Shredder. Shredder hadn’t attacked us in our weakest moment. It was strange. You’d think he would’ve hit us while we were down, but he did nothing. It was as if he was paying respects to the family in our time of sorrow. It was the first time I’d seen Shredder show any kind of restraint. It was the first time I saw a glimpse of honor in the man.
The makeshift door was slightly open to the dojo when I approached it. I didn’t see any light coming from inside so I called,
“Raph? Raph, are you there,?”
There was no reply. So I tried again, this time pulling open the door slowly.
“I’m coming in, Raph. Are you okay? It’s April.”
I got the door all the way open and I stood inside staring into blackness. There were no lit candles so I fumbled my way inside. I quit smoking years ago when I first met the turtles, but I always kept a lighter in my purse and a single cigarette just in case there was a time I needed it. This was the time. I brought the lighter in front of my face and pushed my head forward a bit to squint into the darkness and light the end of the cigarette. Raph appeared, sitting a few feet in front of me. He looked strange – different.
I stepped toward him. “Hey. I… We need to talk.”
“I already know he’s dead. Why else would you come here all mopy without the guys?” He spoke to me with a matter-of-fact tone. It caught me off my guard.
“Yeah. He’s…. dead. I’m sorry. Are you okay? How are you?” I knew it was a stupid question right after it left my mouth.
“I want to be alone.”
“Okay. But, we’re all grieving here. We can grieve together. We’re a family. Come outside with us.”
“He wasn’t your father. You’re not my sister.”
“I loved Splinter too, Raph. I’ve known him just as long as you have.”
“Take your bullshit somewhere else. I don’t wanna hear it.”
That’s how it always was when you had to talk to Raph. A conversation was never simple, especially when it came to emotions. Feeling defeated with my attempt to comfort him, I gave in and left him alone. I didn’t want to leave, but I could tell he wasn’t ready to face Splinter’s death yet. He needed more time. I retreated back to Splinter’s room where I found the turtles packing Splinter’s belongings in boxes and trash bags.
“What are you doing?!” I yelled at the three of them.
Leonardo replied while continuing to lob a few of Splinter’s robes from his scuffed dresser into a garbage bag.
“Look, April. We hate it more than you, but the reality is that Shredder will only give us so much time before he feels he’s been honorable enough. And when that happens he’ll come at us with everything. We won’t be prepared. We’ll be too weak to fight. We have to split up.”
At the time, I didn’t completely understand what he was saying. This wasn’t what I thought would happen to the turtles once their father died. I thought they’d rally. I thought they’d grow stronger together.
“What do you mean ‘split up?'”
Leonardo spoke back with a harsher tone.
“I mean we each need to take a separate path right now. We need to find ourselves without one another. It’s the only way we can grow right now. The only way we can move on. I’ve spoken with Donnie and Mikey and they both agree. I’m sure Raph feels the same way. It’s time we found our own strength without our father.”
Things were changing too fast. I was overwhelmed. Leo didn’t understand that I needed them too.
“But Raph needs you. He’s broken right now. He won’t even speak to me. You can’t split up when you need each other most.”
This time Donnie spoke up.
“April, please understand. We’ve lost the only thing that gave us purpose. Up until this point we’ve only followed our sensei, our father. We honored him and obeyed because of our respect for him. But he’s gone now and we each want to find a sense of purpose. Whether you understand it or not, we have to do this.”
Mikey was standing quietly looking nervous about the conversation. I spoke to him.
“And what about you, Mikey? Is this what you want? Is this what you need?”
“I don’t know about that. But I know I can’t stay down here any more. Now that Splinter’s gone, I have to get out of this sewer.”
Feeling defeated and angry, I caved to their pressure. I guess I wasn’t dealing with Splinter’s death very well either.
“Fine. If that’s what you want, then go!”
They each nodded and told me where they planned to spend their time apart. I wish I hadn’t let them split up. I wish I’d fought harder to keep them together. If I had, maybe none of what was to follow would’ve happened.