The New Me

by Machias Banshee

"Come on, Leo, the ball's gonna drop soon!"

"I'll be out in a minute, Mike."

I shook my head and turned back to my work. I was putting away the final few gifts from Christmas into my room. Just a few small items – wall scrolls, new calendar for my room, ink for my calligraphy set. New tea blends from April, really nice stuff... It all had its place, and didn't take long to do.

Then, I turned to one gift I received from Sensei. I actually got it a few months prior, keeping it under my sun lamp. When I first received it, I was confused, to say the least – one of Mike's jokes about Sensei going senile had flashed briefly through my mind at the time...

"Uh oh, Sensei's giving sticks for presents..."

"The last time he did that was when YOU were being a brat, Mike.."

"Hold on, it wasn't a 'stick', it was a chunk of wood charcoal."

"Exactly, you act like a shithead, you get coal..."

"Then you should get it Every year..."

I gave them a look and turned to Splinter, trying to hide my puzzlement. It didn't look like much of anything, just a stick in a pot of dirt.

"I..thank you for the gift, Otousan," I said, bowing my head. I glanced again at the potted stick.

"You will understand in time, my son..."

And so I took the pot to my room and set it on my desk. I knew this had to be another one of his lessons. He's been doing this kind of thing a lot since I returned from visiting the Ancient One in Japan. Sensei and the Ancient One have probably been sharing strategies for doing lessons like these. But I could handle this...

The days had passed, I watered the stick every now and then and kept my sunlamp on it. But there was no change. No leaves sprouted, no flowers, nothing. I was starting to wonder if it Was just a dead stick. I argued with myself whether I would ask Sensei what this lesson was outright, or try to understand what it was exactly this stick was.

One day, I made my way to Sensei's study, preparing for another sit-down session. The Ancient One (or Great-Grandfather, I should say) had recommended that Sensei and I have these one-on-one sessions every day or so, to help in the healing process. I stepped up to the door and knocked once.

"Come in, Leonardo.."

Every time... I opened the door and stepped inside.

He had a small table set up, tea cane sugar and a tin of cookies – Strawberry Jam cookies. I knew. They were my favorite treat as a child, and served as a comfort food now.

"Have a seat, my child." Splinter motioned me to the seat across from him. I sat down, setting my book on the floor beside me. He poured us both some tea, and handed me the cookie tin. I opened it and set it on the table, taking two of the bejeweled cookies.

"How have you been since our last session?" he began.

"I...don't feel very different," I hesitated, shrugging despite myself. "Not at all.."

He 'hmm'ed to himself, and I dropped my gaze. Another setback, another failure--

"Do not feel discouraged, Leonardo."

"I'm trying the hardest I ca--"

"Do Not--"he started, "force it. If this is the best you can do, that is all I ask for, my son."

"Yes, Sensei..." I nodded.

"Good. Now, have you continued your writings?" He continued, picking up his tea.

"Yes, Sensei," I said, grabbing my book and sitting upright. I offered it to him, but he took it and then set it aside.

"I want you to tell me about what you have written.."

I blinked at that. Usually he would take a look through what I've written, and then we would talk about.

"I know you too well, my son," he said, "I am not looking for a term paper."

It was just a struggle to write something down everyday. Sometimes I would often use various quotations to help explain my situation – and fill out the page a bit. But I had a feeling that was the issue. "Sensei, I--"

"I am asking you about your thoughts. I am not trying to help Lao Tzu or Confucius here."

I was right... I sat back and sighed.

"I'm... trying. But I just don't feel any different as from when I first came back from Japan. I know its been a number of months now, but that's just how I feel."

He nodded in approval. "The healing will take time. It is not something you can practice and master. It will come to you gradually."

"I understand, Sensei."

He nodded and sipped his tea. We were quiet for a moment, and then he looked at me.

"How is your gift coming?"

I looked up, almost blurting out that it was still dead. I set my tea down and cleared my throat.

"Well.. I've put it under a sunlamp for now, and am careful about watering it. But, if I may ask, Sensei.. What is the meaning of the gift?"

Splinter smiled faintly. "The meaning will come in time."

So back I went, looking at the ruddy looking stick in the clay pot. I continued watering it and keeping the light on it. As time passed, I was able to stop and notice subtle changes in its appearance.

"Hmm... you've changed, haven't you..." I said, half talking to myself, half to the stick, which now had two small leaves and a bud on the end. I smiled to myself and began doing some research on what exactly it was that my dead stick was turning into.

I found myself writing more and more about my gift from Sensei as time went on, and felt a heaviness gradually lift. I didn't keep to myself so much. I spent more time with my brothers, and less time worrying about the past.

At my next session with Sensei, I sat down and fingered through my writing book, reading some of my passages. I smiled at my crude little drawings of what the bud had looked like throughout the weeks. I was fairly absorbed, and didn't realize until I felt a rap on my leg. I looked up to see Sp's setting his cane aside.

"Find something interesting in your writings?" Splinter asked, looking amused. I smiled sheepishly, setting the book on the table.

"Just looking at my... stick's progress. I'm surprised at how much it has developed since I first got it."

Splinter nodded, pouring us both some tea. I again opened the cookie tin, snagging two cookies.

"Progress cannot be seen ahead of time, only by looking back at what had been."

"I understand that, Sensei."I offered him my book again, and he took it. This time, he looked through the pages of what I had written. I watched for a reaction, but he had the usual stoic face.

"Very good," He finally said, nodding slightly. He smiled and handed me my book back.

I remember it was then on that I really felt progression in the following sessions...

I finally put away the last few items from Christmas and sat down on my bed. Mike was still panicking out in the main room of the lair about the ball dropping soon. I studied my gift again, noticing more subtle changes in its appearance, and wrote them in my notebook.

"Leonardo? It is almost time for the festivities..."

I looked up and smiled, setting my book aside. Sensei came into the room and sat down beside me on the bed. We both gazed at the pot under the sunlamp for a moment.

"I am proud of you, my son," Splinter said, turning to me. "You have done very well these past few months."

"Thank you, Sensei.." I replied. "It is with your assistance that I was able to do so.."

"Iie, my son," He answered, shaking his head. "This was your own achievement. You simply needed something to focus your mind on."

He pulled me close, putting an arm around me. I leaned down, my cheek against his. He smiled and looked back at the gift.

"Look, Shino.." He started. I smiled at the old term of affection – Shino literally means 'shaft of bamboo'. The name comes from when my eyes were a shade of green that reminded Sensei of Master Yoshi's gardens back in Japan. He motioned to the pot and continued, " When I gave you this gift, it looked barren, ugly, as if nothing positive could grow from it."

I nodded, remembering the few times I'd considered throwing the whole thing out.

"That is how you were on the inside – apathetic, unfocused... you had no interest or desire in your counsellings. But as you gave the plant one more chance, the chance for you to heal also remained."

"While the beginnings were difficult, the struggles have been well worth the final results..."

I looked at my plant. It had changed from a lifeless-looking stick in a pot of dirt, into a magnificent Waterfall Orchid, pure white blossoms on a single, long green stem. It was beyond anything I could have expected, and I loved it.

"Come out when you are ready, my little orchid.. we are waiting for you."

Splinter kissed my forehead gently before getting to his feet and stepping out of the room. I looked at the cascading flower. The door opened again, this time with a very panicked turtle looking inside.

"LEO!!! Time Square's not gonna wait for you much Longer!!!"

I chuckled and got to my feet. "I'm coming Mike... There's a brand new year to live."

I put an arm around mike and left the room, ready to welcome the new year, and the new me.

(( was the inspiration for this story))