Donatello is not the sexiest Ninja Turtle. I realize that now.
But as kids, when my three siblings and I would become our favorite characters—when the cartoons came on, or the toys were in hand, or boredom took hold and reality wasn’t enough—when we were donning the masks, I was Donatello. Without fail, unless you consider landing the part a failure in itself.
I have to say this because he is arguably the most forgettable Turtle: Donatello is the purple one. The bo-wielding lab geek, the turtle techie. If there was a scientific explanation to be had, three green domes swiveled in Donnie’s direction. He rarely disappointed, dispensing over-the-head terminology to which Mikey likely replied, In English, dude! Donatello would dumb down the jargon and cook up a solution, concocting the same kind of slapdash wizardry Richard Dean Anderson was practically trademarking as MacGyver. (Richard Dean Anderson: marginally to infinitely sexier than Donatello, depending on your proclivities, species, aversion to or affection for mullets.)
I’d like to think I chose Donatello for his rational mind, his technical skill, he and Michelangelo’s happy tag-team peacekeeping in all matters Leo and Raph, but the truth is that I am the youngest of four children, and most likely, I got the short end of Donatello’s stick. Most likely, the nerdy turtle was the only teenage mutant ninja available.
My brother Chris—first born, perfect son, As straight as his laces—chose Raphael, red-masked, hot-headed loner, the brooding brawler in the trenchcoat who drove more TMNT plots than anyone except maybe the Shredder. My sister Amy—the wild Anti-Chris who would later (in high school) shoplift, pick fights, and always run away—was Leonardo, the Turtles’ stick-in-the-mud leader, a blue paragon of responsibility. James—at the time a chubby, kind of shy middle child—became Michelangelo, the orange-clad party dude.
By the time the X-Men animated series premiered in 1992, I understood the game: you don’t assume the role of who you are, but who you’d like to be. Chris took Wolverine. James, Beast (incredibly, he would build enough muscle to validate the choice, and grow so outgoing as to retroactively justify Michelangelo). I became Gambit, the card-tossing Cajun scoundrel. After a brief stint as Rogue (for my psyche’s sake, let’s forget her forbidden romance with Gambit), Amy stopped watching with us.
Before A.C. came to visit Tom, Roger, Will, and me at our fun size writers’ retreat on Chincoteague Island, she asked me which Ninja Turtle I was, and, knowing full well that he is the least sexy, most forgettable of the four, I answered automatically: Donatello. In part because I am a practical pacifist, full of good ideas, but more so because I remain attached to the purple one of my youth. Saying anything else would have been a betrayal.
But at various points during our retreat, I felt differently. When I started going to the Y by myself to work out, and when everyone drove to a seafood restaurant for dinner and I stayed in to watch a movie, and when they told me how much they loathe eating alone, not realizing I love it, and when I moved upstairs into my own room, with a door I could shut, and I shut it, I felt like Raph.
When they ribbed me for devouring comic books, pizza, and sweets with equal zeal, and when I laced up my bright orange KD IVs and threw on my matching Chincoteague tee, and when I kept getting carded by bouncers and bartenders (“What’s your birthday?” one said; then, “Must have memorized it on the way over”), and, yes, when we partied, dude, for five days straight, I felt like Michelangelo.
On the last day, when Will and Roger drove to Ohio for a wedding, and Tom and A.C. to New York for New York, and I remained to do the dishes, the laundry, to recycle the hordes of Bud Light Limes rattling the bed of my truck, to whisk the perishables from the fridge and restore our lair to its former order, and when A.C. sent me a text thanking me for all my “mothering,” I felt more like Leonardo than I ever have in my life.
But that night, as I made the long dark drive back to my parents’ house in Alexandria—as I retreated, at twenty-seven, back to my shell, where no job or woman awaited me—I didn’t feel like a hero at all. I felt more like one of the turtles I had seen on my Chincoteague runs, small and soft, smashed into the asphalt for moving too slowly. Because I didn’t have the courage to declare myself the sexy one, the wildcard, the fighter, the plot-driver, and then to become him.
Evan Allgood's work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Millions, LA Review of Books, The Toast, and The Billfold. He lives in Brooklyn and contributes regularly to Paste. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter @evoooooooooooo.