Doña Quixote

The childhood magic of the rain is worn threadbare, and as I watch the drops pool into a river at the bottom of the hill, I ache to turn it back to color, like editing a photo, plugging the right colors into the right pixels. Like Dorothy opening the door of her house to find Oz. Only not as easy.

The neon vibrancy that shone from every puddle when I was eight years old.... The clouds were cotton candy, which, over the years, turned to ominous, trapping fiberglass. The buildings of downtown San Diego close in like walls around me, constricting barriers, and echoing through them is the sound of ticking clocks.

These places, these days in summer or winter that I remember as so radiant, have become so washed out that I’ve actually taken a few tests to see if I’m colorblind. The dreams I had — that when I turned 16, sweet 16, suc- culent 16, Splenda 16, I would throw a masquerade ball with all of my wonderful friends, one as grand and ravishing as the ones in the movies. I’m turning 16 in two days, and unless I’m in for the biggest surprise of my life, I don’t think there are plans for any such lavish birthday bash.

No, I see everything the way it’s supposed to be. I can see the green 5 hiding in the pool of red dots, but I remember the city differently. Cinematic, like a technicolor movie from the ’60s or photos of a celestial nightclub in a fashion magazine full of bright, glossy pages and sheeny photographs, showing me what I’m supposed to be — red lips and smoldering eyes and nice cars and a big paycheck and Glamour and Gucci and Guess and Gabbana and all those glittering, glimmering, glassy G s.

The very things that probably polluted my teenage mind and made me expect too much. Like a 16-year-old female version of Don Quixote, maybe I just read too much, and now, in my fried brain, I’m riding off in a cherry- red Ferrari convertible with my sidekick ( ¡Soy Sancho! ¡Sí, soy Sancho! ). A six-foot-one supermodel with ice-blue eyes blinded by asymmetrical black hair and the face of an angel and the veneered smile of a Vogue model, through the streets of down- town, buzzing with the sound of dirty neon and slightly cleaner tattoo needles and tarnished by Mardi Gras beads snapping under the pressure of brand-new tires and my $500 dollar boot pressing down on the gas pedal.

Much like Quixote’s tired nag, my Ferrari is really an Oldsmobile and as old as I am, and I’m really my parents’ sidekick. The truth is, soy Sancho. Sí, soy ...Sancho. I’m Sancho. I’m the sidekick. And I’m not even steering the donkey. And the dull, sometimes dirty streets of downtown aren’t comparable to the clean country roads of Spain. Instead of driving over a sea of lackluster leftovers from a dead Fat Tuesday, I’ll be wading through them, searching to see if someone dropped the contents of their wallet while they returned their Southern Comfort to the deflating party atmosphere. This will be my masquerade. Happy 16th.

And yet, some- times the most beautiful photographs, the photographs that people cherish the most, are in black-and-white or dirty-looking sepia or crumbling antiques. The photographs that are the most striking.

My hometown is like one of these photos. It might not show me Glamour or Gucci or Gabbana 24/7. The neon may have faded from the rain, and the only shine left is the cheap, lead-laced metal- lic paint on Mardi Gras beads made in China, like tiny, poisonous disco balls. But, despite my complaints, downtown San Diego is like a striking sepia photo — a little dirty, a little hard on the eyes at times, but a masquerade all on its own. The shimmer of lead paint is enough for this Doña Quixote.

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