Paradise, Lost?

Isla Vista Memories Unscathed

It was a stereotypically beautiful California morning. I was late for Econ, again.

I put my headphones on and still opted for the scenic ride through Isla Vista to get to class. The ocean glistened perfectly. Cars were parked but looked as if they were hardly ever used. Teenagers with surfboards strapped to their bikes laughed as they zipped by me, headed to the beach. A group of girls pedaled slowly as they talked. Joggers, walkers, students playing volleyball, reading on the grass.

After class, lunch was either I.V. Co-op or Woodstock’s pizza. I adored their veggie special on whole wheat crust. But the Co-op was damn good at the organic, raw juice it was making before anyone else on the “outside” clued in to it. I parked my bike and headed toward the healthier choice.

Fliers and posters were up all over campus for Earth Day celebrations, a big deal here. I’d been rehearsing a lot for a couple of songs I’d contribute from the tail end of my hippy phase. Which reminded me — I needed to pick up some fliers for the next I.V. Live weekly performance of music, comedy, theater, and poetry.

I tossed my lunch into my bike basket and headed to the beach, stopping by the local tattoo shop to say hi to my artist. I didn’t have another class until 3 or so, and I also needed to stop by the radio station and pick out some music for my upcoming show — and stop by the CalPIRG office to pick up fliers for the solar homes bill we were looking to pass.

I might end up being late for my next class, too — who knew?

Rush hour in the bike lanes — trying to merge was more difficult than deciphering that Micro-Economics graph. Meeting up with friends for dinner in the cafeteria: Sam was going to her sorority for a party; another friend needed to study. Tomorrow night was potluck night with campus environmental groups on campus. But tonight seemed to be quiet. A nice night to ride my bike through Isla Vista down to the beach with my guitar strapped to my back, sit on the beach, and practice a few songs.

I was 17, and this was paradise.

I have so many beautiful and perfectly unscathed memories from Isla Vista and my time there. Neither I nor I.V. were completely innocent, but even with drugs, alcohol, and the inherent issues of a town run by students, to me, it was untouched, smooth, a silk patch in the jagged realities of a world that I was beginning to see was socially and politically fucked up. But there, inside I.V., the outside world couldn’t reach me, any of us. If you’d been there, you would have felt the same.

It was the sound of the ocean and the smell of eucalyptus. It was a spontaneous decision to go skinny-dipping at midnight. It was sleeping on the beach, running in the sand. It was spending the better part of my freshman year barefoot, because I could. It was talking about the future like it was a philosophical concept you could embrace when you felt like it — till then, pass the joint and sing a song.

It was a beach house on DP, overlooking the ocean — impossibly expensive anywhere else in the world — now comfortably inhabited by a few poor students and a cat. Munchies in the wee hours of the morning, studying on the roof of the UCen because you could get there from the CalPIRG office. Getting in trouble, thinly avoiding getting in trouble, having crushes, getting noise complaints for loudly blasting Guns n Roses with my door open.

This morning is really the first time that I’ve sat down and thought about the entirety of my time there. And it’s only because the news of what happened hit me much harder than I thought it would. I don’t know any of the kids who died or were injured. I haven’t gone back often or thought about it much at all.

When I decided to move to L.A., dropping out of college, I felt good about leaving. My urge for the jagged realities swelled and the smooth perfection of I.V. felt too unchanging, too utopian. I wanted grime, I wanted some ugly. I got it.

But I.V. was always that place in my mind. When I did go back, it was like Neverland — nothing seemed to have changed, nothing broken or rearranged by the forces of time or recession.

I think the news hits me so hard because now that place is changed. The innocence, the paradise I created in my mind for I.V. — is lost. Gun violence, psychotic rage — my heart sinks with the thought that no place is safe. No paradise is untouchable. No Utopia is unbreakable.

When I read a line supposedly from the sick mind of the shooter: “Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species,” it dawns on me, no, you are. You are disgusting, depraved, and wretched. You are the exact manifestation of the worst in this species.

Humanity is hope, it is light, it is a fight to be better, to evolve. Humanity is incredible. It is inspiring. It is smooth and jagged, and beautifully both. As my heart sinks, it rises again — humans may frame humanity in the twisted perversion of their own shortcomings, but it doesn’t mean that humanity is evil, that it is lost. And because I.V. is no longer Utopian, it doesn’t mean that my time there wasn’t. And it doesn’t mean that a paradise can’t be made with the smooth and jagged pieces of perfection and reality, of humanity.

Here’s to a Paradise not lost but changed. Here’s to I.V.


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