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.
• • •
I stopped by the Isla Vista Food Co-op after class. It seemed like they got on the organic, raw and juice wagon before anyone else in the “outside” world, and they were damn good at it, too.
It was either the co-op or Woodstock’s Pizza. I adored their veggie special on whole-wheat crust. Luckily there was a park between the two so I didn’t have to tempt myself as I parked my bike and headed toward the healthier choice.
The park was pretty quiet — Monday around 11:30 a.m.
Earth Day celebrations were a big deal here, and we were coming up on one. Fliers and posters were up all over the UC Santa Barbara campus. I was slated to play a couple of songs, too, something I’d been rehearsing a lot for.
It was the tail-end of my hippie phase but I could still bust out a 1960s cover song or two.
• • •
Which reminded me; I needed to pick up some fliers for the next I.V. Live performance. I was part of the production team of this weekly showcase, which included music, comedy, theater and poetry.
I had thrown myself on the bill a couple of times as well — perks of the job.
• • •
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, but I also needed to stop by the radio station and pick out some music from their pretty impressive LP library 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 the next class, too. Who knows?
• • •
Rush hour in the bike lanes — trying to merge was more difficult than deciphering that Micro-Economics graph.
Once home, I met up with friends for dinner in the cafeteria. Sam was going to her sorority for a party, which I didn’t really want to come along to.
Our friends referred to me as “daddy” and her as “mommy.” Considering my feelings about makeup and sorority parties, it was a name well placed. I once looked with honest confusion upon a hair dryer accessory known as a diffuser. I still don’t understand what it does.
• • •
Another friend needed to study.
Tomorrow night was pot luck night with the environmental groups on campus. But tonight seemed to be quiet. I figured it would be a nice night to ride my bike again through Isla Vista, down to the beach with my guitar strapped to my back in a very near-cliché, sit on the beach and practice a few songs.
• • •
I descended into the bike parking lot — a literal sea of bikes where even my bright yellow beach cruiser was hard to spot. The sun was setting but I would make it in time to see it dip into the Pacific. I took out a flask and felt perfectly cool as I took a sip of what must have been awful whiskey, sat back and began to strum.
• • •
I was 17, and this was paradise.
• • •
I have so many beautiful and perfectly unscathed memories from Isla Vista and my time there. I don’t know that IV or I were completely innocent, but even with drugs, alcohol and the inherent issues of a town run by students, to me, it was untouched, smooth. It was a silk patch in the jagged realities of a world that I was beginning to see was socially and politically fucked up.
• • •
But when I was there, on the inside, the outside world couldn’t reach me, any of us. That’s how it felt. And if you would have seen it, visited, 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 riding your bike — everywhere — the ocean breeze in your hair.
It was spending the better part of my freshman year barefoot, because I could.
It was laying back and looking at the stars — and you could see all of them.
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.
It was the last months of care-free, a teenage me, that contemplated life but didn’t have to.
It was throwing my arms up to the sky and breathing deep.
Munchies in the wee hours of the morning, studying on the roof of the UCen because you could get there from the CALPIRG office.
It was walking barefoot on pathways — cliffs overlooking the ocean, learning to surf. Getting in trouble, thinly avoiding getting in trouble, having crushes, getting noise complaints for loudly blasting Guns n’ Roses with my door open.
Oddly enough, 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 LA, dropping out of college, I felt good about leaving. My urge for the jagged realities swelled and the smooth perfection of IV felt too unchanging, too utopian.
I wanted grime, I wanted some ugly.
I got it.
• • •
But IV 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 this news hits me so hard because now that place is changed.
The innocence, the paradise niche I created in my mind for IV — is lost.
Gun violence, psychotic rage — I wouldn’t in a million years have thought IV could host the insanity of these ills.
My heart sinks with the thought that no place is safe.
No paradise is untouchable. No Utopia is unbreakable.
• • •
But then I read a line supposedly from the sick mind of the shooter: “Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species.”
And 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 — with that one line.
Because humans are capable of framing humanity in the twisted perversion of their own shortcomings doesn't mean that humanity is evil, that it is lost.
And because IV is no longer Utopian to me, 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 IV.
— Eleanor Goldfield is a creative activist and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She works primarily with political organizations to promote their message in pop culture using creative means. The opinions expressed are her own.