Once, I lived in Isla Vista

As a college student I never would have believed that a mass shooting in Isla Vista would prompt me to write this post. Of course, we had no social media back then. UCSB is my alma mater and I lived in Isla Vista, or IV as we called it, for three years as an undergraduate. I have fond memories of living there. When I first learned of the shootings in California in an online article and saw the photo of the familiar brown sign that read “Isla Vista,” my heart sank.

The street, Trigo, where I lived my sophomore year, was a crime scene. My husband’s street of Sabado Tarde, also a crime scene. I haven’t returned to Isla Vista since I graduated decades ago, and perhaps I never will, wanting to preserve my memories and keep them safe.

As a freshman living on campus, I couldn’t wait to live off campus in Isla Vista. It is temporary displaced living to the nth degree. It was not uncommon for people to shuffle around and rearrange themselves each year with new roomies and new living quarters. You may not even know all your roommates. Students are stuffed to the gill into these apartments with little room to breathe. There were 18,000 students living in the square mile of Isla Vista; now it’s 23.000. I can’t imagine where an extra five thousand students live.

My senior year, I lived in party central on Del Playa. I had six roommates and because I wanted my private space, lived in an actual closet, a small closet. It was a “single.”  I had a skylight and could climb onto the roof that overlooked the ocean. How many college kids could say they had a skylight that allowed them to sit on their roof with the Pacific ocean before them?

The view from my rooftop.
The view from my rooftop.

Isla Vista was a unique experience and its own subculture. Students rode bikes or walked everywhere. I didn’t have a car and, when I shopped for groceries at the market, the same one where bullets were fired, I brought all my groceries home on my bike. The student population back then was wealthy and white. I don’t know what it is today. I’m guessing it is similar. Upon arriving on campus my freshman year, I’d never seen so many tan and beautiful people. As I later found out, I grew up poor. My fellow students experienced the luxury of ski trips and a more privileged life.

Yet in Isla Vista  we all paid the same exorbitant rents for our beloved squalor, and accepted sticky floors spilled with beer. Isla Vista was the great equalizer. I didn’t realize this at the time, we all just hung out; we didn’t get hung up on what we did or didn’t have, or where we were from. Parties were open to all, and I had a lot of great times. It was reckless abandon and we procrastinated together, probably a little too much.

These were also mixed-up times for me, too. I might be at a party in full swing, and had never felt more lonely and isolated. I remember being rejected, oh many times. I’ll never forget the frat boy, who, after I declined his invitation to sleep with him because I wanted more than a one-night stand, told me, “I’ll see you around campus.” There was no, “I will call you tomorrow.” Rejection can run deep. I remember hoping I would see him, and hoping he would call, even though chances were slim.

The moral code was loose, but nowhere near what it may be now with today’s hook-up culture, where I imagine it is normal to ignore, avoid, or dismiss emotions altogether as they relate to sex. But the physical sex, that, they may be talking about, oversharing about and flaunting. I could see how someone might think everyone is having sex and having so much fun. That it would drive someone to hate with malicious intent to kill is horrifying and sad. I’m not suggesting what happened is as simple as this.

After digesting social media and reading many articles online, I finally braved reading a portion of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto and watching his video. All of it sickened me. Clearly, he was a misogynistic madman, capable of harm, seething with hate and anger. I could feel the hate as I watched. He talked crazy shit, which although warranted a visit by the cops, did not result in a search of his apartment. Elliot Rodger’s intent was to slaughter and kill as many people as he could as an act of revenge. To realize that the whole massacre could have been prevented, there are no words.

It’s also crazy that in these times a man can show up at a park filled with children and wave a gun around, and be protected by law. Does this make sense? To anyone? Once again, as with all shootings, we must think about guns in this country.

To all who have lost a loved one in this tragedy, you have my deepest sympathy. When a person inflicts such a senseless act of violence and then self-destructs, I think we need to look at ourselves as a society. Why does this keep happening? When will it stop? We also need to look inward, and exercise compassion, humility, respect, and civility. I am on the side of the human race, and I still have hope.

photo credits: sharifelneklawy via photopin cc; doopokko via photopin cc


43 thoughts on “Once, I lived in Isla Vista

  1. I can’t speak for the state the park is in, but in Virginia you’ll get arrested for brandishing. Gun laws aren’t the issue, everything he did up until the stabbings, shooting, and vehicular assault were legal.

    Murder is illegal, but it happened.

    Open carry has saved the lives of two of my children and myself on two separate occasions.

    The situation is surely a tragedy, but to blame an inanimate object on something that the user had been planning for 2 years is a little strange. Nobody blamed cars for what he did, or knives, both of which he also had legally.


    1. It’s all very tragic. Whenever this happens, we hope it doesn’t happen again. And, it does. I’m not suggesting the solution is a simple one. Thanks for your comments.


  2. Such a tragedy, and to have it occur in a place you knew so well must make it that much more real and painful. I haven’t watched his video clip yet. Just can’t bring myself to do it. My heart breaks for those involved and for anyone for whom the tragedy brings up memories of their own personal traumas. So very sad.


    1. I didn’t make it through the whole video. It was very hard to watch. It’s all very sad. My heart breaks, too. I can’t imagine if my kids did not come home from college. I mostly have really great memories, but I haven’t thought of Isla Vista in a long time and I will probably think of it differently now. How can I not?


  3. This is such a horrid situation. As a parent, I can’t imagine (and hope I never ever can) what it’s like to lose a child.

    On a lighter note, you did have a lovely view from college–sticky floors and all.


    1. It makes me want to never let go of my kids. I always want to keep them safe, but when something like this happens I realize that I can never have complete control. Not that I ever do. I just feel like things are tougher for them now for so many reasons.

      That view saved me! I could live in chaos knowing it was temporary and I had that wide open space. After three years, I was ready to leave. But it was fun while it lasted.


  4. What’s this friends with benefits stuff? They didn’t have that when I was a kid. You had to beg and beg and BEG. I’ll bet a guy invented friends with benefits. It’s hard to believe they can get girls to buy into it. Hope my daughters are smarter than that.

    I’m sorry your memory has been tarnished. Even sorrier for what the victim’s families must be going through.


    1. Mark, I feel like things have drastically changed with this generation and I really worry for my kids. I feel like I need to get up to speed with it as my oldest is hitting puberty soon.

      No, it’s certainly not about my tarnished memories. I reflect trying to understand it all. My memories are still intact. My heart goes out to the victims.


  5. It’s too easy to blame it guns, low morals, and entitlement. But something is VERY WRONG in our society and it’s not as complicated as people might be inclined to believe: too much stress. That’s right! Thousands of people in America die every year from stress related illnesses and there are far more people than you’d think who do not or cannot handle stress well. The shooter was under enormous stress and this led to envy, resentment, rage, and carnage. If people wish to sex it up, then I see nothing wrong with that. But all this social pressure to “ged laid” just to prove that you can is really getting to people. And speaking from experience, it’s exceedingly counterproductive. The more you worry and the you fret about it, the more desperate you look and the more repulsive you are to women. It’s when you’re not focused on it and doing things you enjoy that it sneaks up on you. *Love*(and sex too)happens when you’re not looking for it. This is what people need to be taught. College is supposed to be about learning and having fun on the side. It really was never intended to be a meat market and that’s what it’s turned into.


    1. Stress would be the easy answer here. Reading the manifesto and watching the video has lead me to believe it’s more complicated. It’s the level of anger and hate combined with this idea that it’s his right to have sex and if he didn’t get it, then women deserved to be killed. It’s horrible. Thanks for your comments.


      1. Well, manifestos like this tend to overcomplicate things because the person who writes them is trying to rationalize their feelings and is *blinded* by their anger(so to speak) to the point of losing touch with reality. Pressue to get something and then not being able to get it leads to frustration, and that frustration shows which as I said makes them seem desperate which triggers a positive feedback loop that can spiral out of control unless the person recognizes that the cause of their desperation is much deeper than lack of a sexual partner. I had this problem, but I was ultimately able to solve it by really taking a good hard look at myself.

        Not having any real friends makes things SO MUCH WORSE for people like this. Because when you have no meaningful connections with people you start to see them as objects. Therapists are not the answer! They don’t have any real incentive to solve peoples problems, they make their money by selling them psychotherapy. If a therapist solved a patients problems, that patient would no longer need those services and the therapist wouldn’t make as much money.


      2. I think you definitely have hit on something here with one losing touch with reality and not having a friend to turn to. In this case, a therapist could be the best thing for someone. Everyone has different needs, but I am strong supporter of therapy. I’m sure it has saved many lives.


  6. I have a friend who went to UCSB in the late 80’s or early 90’s. She, too, was saddened that this had happened at her college. It’s a shame and a hard thing to swallow.


  7. Amy,

    The Isla Vista murders were obviously the work of a very sick, deranged, delusional person. What is so bizarre is that he was not identified and stopped before his rampage which, apparently, he broadcasted far and wide. And I’m so sorry that this hit so close to home. What’s also so bizarre is that his determination not only included guns but also knives and cars. I think this is most likely the work of a psychopath whose inner world was beyond any level of reason in any way, and that he would have accomplished his goal in spite of any laws (and please understand, I am absolute in favor of gun control). My heart goes out to all of us who are touched by this terrible tragedy.

    Thank you, Amy, for writing about the neighborhood that helped to form the wonderful writer that we love. And may healing happen for all.



    1. You’re right that he was so disturbed. One search of his apartment and maybe it would not have happened. I only mention guns because they are a part of so many tragedies. I always hope this will be the last, but there has already been another one since in Florida. Will this never stop? It’s so tragic for people who lost their sons and daughters. I hope they can find peace. Thanks for your comments. xo


  8. Hi Amy. Beautifully written, very moving. I hope more and more people can read this. I remember Isle Vista too. Although a party hub, there was a sense of hope and innocence. I think our culture has gone a bit mad actually.

    Thanks for writing


  9. These things are always so shocking, and we just can’t bear it when we hear about them, and when there are random people shot it makes you realise that absolutely nobody is free from risk; that’s what really brings it home. Of course in the UK shootings of any kind are much rarer, we just don’t have that gun culture here. If you were a relative of one of those killed, I don’t think you would ever come to terms with knowing that the police visited him, but didn’t check further, however, on the other hand, we have to remember that they get called to check out so many people all the time, they don’t have the resources to fully investigate them all, they have to make a judgment based on what they see when they go. Maybe people are regularly making crazy threatening videos like that (I haven’t watched this one), and only a tiny percentage actually follow through? I’ve no idea.

    Aside from the tragedy of it all, I do want to just say that this was an excellently written post Amy. How you wove in the persona, casual, more frivolous times of when you were there into the horror that just occurred provided a stark and gripping contrast.


    1. I thought about that too, Vanessa, that there may be a lot of people making crazy videos. How can you know if someone is going to snap? I don’t know that you ever can. That said, mental health resources in this country aren’t sufficient. They could start by increasing those resources. Then, like other countries, we could have stronger laws with tighter background checks. It’s very easy right now to get your hands on a gun in this country, guns that have the capability to kill many. It makes these types of tragedies very possible, and as you can see, likely. We can’t just hope it doesn’t happen again.

      And thanks for those uplifting words. I appreciate that so much. I hesitated to write about my memories in this time of tragedy, afraid it might strike the wrong cord. So, thank you.


    1. This would seem one area we people could have agreement. And yet nothing changes here either. Too often these mass shooters are not on the radar. No one realizes how sick they are until they do something horrible like this . I totally agree with you, Jim . Thanks.


  10. The shooter in this latest episode of gun violence in the US Amy sounded like a human timebomb to me. He was mentally ill, unstoppable and with easy access to guns, a commonality in all these tragedies. I do not expect laws will change to protect the rest of us from trigger happy crazy people determined to commit these crimes. The deck is stacked in their favor. It repulses me. Sorry to hear this struck a chord with you personally.


    1. Thanks, LA. I hope something can change. It must. Other countries have done it. I think guns are about greed in the hands of powerful people. Maybe with enough pressure, we can at least have stricter laws. This problem seems to only get worse. I appreciate your comments.


    2. We CAN make change happen. We can. In CA, he only had access to ten-round capacity magazines because they had a law to limit them. Most other states, the carnage would have been in the double digits. Laws can and do make a difference, but only if we push for them. There’s going to be a march across the Brooklyn Bridge for gun sense, and I hope you join it 🙂


  11. We are all part of a larger community that has been violated… yet again. To have lived there, to have had that be “home,” makes the pain nearer, for sure. What a painful reality for so many!

    I don’t usually leave links on other people’s blogs, Amy, but Richard Martinez, the father of shooting victim http://act.everytown.org/sign/NotOneMore/ , has asked that everyone do “this one thing.” I hope you and other readers will consider taking the one minute it takes, to speak out and sign this. Healing thoughts to us all, as we consider this horrific violation of decency.


    1. Thanks, Dawn. I know it’s difficult for many, especially those who have lost loved ones. Thanks for the link. I appreciate that. I’ve actually already done it and shared. It’s heartbreaking.


  12. Oh, darling Amy, we are sisters of the heart.

    I’m never on WordPress anymore and I’m glad I saw this through your tweet. (Why am I never on WordPress? Because I’m so busy working for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.) What can I say? Thank you for being you.


    1. Aww, thanks Kylie! And thanks for your activism for gun safety. You are doing a wonderful thing! I wish guns didn’t exist, but I know that’s naive. They will never go away. We need the best way to handle them without people dying senselessly. Not one more. I hope we can see some change this time.


  13. You voice some very valid questions, Amy. I’m with you in backing the human race, however, I’m afraid I don’t consider Elliot Rodgers or anyone else who is capable of these despicable acts to be a member of that human race. They are sick, depraved animals and they left their humanity behind long ago.
    I am sorry for all of those who lost someone or something, like your memories of that beautiful view in your little spot that will never quite be the same.


    1. There’s so much division that comes out after a tragedy. This one is no exception. People need to stop and consider the kind of world they want to live in. Luckily, people in Isla Vista seem to be pulling together. I understand what you’re saying about Elliot Rodgers and I agree. However, I don’t think we can just throw our hands up and say these things will just happen on their own. What can we all do to not let this happen again? I don’t think it’s a simple answer. Thanks, Michelle.


      1. Absolutely, Michelle. We got to put an end to these tragedies it affects all of us, because we realize it could happen anywhere. It almost happened a mile from my house where my husband works. A student came to campus with guns in his car and a swat team cornered him in the parking lot. That one was prevented. It’s a crazy world.


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