I am a UCSB mom. Make that was. My son went to that school. After his freshman year, he lived in Isla Vista, on one of those streets where the rampage occurred. It was on the main drag, which is also known as the Number One party street in Isla Vista or IV, as the locals call it. Everyone knows about it, even kids who don’t go there.
UCSB is an attractive campus, considered among one of the better state schools. The campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean. During World War II a portion of the land was used as an airfield and training base for Marine Squadrons, that would then head off to combat in the Pacific Theater. Some of the military barracks are still around, now serving as dorms.
When my son first chose this school over the other ones he’d been admitted to, I didn’t know about UCSB’s reputation as a party school. The ceiling of his apartment, as most other apartments in that neighborhood, was a testament to the countless nights of partying. It was embedded with beer bottle caps, a sign of pride for all the drinking he and his roommates had accomplished over the course of the school year, often defying the legal drinking age.
IV is a typical college neighborhood. Could be any college town. It has a grungy feel but what do you expect? College kids don’t have time to keep their neighborhood clean, not when they spend nearly half their time in school or studying, and the rest of the time partying, with an emphasis on the latter. In fact, if anything, they’re good at trashing the neighborhood. I cannot tell you how many times I’d cringe walking into my son’s apartment, which he shared with three other guys. You can only imagine what I saw.
IV is not the kind of neighborhood you or I would live in. Run down yet super expensive. The landlords know they have their clientele–college students–between a rock and a hard place. It is the only town close-by, within walking/skateboard/biking distance to the university. So not only does no one have to maintain it for the students, who are transient tenants by nature, the students are charged exorbitant prices for the privilege of living there.
My son was one of those students whose main source of transportation around campus and IV was a skateboard. In fact, every student at UCSB seems to own either a skateboard, a bike, or both. The campus is filled with miles of paths designed for this very purpose, and you can see students zipping around all over campus. So it’s not surprising to see them in Isla Vista, or to know that the killer ran down a few while on his rampage.
We’d visit my son every year while he was at school, taking the three-hour plus drive from San Diego to just north of Santa Barbara, where the school was located. We’d always get stuck in traffic driving through Los Angeles, especially around LAX, but once we passed it and reached Santa Barbara, we’d see the most breathtaking views of the ocean, glistening like an expansive jewel beneath the sun.
For five years we ventured there, for that’s how long it took my son to graduate, thanks to all that partying and doing poorly in at least one class. During our visits, we’d walk around campus and Isla Vista, and have lunch at a nearby shopping center, where we could also catch a movie or peruse the neighborhood bookstore.
Here’s one thing we always felt each time we visited:
A pristine, colorful community with palm trees, sea breezes and blue skies. You’ve got the ocean on one side and a view of the hills on the other. Serenity comes to mind.
Except this past Friday night, when it was anything but serene. As I watched the story unfold on the news, and learned about the victims, and as I saw the confusion and fright in the eyes of the UCSB students, I was overcome with tears.
I know that place, I kept thinking. My son spent a part of his young life there. And then my mind goes to that dark place.
It could’ve been him there. On his skateboard, grabbing a bite to eat, out drinking with his buddies. It could’ve been him, a victim or a witness to something so senseless.
I watched Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, talk about his son. He pointed to the politicians who support the NRA as he shouted, “When will enough people say, ‘Stop the madness.’ We don’t have to live like this! Too many people have died!”
He spoke from his heart but his pain felt like he wanted to rip it out instead. He’s probably wondering how he’s going to be able to manage after losing his 20-year old son. I listened to Mr. Martinez speak and my first thought was, there’s going to be a terrible backlash from NRA and its supporters. They’ll deny guns had anything to do with this.
But then I realized, Mr. Martinez is right. When are we going to stop valuing guns over our children? What is it going to take? How many more are we willing to sacrifice?
Look in the mirror. It’s not just Mr. Martinez affected. It’s you, it’s me. It didn’t just hit close to home for me. It hit close to home for us all. Look in the mirror. We are all part of this.
These things don’t only happen to other people’s children. This time it happened in Isla Vista. But next time–next time, where will it be?
Who’s going to be next?
As long as laws don’t change, as long we continue keeping the same priorities, there’s always going to be a next time. Count on it.