Stay strong, gauchos

Early Saturday morning, as I was trying to get myself to wake up and pack for my and Alex’s beach weekend in Jersey, I reached for my phone and looked through my Facebook newsfeed. A post by a friend of mine from UCSB, who still goes there for graduate studies, caught my eye. It was a link to an article by the Independent about a “shooting in Isla Vista.” That can’t be right, I instinctively thought. No way did was there a shooting in the college town I called home for four years.

Sure enough, a deranged shooter who was traumatized by the fact that he was still a virgin and that women did not pay attention to him, had decided to punish these women, and also men for having better lives than he, by shooting up UCSB students living in Isla Vista. He had started by killing his three roommates, moved on to shooting a few girls outside a sorority house, killed another at the IV Deli Mart, fired more shots around Del Playa and Sabado Tarde, and finally shot himself in the head following an exchange of gunfire with the police. All on the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, when students like myself when I was attending college, would be swarming the streets grabbing a late dinner, purchasing beer for the night, or making their way to friends’ houses to start the night.

It hit me hard. I’ve always felt extremely sad and a little disturbed by news of shootings, especially those that have taken place in or near schools, and my heart has gone out to the friends and families that have been affected. But the shootings were always in faraway places that I had no connection to – Colorado, Connecticut, Virginia. Now a place that I had called home for many years, a place that I had loved dearly and made so many fun memories in, was tainted by a mentally ill shooter who had within the span of a few minutes inflicted deep sorrow onto many. The shooter and his roommates lived a block from the apartment I lived in my senior year. Shots were fired on the block that I lived oceanside one summer. More shots were fired on the main street of “downtown IV”, a street that I biked or walked to class on most days, a street where I had eaten countless meals, drank many beers, made innumerable memories. I felt both happy that I am on the east coast, so far away from the chaos and the sadness, yet sad that I am not there, in my former home – because after all, even when things get rough somewhere you call home, you often feel the need to be there.

Isla Vista is a one square mile college town that falls somewhere between a ghetto and paradise. The houses are old and uncared for but the students are lively and happy. It was like living in one giant dorm, we always said, a welcoming one. We regularly walked into stranger’s houses,  uninvited, for parties and made friends. I’ve missed those four years in Santa Barbara a lot, I’ve felt legitimately homesick for college and the amazing friendships I cultivated there. It hurts to know that a place that is so special in my heart, and most alumni’s, was stricken by such a tragedy. It makes me sick that some of these people – the 6 killed, the 13 others injured, were simply living their happy lives, getting ready for the end of the quarter and the beginning of summer, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It opens my eyes to the fact that the world can be a scary place and that violence can strike anywhere, even home. But it also opened my eyes to the strong network of UCSB alumni who have showed their support for the victims and their loved ones; the massive attendance of the candlelight vigil held for them at Storke Tower this weekend; the reaching out of friends to those who still live in the area. It’s a strong community and I know they will manage to heal, even if it seems impossible now, after this horrible event. And regardless of one ill individual, Santa Barbara will always remain a happy place for me.

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