Paradise Lost

In the latest gun massacre to hit our country (these massacres happen so frequently that I can’t keep track of them all), a disturbed young man who felt rejected by the sorority girls at his college decided to do something awful about it.

This happened at my college. Where I was a sorority girl.


15 years ago, my university was a uniquely beautiful and safe place. Nestled on the cliffs of the Central California coast, literally on the beach, wrapped in balmy weather rarely below 70 degrees, “mellow” was both the word used to describe the school and the motto we students took to heart. We were laid back because how could you get worked up about anything in such a place? Isla Vista, the beach town most of the students lived in, often felt like a cocoon – a haven protecting us from the real world we knew was waiting for us. The joke was rarely did students graduate in 4 years, because they never wanted to leave.

My sorority is next door to the sorority where the gunman took down several co-eds innocently walking to some fun destination. A destination they never arrived at. I lived there for two years, making lifelong friends I still see as often as I can. In those halls and those rooms, I became a confident person, because I made friends who had my back. Those friends were my friends not because of what I looked like, or what kind of car I drove. They were my friends because they were like me: nice, fun, curious, complicated people looking forward to the rest of their lives.

It breaks my heart to think of sorority sisters, walking along, having conversations that probably touched on both the superficial (what to wear to a TG) to the real (what kind of career to choose). Those conversations were suddenly silenced.

That is what my sorority sisters were to me first and foremost: friends I had important conversations with. Also, friends who made me laugh. I never laughed more than in that quad room, telling stories about the series of awful jobs I took senior year when funds were low. (Let’s just say that salsa in a certain Mexican restaurant was “recycled.”)


A month ago, I took Darcy and the twins to Isla Vista. We visited my sorority, we ate burritos at Freebirds. We took pictures in front of my sorority symbol, a block from the massacre. I took my son back again, and we ate ice cream sandwiches and walked along the beach. I felt safe and sound.

The truth is, we are never safe and sound.



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10 responses to “Paradise Lost

  1. Abiding with you during this impossible-to-understand time.

  2. Wow. Hearing perspectives like this really makes the tragedy real. Thank you for sharing. And I am so sorry for how hard this must be for you.

  3. I thought of you immediately when I was late to the news cycle — finding out just last night. I’m so sorry J. I can imagine what you’re feeling… I have much the same connection to Boulder. It’s so hard to make sense of the world when these things happen but your piece is both heartbreaking and beautiful.



  4. I am sorry too — a little too close to home. 😦 Aside from the gun & mental health-related aspects of this case, the extreme misogyny of his video rant immediately put me in mind of Marc Lepine & the Montreal Massacre of December 6, 1989, in which 14 female engineering students were singled out & died, simply because they were women. (Look it up.) It was horrific then, and it’s horrific now, and it’s incredibly sad that we haven’t come that far in 25 years.

  5. Mel

    I woke up to the news yesterday morning and felt sick. It always feels close. When it happens in an area you frequent or feel connected, even closer.

  6. Thank you for your stories of that place and that time. I’m saddened (as we all are) at the senseless wrecking of something so innocent and beautiful.


  7. I’m so sorry. This is awful and heartbreaking.
    But your pictures are beautiful and, somehow, give hope.

  8. My heart aches for those young people, and for their families, for whom there will never be an explanation. I only hope that we can find love in our hearts to heal, and to help heal others before this happens again.

  9. You must feel so sick. I can’t imagine how terrible it must be for the families of the young people who lost their lives in this senseless tragedy. I don’t even know what to say anymore. I don’t think it stuns most people anymore, we just shake our heads and sigh.

  10. Mo

    beautifully stated, and a lovely tribute. Sending you a huge hug.

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