Ode to the Youth of the SFV

for all the bright souls lost along the way. the talented and sensitive youth who didn’t make it.

My one son has told me he knows of at least twenty youth he grew up with who lost their lives to drugs and/or suicide. One was his best friend.

Raising my children in the SFV (San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles) was like guiding them through a minefield. It’s something I’ve often written about. I think of those who slept on my sofa, raided my fridge, and how many dreams they had. Thankfully, many went on to achieve those dreams. Others did not.

One young man slept on my sofa for two years. I was a single mom and we lived in an apartment. His home was a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood. But his sister had committed suicide and being home was too painful a reminder. The first big fight my older son got into (that I was aware of) was defending his friend against a bully who was making fun of his sister on the anniversary of her death. I remember getting a call from the security at the Calabasas Commons and rushing to pick up my son. He was banned from going there for a month or so after that. It was one of many initiations for my sons about the injustice of this world. He was defending his friend and got into trouble, while the bully got away. The bully’s family lived in the wealthy Calabasas area while we lived across the railroad tracks in Woodland Hills. I came to dislike the hypocrisy of a place that looked so perfect on the surface and was one of the first to ban smoking in public, yet where on any given night youth were passed out from drug use in the dark bushes, hidden from the bright lights of the pristine Commons.

The SFV is well-known for being the birthplace of the porn industry and the Kardashians infamous reality show. Climb the hills and you find mansions of the elite. While down below is a network of gangs and an ever sprawling homeless community of tents and overloaded shopping carts. Here, every girl I’ve talked to, no matter what part of the Valley she is in, has been sexually abused or even raped at some point in her young life. Kids are prescribed drugs at an astounding rate and sent to therapy by harassed parents who are often too busy or self-absorbed with their own problems to face the truth of what their children face every day when they walk out the door.

The contrast between the image of the poorer flatlands and the wealthier hills is extreme, but the reality is the same. And of course now, with lockdowns mental health issues and drug abuse is certainly not improving.

There are worlds within worlds and two youths can walk the same streets and see completely different things. One step unknowingly taken and a child’s life can be blown to smithereens. Another child can happily skip along, escaping each pitfall. No child should be judged one way or the other. Life is just strange like that.

So many memories, like the phone calls in the middle of the night. One from a fourteen year old boy wandering Victory Blvd with a stab wound in his leg that he’d done to himself, so drunk he could hardly function. Rushing out to pick him up and taking him to the ER, only to have them say they couldn’t treat him unless his parents signed off. Arguing with the staff because his parents were out of the country and he’d been left on his own. That young man overcame alcohol addiction and is thriving now.

I could go on and on. Teenage boys watching Breaking Bad and thinking Walter White was the coolest dad ever. And why not, since they were looking for the fathers they didn’t have, and then, of course, wanting to cook meth and do it all for the “right reasons.” I hated that show and to this day, even though people rave about it, I can’t watch it.

We need more angels watching over our children because it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. As a single mother I often struggled and felt very alone. Despite the challenges, I did my best to pass on to my kids what I learned from my own parents, because thankfully they set high standards for me. So many people don’t have that anymore.

I always told my kids, keep your eyes open, be vigilant, focus on your goals and when you fall, because you most surely will, get back up. Most importantly, don’t make excuses because that’s what everyone seems to be doing these days. There will always be a million ways to justify our behavior. Don’t give yourself that luxury, it will never lead anywhere except down. Keep going no matter what. Climb that mountain. Dodge the bullets and avoid the landmines.

Life is an adventure. I’m an artist and so are my two sons. My daughter is the practical one and for that I am very thankful. She’s a successful attorney and who wouldn’t want an attorney for a daughter? It’s been miraculous watching all of them grow and overcome in their own ways. Being an artist is not an easy road. It’s something I didn’t choose for myself and I saw this same characteristic, especially in my older son. How from a young age he was obsessed with drawing and writing. I wouldn’t wish being an artist on anyone, while at the same time, I wouldn’t want to be anything else.

I say all of this because it’s impossible to go through life avoiding the darkness. And artists experience that darkness in a unique and sensitive way. Most of the youth who ended up in my home where artists who suffered because they didn’t fit in at school where the pressure on everyone was to conform or else be ostracized, both by their peers and the school staff. They were brave and expressive and pushing boundaries, searching for more, always curious. The world needs these young people and should nurture them instead of cast them out. Especially in the barren world we live in now where freedom of speech and self-expression is being suppressed.

I’ve seen it all and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Darkness and light each has its own beauty and sorrow. Its lessons to be learned.

RIP beautiful souls. Shine on you crazy diamonds.

You can read some of my published works on this subject here: The Devil’s Playground by Karen Hunt — NAILED Magazine The SFV Interviews: Kashmir, by Karen Hunt — NAILED Magazine

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