I was in the midst of finishing a Deepak Chopra 21-Day Abundance Meditation Challenge my friend Tanya started, when a bit of tragedy struck.
On November 29th, Matt and I were returning from Thanksgiving in Chicago on a four-hour flight into LAX. We finally landed around 11:00 pm and as Matt is prone to do, he immediately pulled out his phone and turned it on. I always give him the side eye for this because I feel he does it before the lady says it’s okay to turn on electronic devices, and then I berate him for not being able to just sit, take in his surroundings and passenger people watch (as I do), rather than have his nose in his phone.
Thank God he turned on his phone.
The first text he received was from a friend that said, “Call ASAP. 911”. Unusual. Strange. We looked at each other and thought maybe something could be going on with her husband.
I quickly turned on my phone to a text from my brother that said, “Call me when the dust settles.” I’m like, “What dust?”
The next text careened us into a vortex of which we have not fully emerged nearly two weeks later.
Now, we all react to things differently, right? We are different people and that’s what makes us tick in this world. Remember this as you read on.
My brother’s next text said “Tina has been shot.” Tina?! My breath got caught in my throat, my stomach dropped, I slumped forward in my chair with my head smashed against the scratchy seat in front of me and I wanted to throw up. Matt cradled me and we were in “Oh my God” mode on repeat while trapped by all the passenger people.
The next text was, “And your dog Vivian is missing.”
When I tell you Matt read that and jolted backward in his chair and ricocheted off it, I’m not fully exaggerating.
I stared at him like he had two heads.
If you’ve ever done the 21-Day Abundance thing, then you know it’s full of all these exercises that get you to a place of gratitude toward all the feels about yourself to help you realize how amazing you are so that you can go out into the world and start killing it. One of the exercises teaches you to not judge others. Because when you judge, you’re not in a loving place of compassion but in a rude place of lack.
I was trying really hard not to do that because my guy and I are two unique beings in the cosmos trying to live our best life but I couldn’t help myself so I yelled, “Matthew! Calm down!”
We couldn’t get off that plane fast enough and once in the open terminal, I pulled to the side with my suitcase and started to hyperventilate. Because while trapped in the plane, I was literally constricted to keep it together and I was focused on trying to keep Matt calm, but once I was in open space, panic had room to swell and it hit me hard. So while Matt was swirling around like he was possessed, trying to communicate on the phone with his sister who was in town from Colorado to visit us and was picking us up, I was holding onto the handle of my suitcase wishing I had a brown paper bag to breathe into. We were a mess.
Somehow we pulled each other together and made it outside to the car. The three of us sped (as best you can in LA traffic) 30 minutes downtown to where the incident had occurred.
Even in chaos, the universe acts in mysterious ways.
My friend Tina is a goddess of light, and once again, I’m not exaggerating. So, when I received another text from Crescent that said Tina was stable and not to come to the hospital because the waiting room was AT CAPACITY of all our friends who were there to support her, it was a blessing because otherwise I would have had to make a Sophie’s Choice of do I go to the hospital to support my friend who’s been shot or support my fiance’ and our dog who was now lost for five hours, alone in the dark in the big bad jungle that is Downtown LA? Matt of course would have supported me either way, but I was initially torn between who needed me more.
And thus began our Tina Vigil and our search for little Vivian.
For seven full days she was missing. We did everything we were told to do in order to find her. Flyers. Flyers in English and Spanish. Flyers in plastic sheathes so they don’t get ruined. Go to the shelters – every day. Post on NextDoor, post on PawBoost, post in Facebook Groups in Downtown LA, in Lost to Found, in friend groups. Post on Craigslist. Talk to the homeless. Make a scent trail. (That was the hardest because Vivian was lost in a neighborhood unfamiliar to her and in a place that was industrial, transient, collegiate and corporate. Anything but single-family residential. There was no, “Make sure you put her bedding outside in your yard so she can smell her way back home.” There was no yard. But we tried. During one day that we walked we tied ripped-up pieces of Matt’s t-shirt to parking lot fence railings and street lamp bases hoping her little nose would find the strips and lead her back to Tina’s place, the last place she’d known as home.)
We were out for twelve hours the first day and eight the second and posted nearly 100 flyers. Matt’s exercise app thing said we walked almost fifteen miles. Matt’s sister was there right along with us. A dog mom and a human-child mom, she not only knew what we were going through emotionally, she also knew time was of the essence and she spent her entire two days of visiting us out in the streets of LA seeing the muck of the city rather than any of its tarnished glitz.
I visited Tina on the second day and once I saw her face and heard her voice, I felt so relieved. She was her beautiful smiling self, which was comforting, but her eyes were cloaked with knowledge that her spiritual temple would be forever changed by a foreign object that had burst through her. Still, healing was her focus and I left her knowing she would.
We got our first real break on that same Day 2 which came in the form of a 10:30 pm call from Harvey, a car salesman at the Kia dealership on Figueroa. He was with a customer and had seen Vivi dash across Figueroa, red leash in tact. Thanks to flyers posted outside his job, he called immediately. That night we jumped out of bed, drove the 20 minutes from our flat in North Hollywood to where he saw her and walked the streets calling her name until 1:00 am.
We came home with nothing but more anxiety and sadness.
On Day 3 we hit the streets again, this time focusing on the homeless population. We knew this population had their eyes and ears to the street, quite literally…someone had to have seen her! It’s already in my nature to see people who are invisible to others, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to step into the sphere of someone’s street home to ask for help. Yet, I felt a bit of a hypocrite approaching people because I needed something, rather than the other way around.
We went up and down the encampments between 17th & Figueroa up to 23rd & Main, calling out hello to those who would answer and handing out flyers to those who’d pop their heads out to accept.
At the St. Francis Shelter for homeless and low income, on a block full of tents and make-shift shelters, we came upon a woman waiting for services. She was taller than me, black, about 20 or 30 years old and had a truly wonderful smile on her face. She told us, “I just got some good news today.” I took a moment to assess where she might go with this, and if she was on my side of crazy or her own and once I determined I could engage, I did. I said, “Oh, that’s great!” and smiled the smile you make when you want the person to tell you more, but you don’t want to intrude. She continued, “I just found out I’m pregnant!”
I swear to you the wind was punched out of me same as if she’d suckered me with her fist. I have a void in me that I’ve yet to figure out how to fill (a dog doesn’t do it completely), so I have to fight against my reaction when I get news like this.
I disappeared and pulled the emergency rip cord on my Hyper Peppy-Peppur Doll and she took over like Chatty Cathy. I watched myself give her a hug and ask all the questions I’d ask anyone else, “Did you know? Could you feel it?” (Yes!) “How’d you find out?” (Clinic around the corner). “Is your guy happy about it too?” (Yes! He’s right there.) She pointed to a guy waiting for her in the street and said he was her boyfriend. There were two guys waiting, one in some kind of a wheel chair and one not. I asked, “Is he happy about it?” She nodded yes and Hyper Peppy-Peppur Doll promptly strode over to the guy not in the chair and shook his hands in congratulations. If I’d a had a cigar, I woulda given it to him.
Matt and I handed off our Vivian Lost Dog flyer and left. As we walked away, the doll deflated, the smile I’d plastered on my face melted off and a burst of sadness howled from me. I was jealous. I was mad it wasn’t me. And then I … I had to stop myself.
Matt gently asked, “Are you alright?”
I wasn’t. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I didn’t want him to see how bad I felt.
I couldn’t stop those initial tears that rushed out, but I did stop myself from continuing. Because, 1) I didn’t have time to spiral; not now. I was still a dog mom with a dog to find. 2) Did it really make sense for me to be upset? NO. I was going to a pain that was familiar and pain can often feel good, like for those who cut themselves. I lived in that pain for most of 2018. I didn’t need it anymore, so I chose to be happy for that young woman (like Deepak taught me) and then I had to swipe her from my mind with a swift swipe right (like my therapist taught me). She had her own life to live, and I had mine.
By Day 4, I was exhausted. We’d received a sort of ransom call from some Deep Throat guy that said we’d better negotiate a good reward or he’d keep the dog. (False). We’d had a hugely hopeful lost-dog photo match on an app that had us rushing to the Lacy Street shelter only to go through the kennels in the soaking rain to find out the dog that looked like Vivian online was in fact a male. Besides the ransom call, we’d heard nothing which meant she was dead in the street or someone had her. Either scenario meant we didn’t.
Matt needed to keep active. To keep putting up posters. To keep searching online. After that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad shelter let down on Day 4, I told him we’d done enough for the day and I needed to go home. He told me later that he couldn’t believe I was giving up. He resented that I wouldn’t do more for Vivi. I explained that repeatedly searching wasn’t exactly helping. I needed space to think. Space to mediate. Space to imagine. Space to visualize her running down the sidewalk to us.
I focused my energy on Vivian returning, Matt’s mind’s eye could only focus on her cold and dead in the street. We became Ying against Yang, night and day, hot and cold, black and white. Real.
Matt would falter between moments of extreme grief to panicked despair. All with wrecking effects to my mid-western guy. He usually isn’t one to show extreme emotion, (as I do) so to see this guy in the state that he was, was jarring. Therefore, I was left standing in the bedroom, staring at a stranger, and not being helpful.
Around Day 5 or 6, I told him that I didn’t know who he was. I shouldn’t have said that. I hurt his feelings. When my dad was going through a hard time several years ago, I told him he seemed like a shell of himself. What dad heard me say was that I thought he was a shell of a man. Two very different things, but my words bit into him hard like that time when our other dog, Molly (a pit mix), chomped at my face when I tried to take her bone away. I don’t think he has fully forgiven me and it has been years. I hope Matt doesn’t take as long.
Nonetheless, through all of this, I was starting to learn something else.
Tina and I are friends and spiritual sisters because we believe in the moon and the stars and the powers above. We believe in good energy, karma and positive thinking. We both reject the negative. She is on a constant spiritual journey and I am constantly seeking the good in people and things. We see cosmic signs in everything, from a tangled string in the street to a receipt totaling $3.33 (because three is a FANTASTIC number; I have two brothers and the three of us make the perfect Zodiac trifecta of Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer. When I see a three, I have immediate comfort because I think of my brothers and that fills me with love and a moment of peace.)
This kind of stuff — along with whatever spiritual faith you have, carries you. It holds you UP in times like these when you truly feel like you are drowning out of control and being pulled into the depths of an LA drain like a piece of garbage during a surprise flash flood.
I’m not saying I was the pillar of strength through all of this, but I had a dreamy well from which to draw and Matt, who is a die-hard realist, had reality. And reality was sucking pretty hard.
Matt and I are very different people. I learned I had to respect his process and not compare it to my own. I learned he loves our dogs. I love them too, but he loves them in a way that is connected to his soul and it was literally ripped out when he learned Vivian was gone.
On Day 7, our amazing dog trainer, Adriana Barnes, who is a very spiritual woman, a noted dog whisperer and had already hit the streets with us earlier in the week for hours, was the key factor in helping us retrieve Vivian from a young homeless man who found her under the 110/10 HWY underpass. Adriana believes we grow through pain and that this experience was there to help us prepare us for something greater (she thinks for the two-legged family Matt and I will have one day; for Tina to have an even stronger mind and body, and for the young homeless man to be helped or reconnected).
It was also on Day 7 that Tina’s recovery took a major turn that allowed her to be released. She is a real trooper and by the way, she needs our help. Being randomly shot sorta changes your life in a way you would never expect or be prepared for, no matter how magical you are. She would never ask for help, so our community and her tribe have started a Go Fund Me. Please support here and by clicking you’ll get more details of the actual incident as that part is her story to tell.
Let’s just say the universe and God and whomever else had their hands on Tina and Vivian. They are survivors in their own way.
Vivian, at 1.5 years old, a puppy, took care of herself on the streets. She was found only a few blocks from where we had been searching, but where we hadn’t. Matt beautifully tells the full story here and here (why we now call her “Viv the Shiv”).
Vivian also brought us to some new friends who have been added to our lives. For them we are grateful, whether they posted a flyer, lent an ear, shed a tear with us or shared a coffee. They each taught us some unique life lessons.
With a few stitches and a day to recover, we took Vivian around to all these Downtown folks to say “Thanks!”
Last things: I want to pay it forward and pay it back. This is not the end of our friendship with JR, Cynthia or our homeless hero. We’ll be taking them supplies and looking out for them. If you want to help too, please message me.
This event also took us to places that need our hands. Matt will start volunteering at the Lacy Street shelter and I will start volunteering at the foster care department at LA Trade Technical College LATTC. (They sent a FB message to their entire staff about Vivi.)
Thank you to Deonna, Carl, Karimah, Tanya & her dog Dodger and Morenike + Kids + dog Maxi aka “Walt Maximus The 1st” for driving, walking and biking around the neighborhood to look for Vivian. Thank you to aallll the friends, family and strangers who posted, reposted, texted, emailed and called to check on all three of us. We’ll never forget your kindness.
And our Tina. Keep her in your healing prayers. She can walk about fine, but breathin’ free and easy is another matter. Send every beam of light that you can. She will receive it.
Thank you for reading and being a part of this journey.