Moogda: A Love Story

My name is Mark J Richman, and I loved Tatiana.  She was my partner on stage as well as in life.  I wrote this story as a show so I could tell the world about this woman who won my heart and soul.


What happens when a serial monogamist finally meets a girl who calls his bluff?

I discovered at an early age, that I loved women.  All women.  To put it bluntly, by the 5th grade, I was a complete horn dog.  I tried to get laid when I was first 9 years old.  My pecker, unfortunately, just wouldn’t work.

When I finally succeeded, I could not stop.  And I developed a strong attraction for complete looney-toons.

I once dated a deputy sheriff who had responded to the Columbine shooting.  She refused to seek help for what she saw and things ended when she developed a very bad case of post-traumatic bedroom disorder.  My first wife was German.  I met her when I was in the army.  All those stereotypes about Germans being freaky in bed are true.  Trust me.  It was worth the prolonged two year divorce proceeding.  One woman even led to me being barred from entering New Zealand for 20 years.  Just the usual, guys.

Relationships come and go, but sometimes you run across someone special.  Someone so amazing that you know it the minute you see that person that you are willing to do anything to be with them.  I met that person in 2002.  Her name was Tatiana Marie Weiss.

Well, I actually met her in 2001, but she was too scared of me to talk to me for a whole year.  I was performing on stage at a number of Renaissance Faires.  This particular faire was the Oklahoma Renaissance Faire, in Muskogee, OK.

Prior to the opening of faire, I had been dating a girl named Michelle, who was newly cast at the faire.  Michelle was required to attend 4 weekends of academy prior to 3 weekends of faire.

Michelle got bored easily.  There is a lot of downtime at academy.  To help relieve said boredom, she would fill the empty spaces by letting the son of the faire owner fill… her empty spaces.

The afternoon before faire starts, we show up to check in and get our stage assignment, hotel key, and all that happy happy.  I see Michelle and ask her what we are doing that night and she tells with with no ceremony at all that we are over because she is now dating the faire owner’s son.

So, I show up to faire and get dumped.  Wow.  That puts me in a good mood.  But time will show that it is for the best.

Now, Oklahoma has a program where new performers, like Michelle, are paired up with veterans to help them.  Michelle was assigned to a beautiful young woman named Tatiana.  It goes without saying, whenever I saw Michelle I shot her a fairly crusty look.  And Tatiana thought I was so scary looking that she did not talk to me for an entire year.

Ok, maybe it should be noted that faire was only 3 weeks long and I did not see her again until the next year, but hey, this is how she put it.

Fast forward a year.  Faire is about to start again.  In the interim, one of my partners has gone away and the other wants to retire, so I need to find a new partner for the act, or I am unemployed.  Kind of hard to have a one-man sword fight.  Ok, that is not true.  Every man here solos with his sword every now and again, but not on a stage in front of an audience.  That takes real talent.

Tatiana is back performing on cast.  However, I had brought a date to the first weekend of faire.  Still, I could not help but notice Tatiana.  She had gone from playing a gypsy last year to playing a princess this year.

Timing can sometimes be a bitch.  I know I hurt the other girl when things ended.  The second weekend, I was flying solo at faire. I was determined to meet this woman who kept grabbing my eye.

A grand gesture was needed.  I wanted her to notice me from the very beginning.

On Saturday of the second weekend, I waited until her father the kind was holding court.  Now, this included knighting children and generally being a fun photo op.  Tatiana was standing outside of the castle taking a break.  Perfect.

I walked straight into the great hall and launched into a very long, rather poetic insult of the king.  He, and his entire entourage, including several patrons who figured this was just part of the show, went running after me.  I ran out of the castle very far ahead of them and dived under Tatiana’s hoop skirt and proceeded to wrap myself around her legs.  Hey, I do yoga.

I had barely gotten myself hidden when I heard John’s bellow: “WHERE IS HE?!”  I held my breath.  What would she do?

“Who, Daddy?”  You could hear the innocence dripping off the statement.

“Sir Real!  Where did he go?”  I was still holding my breath, which was getting a bit uncomfortable at this point.  “He ran that way, Daddy.”  Innocence still dripping.

Years later, as I wrote this, I kept playing the scene over and over in my head.  I know so much more about her personality now.  I can see her standing there with a big, cheesy grin plastered on her face.  Her eyebrows up and her eyes wide and innocent looking.  And I can see her batting her eyelashes after every sentence to emphasize her innocence.  I knew when she was doing this, she was hiding something.

But it worked.  They all ran off.  I let out a long breath.  She lifted up her skirt and I crawled out.  “I’m Tatiana.  Who are you?”  I introduced myself and proceeded to spend most of the rest of that day of faire escorting her around, minus my remaining show times, all of which she attended.

That evening, after faire, I asked her out for the night.  She proceeded to tell me that she could not see me that night because she had to go hot-tubbing with two other guys.  She shot me the first of many innocent grins.

I asked her if she was involved with either of these guys and she told me no.  I told her she should meet me afterwards and she noted that she would not be done until midnight.  I told her to call me when she was done.

At 12:30, my cell phone rang.  It was her.  We agreed to meet in the hotel bar for what would turn out to be bad cowboy karaoke.  We lasted in the bar for about 30 minutes and then in the hotel lobby talking about everything in our lives up until that moment.  Before we even realized, it was 4 a.m.  Far too late for her to drive back to her room.  So, the first night my Moogda and I ever spent together, all we did was cuddle and drift off to sleep to the soothing sounds of Cody snoring like a chainsaw.  It was wonderful.

Moogda was her nickname for me through most of our relationship.  I am sure you are all wondering from where it comes.  I am a performer, and I used to be a singer.  One of the things my HS choir instructor taught me was to “stretch” out my throat before I used it.  One of the vocal exercises I used to do was to stretch my mouth out wide while saying the word moogda.   Tati thought it was the cutest thing and started calling me her Moogda.  She eventually shortened it to Moogie and the name stuck over the years.  She was my Moogda and I was her Moogie.

People at faire thought she was just going to be another notch on my bedpost, but that was never the case.

What I had not realized was that she had a 9-hour drive back to Chicago after the close of faire on Sunday.  She was going on a long day and less than 4 hours of sleep.  She could not stay in town over night because she had a class at DePaul University the next day.  She was working on her MFA at the time.

I gave her my cell number and every time she felt tired, she called me and I kept her awake talking and telling her jokes to keep her laughing.  When she would feel better, we would hang up and I would wait for the next call.  At one point, she stopped for an hour at a rest stop and took a nap.  She made it; she was tired, but she made it.

The last weekend of faire, I got a private hotel room.  We did not just cuddle.  Again, it was wonderful.

When we met, we were both dating around.  After faire ended, we both broke it off with any and all other people we were seeing.  This was not because of any discussion we had together.  Neither of us wanted to see anyone else.

As I said before, she visited me about a month after faire.  It was the 4th of July.  Now, Tati loved the 4th of July. She loved fireworks in general. As she used to put it, they made her happy. I remember how she used to squeal in delight when we watched a display, and then would cuddle up in my arms.

Personally, I have never been a fan of fireworks, but Tati loved them, so I would make sure that she saw them every year we were together, even if it just meant watching them from where we lived.

I didn’t get it.  Fireworks remind me of everything I hated about combat, but she squealed in delight.  The 4th of July became important because it made her so happy.

There is a time in every relationship where you both feel it, but neither of you has quite built up the courage to say, I love you.  It takes a great leap of faith at the beginning of a relationship to utter those 3 simple words.

Tatiana was always much braver than I was.  I had quite literally jumped off cliffs, but she was more willing to take those necessary leaps off of life’s cliffs.  I remember the first time she told me she loved me.  And she was most definitely the one who said it first.

When she got shy, or unsure of herself, she would put her head down and do this weird little duck and weave with her neck.  She was so tentative, yet so matter-of-fact at the same time.  “So, I just want you to know that I love you.”

She had leapt off the cliff and sat there expectantly hoping I would leap with her.  And I did.  I love you, too.  And she smiled as if she knew all along I would say it, even if I didn’t.

Now that that is out of the way, I have a favor to ask of you.”  It kind of hung in the air expectantly.  “It seems silly, but it is very important.”  She asked me to do her a favor.  It was a funny one, but she had her reasons.  She asked that if we were to ever break up would I please not date a blonde right after her.  Not a difficult request since I am not particularly attracted to blondes anyway.  And she had a reasonable explanation.

My Moogda was an actress.  When she was young, she wanted to be the ingénue, even though she was a character actress, and would audition for parts that she would invariably lose to less-talented, mostly blonde, actresses.

She said that I was the one thing that was hers that he did not want to lose to the less-talented blonde actress.  The idea of losing me to a blonde was more than she could bear.  I told her that she would never lose me, but I promised.  And to this day, I have never again dated a blonde.

The greatest moments in the whole wide world happen when you’re on a long car trip with someone you trust.  Some of the funniest moments in our relationship happened in a car.  Especially when you are tired to begin with, you eventually reach a point where tired becomes slap happy and then the fun begins.  And that is how Tatiana and I created the religion of the KFC Buffet.

It was 2002, sometime around mid-August.  Tati was still living in Chicago.  She came down to visit me for a few days and then we drove her Toyota Camry from Norman, OK up to her apartment in Chicago.  She was part of the Revelers Guild at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I was going to spend the weekend with her, performing.

It would be a 9 hour trip to Chicago.  Want to test a new relationship?  Take a long car trip together.  If you begin snipping at each other, go your separate ways before you grow too emotionally attached.  It is not going to work out in the long run anyway.

As we were passing through MO, we saw a roadside sign for a KFC buffet restaurant near Branson.  Let me say this a second time… a KFC BUFFET.

Now, to a fat person, a buffet is like sex.  The excitement takes over and your brain disengages.  When you are with the fat person you love, it is like the food/sex Olympics.

Tatiana and I started looking for the signs.  KFC buffet, 22 miles… KFC buffet, 19 miles…  The excitement was building.  And we were a bit slap happy at this point anyway.

The KFC buffet was elevated to the status of a religious experience.  We were not going for food.  We were going to Church and we were the holy roller Southern Baptists of fat people seeking food.

As we neared the exit, I began to preach and espouse the heavenly delights that awaited the faithful at the buffet.  The promise that it held for those worthy of its reward.  To achieve the perfect crunch of the extra crispy coating followed by the sinful delight of the moist chicken beneath.

DO YOU BELIEVE?  I SAID, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE WORTHY OF THE BUFFET?  And Tatiana would throw her hands into the air and exclaim YES!  I AM WORTHY!

Give me an AMEN!

At faire, Tatiana was performing with a dance troupe.  It was wonderful being able to perform together in a more open setting and just have fun.  Everyone may want to be the king, but it is far more fun to be a peasant.

After the trip, we went back to our long distance routine.

Tatiana did not get accepted into her second year at DePaul.  It was a competitive masters, and they cut 1/3 to ½ of the students each year of the 3 year program.  One of their rules was no outside performing and they had found out about her faire work.

She called me and told me what had happened.  Then, she asked me to where she was moving.  She had no reason to stay in Chicago and wanted to know if she was moving back to California or to Oklahoma.  I was her first serious relationship.

We had only been dating a few months, and it had been long-distance to boot.  Now, this 22 year old girl wanted to know if she was moving across country to be with me.  I asked her what she wanted.  She wanted to move to Oklahoma, but only if I wanted her there.  And somewhat to my surprise, I did.  Once that was settled, she made it clear to me that she would not live in Oklahoma for more than 2 years.  Period.  End of story.

So, it was all arranged.  Her father was coming from California to help her move to Oklahoma to be with her 14 year older boyfriend.  I was finally going to meet her father.

I had already spoken with her mom on the phone several times.  In fact, once Tatiana had told her mom that she was getting serious about me, my phone rang.  I adore my mother-in-law.  She is a very forward person.  The first time we spoke, I answered my phone and she said, “So, I hear you are dating my daughter.  Tell me about yourself.”  No hello.  No, introduction.  Just right to the point.  To this day, I think that if she had decided that she did not like me, a large group of men would have showed up at my door the next day and beat the snot out of me.

We were not going to live together, because Tatiana had asthma.  At the time we met, I owned two cats.  She was worried that her asthma would be out of control is she was constantly around them and all the fur they deposited on everything in my house.

Tatiana was standing outside her new home next to a U-Haul truck.  Next to her was a large tree trunk of a man with a scowl on his face.  When I shook his hand, he just grunted a hello and turned back to the truck.  He looked very Republican.

Her apartment was in a building full of artists and was home to what could pass as close to hippies as Oklahoma would allow inside its borders.  We laid down rugs and then set up the little bit of furniture she had.  In fact, most of what we unloaded was her sewing stuff.  She had dozens of boxes full of costumes and fabrics.  All in all, it took us less than 3 hours.

Afterwards, we went to lunch at Quiznos and that is where I think Jim decided that I was someone who would take care of his daughter.  After we ordered, I pulled out my wallet and paid.  Not a big deal.  She was my girlfriend, he was her father.  Out of the corner of my eye, however, I watched him raise his eyebrows and cock his head slightly as if in thought, and then return his wallet to his pocket.  After this, he actually began to talk to me other than just telling me what needed to be moved where.  Tati just smiled with that goofy grin that I had already grown to love.

Another test of a new relationship is when someone gets sick.  About a week after she had moved from Chicago, Tatiana called me on the phone and told me that she had bronchitis and she would not be able to see me for a week.  I told her that this was crazy and as her boyfriend it was my job to take care of her.

She told me that she would be ok and she did not want me to see her when she was sick because I would break up with her.  I again told her that I was going to take care of her and asked her if anyone else had ever done this for her.  Apparently, the few men she had dated just left her to be sick when she was sick.  No one had ever cared for her.

I spent the next two weeks feeding her and keeping her properly medicated.  She mostly slept while I was at work and I would come home to find her just waking up.  We would eat and then I would watch TV in bed with her until she fell asleep again.  We got in a lot of quality cuddle time.  After that, I got sick and she took care of me for the couple days I allowed myself to be down and out.

Those first months together, we spent mostly getting to really know each other.  One day, I woke up and curled up next to her and realized that I did not want to spend the day away. So, I called in sick, I was working for the University of Oklahoma at the time, and we slept a little longer. Then we decided to drive to Gainesville, TX to buy a lottery ticket.  At this point, Oklahoma felt the lottery was sinful, so they did not have one.  Once they realized how much money they were losing to Texas and its lottery, the sin was outweighed by the greed.

We got our ticket and then hit the shops at one of the many outlet malls that dot the landscape throughout Texas. I don’t think we actually bought anything, but we held hands, looked around, and playfully chased each other up and down the lanes. We spent the rest of the day there doing nothing but being. Being with each other.

No, we did actually buy something. Each of us selected several items from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We nibbled on some of our purchased booty while we drove home. Dinner was greasy gyros and French fries at Greek House, a local hangout near the OU campus.  We went to bed early that night. That is all that needs to be said on that subject.  It was a perfect day with my amazing woman.

I remember our first fight.  Tatiana’s birthday was in the middle of October.  Her best friend throughout college, Sally, was now living in Kansas City and she and Tatiana always got together at the Kansas City Renaissance Faire on the weekend closest to her birthday.  I remember her telling me that she was going to be spending her birthday with Sally at KCRF.

She did not say we; she said she.  To me, this meant that I was not invited.  Right guys?  Ladies, please stop doing this to us guys.  If you want us to be somewhere, let us know.  It would make our lives, and yours, so much easier.

Tati said nothing when I said I would hang with the guys while she was gone.  She packed her costumes and I helped her load her car and she headed out.  A couple hours later she called and told me how mad she was at me that I did not want to spend her birthday with her.

Here I am about to be mad that she did not make it clear that I was supposed to know that I was going with her on this trip.  Yeah, I was about to champion the cause of all men everywhere about how women expect us to read their minds and just know.  I was supposed to automatically understand that I was invited.  And what does she do?  She pulls the woman’s version of the nuclear option.  She starts crying.

Now, I am no longer allowed to be mad at her.  Now, I have to comfort her and make her feel better because she is upset at my obvious lack of empathic knowledge.  And that is exactly what I do.

I apologized and told her to just tell me when she wanted me to go with her because I was a guy, and as a guy, I was basically clueless.  And at this, she stopped crying.

She arrived home on Sunday to dinner plans and her choice of chick flick.  We cuddled and celebrated her 23rd birthday a couple of days late.

We wanted to build our own traditions.  Thanksgiving became that tradition.  We realized that we were constantly on the go and surrounded by other people.  Maybe it was a bit selfish, but we decided that Thanksgiving was going to be our holiday.  Just us.  Thankful for a day alone together.

Traditions require rituals.  Our ritual was very traditional.  We always got a very large bird from the store and all the fixin’s.  Potatoes for mashed potatoes, a sweet potato for Tatiana, stuffing, a big tray of rolls, gravy, corn-on-the-cob, and a large pumpkin pie with whipped cream just as long as it wasn’t Cool Whip.  For some reason, Tatiana hated Cool Whip.

I love being in the kitchen, so Tatiana would let me take the lead and she would be my beautiful assistant, getting me spices, butter, or sometimes just playfully spanking me on the butt and running into the living room giggling while I chased after her.

We would then watch movies all day long then, she, I, and my two cats would eat ourselves into a tryptophan induced stupor that only contented fat people can truly understand.  It would all end with a nice cuddle until we fell blissfully asleep in each other’s arms.

This, by the way, was how another Richman-Weiss tradition started.  The hug break.  I highly recommend the hug break.  It is quite simple.  One person in the relationship would proclaim, “Hug break!”  Both parties would then drop whatever they would doing and throw themselves into each other’s arms.

It would not be an exaggeration to say we sometimes took a hundred hug breaks in a day.  It helped keep the fire burning.  It was one of my favorite traditions.

It was not, however, my favorite tradition.  One of Tatiana’s favorite games was something I called pounce.  Pounce is an easy game to play, and again, I recommend it to all couples unless one partner has back or hip problems.

What you do is wait for your partner to go near the bed.  You then snuck up behind them and shoved them onto the bed and yelled pounce as you leapt onto them.  Pounce usually then led to my favorite tradition.

There are variations to the game.  One is to wait until your partner is near a sofa or a comfy chair and shove them onto the furniture and then take off running to the bedroom with them hopefully chasing.  You both leap onto the bed and everyone wins.  That sometimes happened several times a day as well.

Tatiana used to refer to herself as a giraffe.  She was self-conscious about her height and liked being tall.

Sometimes she would put on heels and declare, “I’m tall!” She would have that goofy, happy grin on her face that never failed to melt my heart. I would hug and kiss her on the nose and agree that she was tall and then she would collapse into my arms. We would inevitably end up giggling.

She loved giraffes because they were tall. Whenever she wanted to brag about some great accomplishment, she would announce that she was a giraffe. And whenever I wanted to praise her I would tell her she was a giraffe.  And she would give me her big, goofy grin and immediately declare a hug break.

Tatiana always loved to spend Christmas with her family.  Since I am Jewish, I really had no problem with this.  She was very close to her family and going home for the holidays made her happy.  I never went with her, but she would always be back in time for us to ring in the new year together.

She did not do well work-wise in Oklahoma, so she did a fair amount of theatre.  I loved watching Tatiana on the boards.  I remember our first performance together as partners.  In fact, the photo of her used to advertise this show was taken that day.  It was towards the end of the day on Sunday, the last day of faire.  Tatiana was usually spent after a day that included upwards of 5 shows and improv street performing.  To this day, it is my favorite picture of her.

Her favorite holiday was Valentines Day.  Personally, I don’t get it. If you love someone, you don’t need a special day to show them. But, I am a cynic. Tatiana loved the holiday. So, that meant that I loved the holiday.

The first year we were together, I decided I wanted to get her something beyond the ordinary flowers and candy. So, after a great deal of thought I chose a personalized romance novel.

When Valentine’s Day finally rolled around, she giggled like a schoolgirl and bounced up and down when she realized that the book had our names in it. The novel itself was only about 200 pages, so it was a quick and easy read. She tore through it in a night and then made me read it. Then she made her friends read it.  Then she made her mother read it.

The next year, I got her another one. Once again, she giggled like a schoolgirl and bounced up and down. And again, she read it in a night and she made me read it and she made her friends read it… and she made her mother read it.

So, that became my valentines present to her. Every year, she knew what was coming, but not what the story would be. I thought she would grow tired of them, but she never did. I loved seeing how happy they made her.

You find out just how much someone cares about you when something very bad happens.  It is easy to be a good partner when the going is good, but you really have to give of yourself when the one you love is hurting.

Three days after her birthday in 2003, my mother passed away.  She had been sick for years with MS, but still, this was a shock.  I was always close to my mother and her death was a real blow to me.

Tatiana was amazing.  She dropped everything and drove down to my apartment.  She helped me make arrangements for the earliest flight I could get back home.  Jewish tradition is to bury someone within 24 hours of death, Tatiana hit the ground running.

She helped me pack a bag and drove me to her apartment.  She lived closer to the airport than me and I had an early morning flight.  She offered to go with me, and I was tempted to let her, but she had not yet met my family, and this was not the right way to do it.  But now I was sure that she would eventually meet them.

After the funeral, she was waiting for me at the airport and she took care of me.

On my birthday, we had another disagreement.  She used to love celebrating my birthday.  I, however, did not.  I never really have.  Not since I was 13 years old.  Every year, the negotiations began about 3 weeks before my birthday.  Can we do something?  No.  Please?  No.  Can we at least go to dinner?  Yes, we can go to dinner.  Can I invite all your friends?  No.  How about just a few?  Ok, but it is still just dinner.  Not a celebration.  Fine…  Can I buy you a present?  Yes, you can buy me a present.  I love you, Moogie.  I love you too, Moogda.

Tatiana felt my birthday should be a national holiday.  None of my holidays are the same now…

It’s 2003.  I always began my faire run each year with a small, one-weekend Medieval Faire sponsored by the University of Oklahoma.  Kind of a test weekend, really.  We had fun on stage.  She was as good a performing partner as she was a life partner.

The next weekend, we took the act to the scene of the crime.  The faire where we met.  One of my favorite Tati stories came from this weekend. Faire people are a different breed.  You have to understand that the women all wear tight bodices designed to hike their boobs up and give them nuclear cleavage.  Tati, who had nuclear cleavage to begin with just looked amazing in a bodice.

She built a nun’s habit and decided to wear it to opening main gate on the second weekend of faire.  She would wait for female guests to arrive who were showing too much cleavage and she would comically berate them for showing everything that god had given them and then coving their cleavage with burlap handkerchiefs.  It went so well, we wrote a show about it.

At the end of 2003, Tatiana wrecked her car.  Luckily, no one was hurt, but Tati was crying and was worried that I would not want to be with her anymore.  I laughed and kissed her on the forehead.  It took several hours, but we got it all sorted.

But, this meant our second big trip together.  Tati was still insured under her father’s policy so they sent him the check.  He called her and asked what kind of car he should buy for her with the money.  She asked for a small SUV.  He bought her a very used Mercedes Benz.

Tati showed me around California and showed me the mecca of all Star Trek nerds.  I got to see the iconic rock that Kirk climbed in the “Arena” episode when he fought the lizard-like Gorn.  Also, she had gone to the High School that they seem to use in every film and TV show.  In fact, lots of movies were filmed in Tatiana’s neighborhood growing up.

Speaking of movies, in Feb. of 2004, the Passion of the Christ came out.  Churches were buying out whole screenings of the movie and letting their congregations see them en masse and then holding discussion groups in the theaters afterwards.  This is actually how I got to see the movie.

One of my co-workers was part of a Baptist Church that was going to see the movie and her pastor was curious if I would come to give the Jewish perspective during the discussion afterwards.  I should have known it could only bring trouble.

There is a scene in the movie where Jesus is being led up to the hill where he is to be crucified and he falls to his knees under the burden of the cross he carries.

This is the story of St. Veronica.  Veronica, a Jewish woman, comes to Jesus’ aid and wipes his face with her shawl.  As the story goes, the miracle is that the image of his face is transferred perfectly to the shawl.

As this scene was playing out, Tatiana began to giggle.  I looked at her a moment, looked at the screen, and realized why she was giggling.  And I started giggling.  Soooooo… here is this Jewish guy and his girlfriend and we are sitting in the midst of all these Christian people trying not to giggle during the beginning of the crucifixion of their savior.

And why were we giggling?  Simple.  Ever watch Forrest Gump?  There is a scene when he is jogging where someone is trying to get a t-shirt slogan out of him.  Forrest gets splashed with mud from a passing truck and the man offers him a t-shirt to clean his face and it leave an image of a smiley face on the t-shirt.  And that is what popped first into Tatiana’s, and then my, head as the story of St. Veronica was playing out.  Not good.  Nope.  We got some seriously dirty looks after that.

In Waxahatchie, TX, we had new shows and a new way for making money.  We sold the audience water balloons at a dollar a pop (literally, actually) and let them throw them at us during the entire show.  It was fun for us, fun for the audience, and we could easily sell 100 of them per performance.

After 18 months in OK, Tatiana told me that she wanted to move to FL and she hoped I would come with her. So, we drove to Orlando for a week in June and auditioned for Disney and for Universal Studios.  We were hired to be scareactors for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.

Then, right at the 2 year mark, we moved. All we had was seasonal employment and whatever money I had in the bank at the time. Most of our belongings had to be left behind in storage, or just given away, because we could not afford a big truck.

I could have easily ended things with her and stayed safe in OK, but being with her was more important. I would not have done this without her at my age. She, however, was still young and impetuous. Life was an adventure so why not go for it.  We packed and threw things out.  I fully admit I was not near ready for the actual physical move.  It was a nightmarish 3 days of packing up our belongings and we both almost lost it completely.

On the last night, she had an asthma attack from all the dust we had kicked up.  I had to rush her to the emergency room at Norman Regional Hospital because she could not breathe.

When the person you love is suffering and there is just nothing you can do about it, it is a very helpless feeling.  You simultaneously rail against g-d for the situation and pray to him to fix things.  And this time, he did.  We got her breathing and went home to get a couple hours of sleep before we left.

Our first stop was in Dallas.  A friend there had agreed to adopt my beloved cats.

We arrived in Florida with just over three hours to spare.  We had no housing; we really were flying by the seat of our pants.  As we drove, I called my sister and asked her to find us a cheap hotel until we had time to find an apartment.

We stayed at the motel for 3 days before we moved to the same hotel where we had stayed when we first visited to audition because it was just down the street from Universal.

We lived in this hotel for about a week and then we drove right past some very nice bungalow style apartments.  Tree-lined drive, little patios in front of each unit… I was sure these started their lives as condos for snowbirds.  We fell in love with them and filled out an application on the spot.  The next day, we signed our first lease together.  It had a wonderful feeling of permanence.

We were sleeping on the air mattress that we used when we performed at faire, and had nothing but folding camp chairs and a camp table in the living room.  We were too happy, however, to care just how poor we now were.

Four days after moving in, a hurricane hit central FL.  While frightening, it was also wonderous and amazing.  Plus, we got three days of wonderful hurricane nakey time.

Tati love to make up euphemisms for things so she could talk about them whenever she wanted.  Nakey time is one of those euphemisms.  We did not have sex, we had nakey time.  When we stayed in a hotel, we had hotel nakey Olympics.  Really.  Medals were awarded.

When you are in a relationship, sex can sometimes become stale.  Sex with Tati never became stale.  Maybe because we never had sex, we had nakey time.  Try it, you may like it.  Next time you and the special someone are vacationing, forget sex.  Have hotel nakey Olympics.

Now pay attention, boys.  This is important.  Sex is an attitude.  Sex begins up to 24 hours before you are actually naked with the person you are humping.  Sex can start with something as simple as an “I love you” and a back rub in the morning when you wake up.

Sex is a phone call during the day to let her know you are thinking about her.  Sex is cooking her dinner.  Sex is showing her that she is important and worth your time and effort.

Here is another little secret that most men don’t know.  Do you want to last longer in bed?  Foreplay.  Sure, you are ready to go right away, but if you let yourself percolate for a while while she is building up steam, you will last longer.  Don’t believe me?  Try it.  And you will get that special thing that you only get on your birthday much more often.

So, for the month of October, 2004, we worked nights at Universal Studios, working as scareactors for Halloween Horror Nights, and often staying at the employee grill with other performers until the sun came up.  Horror Nights was amazing.  It was exhausting as well.  Something like this can either be the best thing ever, or the worst experience of your life.  For us, this was the best.

Next we were parade performers for the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios.  The parade did not start until the end of November, so we did not work for most of that month.  I suppose I should have been more worried about money, but I was too busy enjoying our new bohemian existence and reveling in my oneness with Tatiana.

After the new year, we started performing at a small museum dedicated to the Titanic disaster.  On a daily basis, we portrayed the various characters onboard the ship.  It was a fun job.

And it made for good practical jokes.  Nothing like taking a tour group into the room with the car made famous by the movie to find it rocking back and forth in the middle of the speech.

And, it led to another fun job.  One of our co-workers at Titanic also worked at the Orange County Regional History Center.  She scheduled performers to go to various schools and portray characters from FL history.

For those of you unaware of FL history, it includes a lot of drunk people.  And sometimes, the scripts reflected that.  Our most creative performances came from trying to make drunk, spouse-abusing couples child-friendly.  Yay!

Money was tight.  Going out was not always an option and you get tired of watching cable after a while.  One of my favorite things to do to relax is to paint.  I am not good at it and have had no training, but that does not stop me from trying.

Once, I bought two large, body-sized canvases because Michael’s Crafts was having a sale.  I had an art project in mind and Tati was feeling adventurous.

We laid down a drop cloth in the living room and then I stripped my beloved naked.  I laid one of the canvases down on the drop cloth and proceeded to cover Tati’s entire naked body with red acrylic paint.  It goes without saying that I took my time and was quite thorough.

I then positioned her over the canvas and had her press her body against it.  She then covered my body with the green paint and I pressed my body against the other canvas.  Then we took a shower.  A long, long shower.  Yay, nakey time!

Since we were broke, we explored Orlando and mostly went window shopping.  We found a great place called the Bird Store on Bumby Avenue.  One day while we were walking around the place, one of the employees asked us if we had birds.  We told her we didn’t, but we loved them so we came to visit bird stores.

She led us to a back room where they boarded birds for people who traveled and showed us a cockatoo in a cage in the corner.  This poor bird did not have a feather on her body except on her head and looked kind of like a Cornish game hen with a parrot head attached to it.

The bird was very loving and was quick to press her head against the side of the cage to let us pet her.  Apparently, Emily had been passed from person to person in a particular family and had generally been neglected for several years and just left to sit in a cage by herself all day.  As a result of the boredom and loneliness, she began plucking her feathers out until she was bald.

We used to visit Emily at least once a week.  Finally, the owner of the store offered to sell her to us for $100, just to cover the costs of her feed while she was there.  Tati’s eyes lit up and we had a new pet.

We bought a big parrot cage cheap.  And we bought a ton of toys to entertain her.  With work and love, Emily developed tail and wing feathers again.  Her chest and back and still mostly bald because of the damage from the constant plucking.  But, Emily was happy, Tatiana was happy, and all that made me happy.

We auditioned for Arabian Nights Dinner Theater and were both cast as genies.  Because they had lost someone, Tatiana had to learn her part and perform in 3 days.   We were finally back to performing together and it was wonderful.  Eventually, Tatiana also began working in the costume shop.

A job opened up for a performer at a theme park called Gatorland.  Tati was nervous about me working with alligators but told me she thought I should audition.  The first time she ever watched me on an alligator’s back holding its mouth open, she just smiled and said, “That’s hot!”  Lots and lots of nakey time.

Tatiana was now a shift manager and performer at Titanic, a genie at Arabian, and seamstress for both places.  We were also now up to three birds.  We had inherited an Amazon Parrot and a Blue and Gold Macaw from Gatorland.

And, we finally moved into a big condo.  This was the beginning of the good times.  We had struggled for a couple of years and had finally found our equilibrium.  We both had steady work and we felt like we could breathe a bit.

We also decided in 2006 to spend Christmas together visiting both families.  We planned on 3 days each in California, and then, Colorado.  Her parents rented a hotel room for us as a present and her dad loaned us a car.  The California segment of our trip was inexpensive and quite relaxing.

And Tatiana got one of her favorite things.  She loved the Sourdough Jack at Jack-in-the-Box.  When she was in college, she once made a 9-hour round trip from Chicago to Missouri just for a Sourdough Jack.

In Colorado, we finally got to meet my nieces, who my brother had inherited when he married his wife.  We were supposed to spend a night in Estes Park staying at the Stanley Hotel, but a snow storm moved in while we were there and the trip would not have been safe.  For those who don’t know, the Stanley is the hotel from the movie ‘The Shining.’  When we were kids, my parents used to take us to stay there.  We did, however, get our Titanic fix at the Molly Brown House.  Tatiana wanted to move to Denver just to be a tour guide there.

In early 2007, we learned that all good things must eventually come to an end.

About 6 months after we moved, things got bad for Tatiana at Arabian Nights.  We had found out after we got hired that very few performers left there on their own.  They were typically forced out.  And Tatiana was forced out.  By March, they had quit scheduling her for the show.

She had grace through it all.  She continued working for a while in the costume shop, but her life was hell there.  I finally told her to just quit.  She was worried about not being able to pay her part of the bills and I told her that it did not matter.  We were in this together.  Quit and I would cover what needed covering.  So, Tatiana left the world of dinner theater with a bad taste in her mouth.

And I jumped ship for Medieval Times Dinner Show and Tournament.

We moved once again to a house with a yard.  Something Tatiana had always wanted.

We also decided that we needed a vacation that did not involve visiting family.  We planned a long weekend in St. Augustine, FL.  Two nights in a nice hotel near the beach.  She loved the beach.  And, as an added benefit, we were able to get into every attraction for free because of reciprocal agreements for performers.  Basically, because I worked for Gatorland, we did not pay to visit St. Augustine.

We decided to go all out and we rented a car to drive up there.  It is more like being on vacation if you are in a rental vehicle.  We visited a gator farm and went to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and drank the water.  We also got to explore the St. Augustine Lighthouse, mostly because they had done an episode about it on Ghost Hunters and we wanted to see if it was haunted.

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States and is considered one of the most haunted.  We decided we needed to take a ghost tour.  Tatiana actually pissed off the tour guide by debunking one of the stories.  We were led to a parking lot and told it was the site of a former brothel.  There was a particular street light that kept blinking out and then coming back on again.  The tour guide told us that it was the former madame of the brothel letting people know that she was still open for business.

Tati lived, ate, and breathed theatre and its history.  I cannot remember what type of light the guide called it but my Moogda recognized it immediately.  Apparently, they had a nasty habit of going out when they overheated and once they cooled off, they came back on again.  Which is why they don’t use them in theatre anymore.  Damned inconvenient for the lights to go out in the middle of a scene.

All in all, it was a great trip.  But back to work.

In June, Tatiana found out she would now be a Stage Manager for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights.  She did not want to take the job because she was worried that I would be upset by her promotion.  I told her I would be upset if she didn’t take the job.

In August, she was still working at Titanic.  She was working the closing shift as a manager and I came by so we could go to dinner after she closed up.  It was dark as she was walking up a flight of steps to the office to drop off the manager keys and she missed a step and tumbled and rolled onto the ground.  She ended up on the ground holding her foot and crying.

The owner found the paperwork we would need and we headed off to the emergency room.  Sure enough, Tatiana had dislocated her foot.  It would have been easier if it was broken.

The doctor doped her up and gave us a reference for a foot doctor and set an appointment for us for the next day.  Tatiana was crying and was worried that she would now lose her stage manager job at Universal.  In the end, Universal was amazing and even provided her an electric cart to drive around on.  Thank you, Adam Rivest.  She opened Horror Nights and loved being a stage manager.

What do a bunch of people involved in the biggest Halloween event in the world do when they have a night off from the event?  We, of course, go see someone else’s Halloween event.  We joined a group and went to Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens, in Tampa.

Sunday morning when we woke up, Tatiana was not feeling well.  In fact, she was feeling bad enough that we took her to one of those walk-in clinics.  They listened to her lungs and decided that she was congested.  She had the history of bronchitis, so they wanted to start her on a Z-pack, which would knock it out.

She asked them about the possibility of a blood clot and they told her that it was most likely congestion.  She should feel ok in a few days.

As we were driving home, I asked her if she wanted to stay home and skip the event.  Nope.  She wanted to go.  It was our night off and we deserved a night out.

That night, we drove to Tampa and met up with just about everybody else working Halloween Horror Nights.  It was as if the Universe had known something was coming and wanted to give her this.

I pushed her around in her wheelchair and we went through all the houses, she sat and talked to friends while I went on the rides with other friends.  We saw shows and just had a wonderful evening being together.  It was an amazing night.

As we drove home, she fell asleep in the car.  She was exhausted, so I let her sleep.  I carried her into the house and put her to bed.  After a few minutes, I joined her.

It seemed like I was only in bed for a few minutes, and honestly, I don’t remember how long is was, but I heard a thump.  It sounded like Tatiana had tried to get out of bed and had fallen on the floor.  I turned on the light and went to the other side of the bed.  Tatiana was lying in a twisted heap on the floor.  I asked her if she was ok, but she could not answer me.

I started to get nervous.  I helped her up and got her to her feet and again asked if she was ok.  She said she was and kept saying she had to go to the bathroom.  I had a knot in the pit of my stomach.  Something was wrong.

I helped her walk towards the bathroom and when we reached the door, she started falling backwards.  I caught her and carried her to the ground.  I saw her eyes roll into the back of her head and I heard a gurgling noise coming from her mouth.  I was scared.

I grabbed her right arm and pulled on it while I kept yelling, “moogda!”   I called 911 and told the dispatcher what was happening.  They dispatched an ambulance.

Her eyes rolled forward again and she looked at me.  I told her I had called 911.  She was coherent again and said she would refuse transport.  I went and unlocked the front door and came back.  I told her I was scared and she needed to be checked.  I told her I loved her and could not live without her.

The paramedics had arrived.  Tatiana was sitting on the ground, mostly naked when they came in.  I got her a shirt and a pair of my shorts to wear and they waited in the bedroom while she put them on in the bathroom.

I remember talking to one of the paramedics for the minute we waited.  I had a friend who was a Fire Lieutenant.  He knew him and we exchanged a couple stories.  I think I was just trying to bring something normal to this whole, surreal event.  I also had told them what had happened to make me call them.

When she was ready, I went and got a chair for her to sit on.  She was having trouble getting up and the paramedic began to yell at her that she needed to sit in the chair and if she did not quit wasting his time, he would just leave.

I could not even think of anything to say.  I stood there staring at him and then helped Tatiana into the chair.  He checked her vitals and said they were going to transport her just to be on the safe side.

She began to protest, but I stopped her.  They loaded her onto a gurney and took her to the ambulance waiting outside.  I grabbed my car keys, locked up the house, and followed her car.  Tatiana later told me that the same paramedic yelled at her in the ambulance because he thought I was driving too fast trying to keep up with them.  Fucker.

I parked and then went into the ER reception area.  They had taken her to a room, but would not let me go back to join her.  I called her parents and gave them an update.  Her mom was worried and I could hear it.  I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be alright, all the time trying to reassure myself of the same thing.

After 45 minutes, they finally let me go back and join her.  I hugged her and told her I loved her.  She told me she loved me and apologized for being such a pain.  I told her that she was the most important thing in my life and could never be a pain.

We spent most of the night waiting.  Every now and again, a nurse would come in and draw blood or take her blood pressure, but nothing was being done to help her.  He doctor came in and told us to be patient.  In fact, the only time they spent any appreciable time with us is when I had to go make a payment on her care.  Luckily, she qualified to have most the expense covered by the hospital.

After several hours, a nurse finally came in with an ultrasound device.  She began to look at her right leg and found a blood clot.  Now, I was really scared.  Yes, we were in the middle of an emergency room, but blood clots were nothing to laugh at.  And so far, I was unimpressed with her medical attention.

The doctor came and told us they were going to give her an MRI to make sure they had found everything.  An orderly began wheeling her bed down the hall and the doctor told me I could not come along.  They told me I could wait in the waiting room.

At this point, the sun was coming up and I was exhausted.  I called in sick to both my jobs.  I was just too exhausted and stressed to wrestle an alligator, and besides, Tatiana would need some quality snuggle time when we finally got home.

They had brought her back in from the MRI.  She told me that they had given her a shot.  A blood thinner.  Tatiana was always terrified of needles and she took this one by herself.  She told me that I would have been proud of her because she was so brave.  I told her that she was a giraffe and that I was always proud of her.  She said, “I love you so very much, Moogie.”  I told her that I loved her so very much and that she was the most important person in the world.  She apologized for being such a pain.  I just looked at her and shook my head.  She wasn’t a pain.  I loved her and I was scared to death.

She smiled and then it all just changed.  Her eyes rolled back, her head fell back onto the pillow, and her tongue popped out between her teeth.  She made a gurgling noise and started convulsing.

I ran to the door and called for the nurse.  I know I must have had a panicked look as two nurses turned from their conversation and began to run towards the room.  The doctor arrived.  He had a calm demeanor and I just wanted to shake him.  HELP HER!

They started to move her bed out of the room and down the hall.  The doctor actually stopped to consult a nurse.  Tati was just lying there.  Dying.  HELP HER!

They got her into an ICU room.  She was intibated and they started CPR.  A nurse with a clipboard kept notes on the sequence of events.  Al the while, as people switched off working on her, the doctor watched, an impassive look on his face.

They wanted me to leave the room, but I refused.  I was not leaving her alone.  I would alternate between standing in the corner and kneeling at her feet, rubbing them.  Someone would call something out and the nurse with the clipboard would record it.

Someone said her pulse was widening.  I knew what this meant, but I was grasping at straws.  I asked the clipboard nurse if this was good.  She looked down and shook her head.  No.

They had worked on her for a little more than an hour, I was told.  Her official time of death was around 10 am on October 1, 2007, but she had died before that.  I stood there, stunned, unable to move, staring at her and nothing at the same time.

I had been in contact with her parents throughout the night, but how was I going to tell them this without killing them?  How was I going to tell them this without killing me?  It had to be a joke.  No.  She would wake up.  She wasn’t dead.  Just need to give it a minute.

But it didn’t matter how many minutes I waited.  She did not move.  Her eyes stared up at me, lifeless.  I kissed her and her lips were cold.

Finally, I made the call.  I do not even know what I said, but I remember her mom saying, “Oh God!” and she started to cry as she told Tati’s father.  Somewhere, the conversation ended.  Somewhere in all this, I called my bosses at Gatorland and Medieval Times and told them what happened and that I would not be back to work for a while.

A priest came into the room and it seemed that his only concern was talking to her parents about the disposition of the body.  I spoke with her mom and we agreed that, based on Tatiana’s wishes, her body would be sent for organ donation.  It was, after all, just a vessel.  Right?  The priest handed me the number of a Rabbi in the area and said he might be able to help me with grief counseling.  Then he left.

I went back into the room and laid down on the table with her body.  Finally, they came in and told me that the body needed to be prepared for transport and it might be best if I was not there as it would probably be upsetting.

I walked back into the hall.  Life was continuing in the hospital.  The staff that had just watched my beloved die had moved on to whatever else needed to be done in their day.  I stood there for a moment hoping someone would talk to me, tell me what to do.  No one did, so after a while, I just walked out the front door.

I unlocked and climbed into Tatiana’s car and began driving home.  I started dialing friends on my cell phone.  No one answered.  Finally, a former co-worker, Tom Sardinia, answered the phone.  He had loved Tatiana very much.

Even though he was driving out of state with his family to deal with his own medical situation with his daughter, he stayed on the phone with me until I made it into my neighborhood.  To this day, I credit him for keeping me alive.  I think had I needed to make the trip alone, I would have just swerved into oncoming traffic.

Fairly normal, everyday things become very surreal in a situation like this.  Right after I hung up with Tom, my phone rang.  It was the casting director at Seaworld calling to offer me a job as Santa Claus for the Christmas season.

All I could say was that I could not talk that moment because my wife had just died an hour before.  Later, I felt bad because there is just no response for that.  It bothered me that I likely ruined her day.

When I got home, I just collapsed into my chair.  I don’t know how long I sat there, but eventually, I called my dad and told him.  He called my brother, who immediately called me and told me he was flying out.  I told him not to, that I would be ok.  I don’t know why.  He arrived the next day and took good care of me.

Throughout the first day, I went about the business of telling people that she had died.  Her parents were flying out, but could not get there for a couple days, so I began making arrangements for her memorial.

We had decided to have what was left of her body after organ donation cremated.  Friends came and went from the house making sure I ate and helping me with things like music for her memorial.

Her best friend, Sally, called me that week.  They had lost contact over the years, but she had heard what happened and was going to try and come to the memorial.  I told her that Tatiana always missed her.  She told me she would call me back with details.  I never heard from her; she never came to the memorial.

On October 5, 2007, a Friday, we held her memorial on a hill just inside a cemetery in Orlando.  Hundreds of people showed up.  Universal Studios provided the tents and chairs and a lot of the food for the ceremony.  It was a beautiful celebration of her life.  Her parents spoke, I spoke, and friends told stories about her and how she changed their lives.  Tatiana never truly understood how much she was loved by her friends and how much of an effect she had on their lives.  I wish she could have seen the outpouring of love that day.

The next day, we drove to St. Augustine and sprinkled part of her ashes into the Atlantic Ocean by the old fort that was built to defend the town against pirates.  I think she would have liked that.

On what should have been the celebration of her 28th birthday, we held a second memorial in California.  I met the people who had watched her grow up.  I met friends who had not seen her for years, but had loved her and wanted to be there for her now.

Once, Tatiana and I had a really bad fight. It was so bad that we actually did not talk to each other for about 2 days. At the time, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment, so it was a bit uncomfortable. In my mind, it was a fight that would work itself out eventually and we would go back to normal.

She, however, was not so sure. It was the one time she really talked to her mom in-depth about any struggles we ever had as a couple. Tatiana was worried that we were going to break up and told her mom that she felt like she had lost an appendage that she would never get back.

It made me cry because it truly clarified how I felt about her and how I feel right now. I have lost an appendage. I have lost my conscience, my motivator, and a very large piece of my heart.

It always amazed me just how little she understood as to why I loved her. She spent our entire relationship thinking she was the lucky one when the opposite is true. I was the lucky one to have caught, and kept, her eye. My consolation is knowing that she died knowing she was loved.

The biggest question I get about her is what is my favorite memory.  My favorite memory was not an incident, but just something about her.  I loved to watch her smile. She had so many different smiles.

I remember how she smiled when she was trying to play innocent. It was a wide smile that showed a lot of teeth, while she opened her eyes and batted her lashes at me.

When she was happy, she smiled mostly without showing teeth, but it spread across her entire face and her cheeks would get all rosy.

After a particularly delicious meal, she would get a cross between the two. A closed-mouth smile and wide eyes, but then she would throw her arms up in the air in a parody to signaling a successful field goal.

She smiled when she slept. I would wake before her and just watch her. She would curl up close to me and she had just a hint of an upturned smile with her mouth hanging just slightly open. If I started to move away to get out of bed, she would make this adorable little mewling noise as if I was taking a pacifier from a sleeping infant. It made it very difficult to climb out of bed.

As for me… I live by a quote from her favorite movie, The Princess Bride: “Death cannot stop true love; it can only delay it a bit.”

Thank you for hearing my story.