I have known Tanya since she was 12 years old. She is the age of my younger sister and, over the years, she had become one of my closest and most valued friends, as well as a powerful stabilizing force in my life.
In 1994, Tanya began a seven-year relationship with Sergio, a member of the NYPD who later transferred to the FDNY so they could have more time together following their engagement. I was looking forward to attending their wedding. However, the events of September 11, 2001 changed all of this; all the expectations that we had and our perspective on them. I was told that Sergio had been on duty that day, and was missing in Tower One of the World Trade Center.
In the months that followed, I accompanied Tanya to the memorials at the inner walls of Ground Zero and Grand Central Terminal, and subsequently to Sergio’s own memorial in Flushing Meadow Park, as well as a street naming in his honor.
Tanya kept up a vibrant spirit by day, sinking into a murderous depression at night. “I had already gone through that point in my life,” she explained to me, “searching for what kind of a career I wanted, what kind of a man I wanted…and I didn’t want anything else. I was happy.”
She then told me that she had taken up skydiving and that she had bought a motorcycle. Fearing that she was on a death wish-which she was-her aunt and I decided to help her escape by taking her on an African safari. On a side trip to Plettenburg Bay we sat overlooking the warm, peaceful beauty of the Indian Ocean and wondered if we were experiencing visions of a life that she would never have. At that point, I told her, “You’re not going to find it jumping out of a plane.” I did not mention the motorcycle at all.
Motorcycles to me, at that time, conjured flashbacks to 1969 when my father took us to a drive-in movie in Lake George, New York to see a double feature-Cycle Savages and The Angry Breed. Having grown up with a psyche shaped by the media, motorcycles and the people who rode them, seemed reckless and dangerous to me, and not the kind of people your mother would approve of.
However, I knew this was at least a grounded activity and I endeavored to readjust my thinking. But I refused to treat Tanya as a victim of a terminal illness. At the risk of our friendship, I was tough with her, harsh at times in my determination to convince her that life on this earth would once again take her down the path that would lead her to happiness.
Shortly after our return from Africa, Tanya took her Honda to Miami, where she decided she wanted to live. On a ride one day, she stopped at a gas station to refuel. There she met Ray, a successful Florida contractor and a motorcycle enthusiast.
They began a friendship, which would deepen, and later lead to an engagement. They were married recently, in a private ceremony on a beach in Maui with a Big Dog Chopper waiting nearby. Tanya is 38 now, with an even bigger Honda than she had before, and a husband with two bikes of his own. They are very happy together, and are looking forward to starting a family.
As far as this type of happiness is concerned, I still don’t think you can find it jumping out of a plane. But I have learned that you can find it on a motorcycle. And I am still learning.
- Salvatore Sampino