I was in the shower getting ready for just another day of 8th grade when I heard on the radio that planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City. My first thought was that a little Cessna or something very small had hit. No real damage, a small hole in the side. I remember not thinking it was anything huge. Then I joined my parents in the kitchen for breakfast. NPR was on and they said a plane had hit the Pentagon. I nonchalantly said, “a plane hit in New York too.” We turned on the TV and the destruction was much more than I imagined. The towers were still standing but within minutes they were down. I missed the school bus that morning.

In every class we had on the news. We watched the towers fall all day. My school was 5th through 8th grade, there was an announcement in the morning that we shouldn’t be watching TV but teachers seemed to disregard that, especially for us older students. The administration didn’t seem to be enforcing the rule, as the TVs were on in the cafeteria. My science teacher, the class right after lunch, went on with her planned lesson. She announced that we would not be watching the news. I remember being angry at her for not letting us watch what was unfolding, although by that time, it was truly repeated footage from that morning. Looking back I am glad I had that 45 minute break from the news.

When I got home I couldn’t watch the footage any longer. My mom came home from work and turned the TV on in the living room to catch up on what she’d missed in her TV-less office. I ate at the kitchen island doing homework, trying to ignore the images that are engrained in my head, those huge towers falling, story upon story.

I went to New York City in December for my grandfather’s funeral. It was only 3 months after the attacks and the first viewing platform had just opened. My dad and I went downtown to see Ground Zero. The line wrapped around the winding streets of Lower Manhattan, with a wait time of hours. We decided to not wait, too cold for us, but instead walked as close as we could. I remember the stench, no doubt of burning metal, and the sight of a piece of building sticking far above the fenced off area.

Despite the somber mood of that trip, I fell in love with New York City. I spotted NYU in the thick of the city, that was vibrant and resilient in spite of the recent attacks. I vowed to return, to attend NYU, as an 8th grader I knew that was the school for me. That trip was the subject of my essay in my early application to NYU four years later. I started school there in 2006, five years after the attacks and my trip. It was a dream come true. On subsequent anniversaries, the bright lights would shine from the site. I visited Ground Zero again, only to find it a bustling, fenced-off construction site. I grew used to that as the status quo, warning my friends when they visited as tourists, and explaining to others when I walked by the site later as a resident of Lower Manhattan.

About a year ago I had the opportunity to go into 7 World Trade Center, it’s a beautiful building, and overlook the site. The progress they had made on Freedom Tower, the fountains, etc was amazing. I’m sad that I can’t see the final product as it’s revealed but I know I will visit next time I’m in the city. I’m sure it will be insanely busy in the coming weeks as New Yorkers and tourists alike visit the site, glad to be able to see more than just a peek through a giant fence.

I’m now back in Arizona, a newlywed, an Army wife. What does 9/11 mean to me now? That’s a hard question to answer, I think I’m still reconciling it. No doubt did the events that day shape my life. Laid-back airport security is a glimmer in the past. Extra police officers seems normal. “If you see something, say something” is almost a clichĂ©. I know that as a country we are strong and doing what we must to stay safe. I lived in an absolutely amazing city for 5 years, where I saw the strength, resilience and love the residents have for their home. I know that some of that rubbed off on me, how could it not? You can only learn from such amazing people. It also means that my new husband is still helping fight a war which started shortly after the attacks to reconcile terrorism. And while I’m not looking forward to him deploying one day, I know it will come. I can only support him every day and hope that he’ll be safe and come home in one piece.

September 11th is a day to reflect and remember what happened that day, the people we lost, the heroes that emerged. We should also think about how lucky we are to have the life we do today. Yes, there have been some changes in travel and extra security in other aspects of our life, I feel that we are living pretty similarly as we were before. I’ve lived about half of my life in a post-9/11 world and that boggles my mind, but I’m glad to have the life I have and the wonderful people in it.

There are a few events going on here, hopefully I can make it to one. It’s a day that has shaped our future and we will never forget.