I was four years old the first time I saw them.

I was standing on the hill at the top of Mary Street holding my grandmother’s hand peeking through the leafy maple trees to see the Twin Towers in the hazy distance. She was pointing them out to me explaining that they were even taller than the Empire State Building. I looked on in awe. I was already excited for the next time she’d take me to New York because I knew she would make sure I got to see them up close.

Nearly twenty years later, squinting into the sun, I posed 110 stories above the city—my city. As I waited for my then boyfriend to take the picture, I smiled thinking how much fun it was to play tourist with him. He had never been to New York and we spent our first weekend after college graduation seeing the sights. That relationship eventually ran its course but I still cherish that picture with my youth suspended in time and my whole adult life ahead of me.

Thirteen years ago, driving past the New York skyline, moving van behind me, I pointed out those stunning towers to my boys, promising them a ride to the top and a beautiful view of a city they had never visited.

Just two weeks later, I watched in horror as those towers, shattered by hate, collapsed to the ground. My city was now broken and scarred and forever changed. The loss of life was unimaginable, the pain was palpable and yet the courage and resolve was awe-inspiring.

It took us until Christmas 2001 to finally take our children on that promised trip to New York City. It broke my heart as they looked around, just three and five at the time, and asked me if any of the building were going to fall down. “Not today,” I told them,” not today.”

Today, our kids, now teenagers, are becoming quite the New Yorkers. They know which coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants, shops and neighborhoods they like to visit. They look forward to each trip and on the way home they list what they want to do the next time.

I work in the city—my city—every day. As my train passes the skyline, I think about those towers that once stood with the dull ache in my chest always just below the surface.

I relate to New York City in a more symbiotic way now because like her, I too was broken and shattered. And though I still bear the scars that forever changed me, I have grown and evolved—much like my city. Both of us no longer naïve—we are now more aware, more vigilant and more protective…and ultimately stronger. We survived.

1986 LHS graduate, Jennifer Pellechio Lukowiak, is the autor of “Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald?” To read more about her, click HERE.