I saw Madonna in concert seven years ago. It was the summer after graduation, and I was working as a bartender at a popular bar in Hermosa Beach. Paying $125 was no small feat, but I was determined to see her. When her tickets went on sale, I tried to get them through evil Ticketmaster, but of course, the tickets sold out right away. I’d learned through my internship at a music company that tickets are often released the day of the concert, so I waited, and sure enough, tickets were released. My friend Leigh and I drove to the Staples Center 90 miles an hour, and we ended up getting tickets eight rows from the stage. TOM CRUISE was two rows behind us. It was so much fun. We danced and sang along and even though I’ve seen “better” musical acts in concert, I’ve never had as much fun as I did that night. It was September 9th, 2001.

Two mornings later, I was asleep in my work clothes when my roommate Kim burst into my room at 6:30am. I’d closed the bar the night before, getting home at 4am, so I wasn’t quite all there when Kim pointed at my still-on TV. It was September 11th. I don’t have to tell you what was on the screen.

I went outside on our balcony and turned north. We were only a few miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). We could always see planes taking off, and one of our favorite games was to sit on the balcony, watch which direction the planes would turn, and guess where the planes were headed. We always said Hawaii. Instead of seeing commercial planes, I saw Coast Guard helicopters and fighter jets. It was surreal.

I remember begging Kim and Jackie! not to go to work. Jackie! had to drive by LAX to get to her job, and Kim worked across the street from the Federal Building. They both went anyway. I called my parents’ house, and my grandma answered. We watched the south tower collapse. I started to freak out, and my grandma said, “There is a lot of evil in this world.”

Kim and Jackie! were both sent home from work, and we all went to Bella’s then-boyfriend’s (now-husband) house and we watched the coverage. We all wanted to be together. For some reason, we were very happy when we heard Katie Couric’s voice.

It occurred to me that this was going to be a defining moment. I remember asking my parents where they were when Kennedy was shot. This was what my future children were going to ask me about. I told myself to be aware of everything. I wanted to be able to answer any questions they might have. When I moved in with Mike three years later, I discovered he’d kept the newspaper from September 12. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, I figured I’d show it to my kids one day.”

When Maddie eventually asks me about that day, I will answer all her questions. It actually took me an entire year to really feel the sadness of the day. The first anniversary I was sitting at work, and I picked up the phone to call my grandmother before I remembered that she’d passed away two months earlier. That’s when it all really hit me. All the loss, all the evil.

I have so many friends that live in New York, and I cannot even fathom what that day was like for them. Walking home over the Brooklyn Bridge, being without power, the fear, the sadness, it’s mind-blowing. My friend Leigh, the one I’d gone to the Madonna concert with, actually moved to New York a few weeks later.

Madonna is touring again this fall. I have access to tickets, but I don’t think I will go. I want my memory from that night seven years ago to remain as perfect as I remember it. I refer to that concert as the last normal night. Things are so different now. Arenas, airports, everything. Just like I have to remember the events of that evil day, I have to remember what life was like before that day. I’ll tell Maddie about the bad, but I’ll also tell her about how I danced.