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The view from the Rock

This afternoon, I went to the place I've been avoiding since 9/11: Eagle Rock Reservation. My neighbor and her son and I were there just a few weeks ago, on a beautiful summer night when we'd decided that it was a perfect evening to take my topless Wrangler out for a spin and enjoy the lack of a roof. We ended up in Eagle Rock Reservation, where I pointed out buildings and bridges to her son, including, of course, the World Trade Center.

I was there several times this summer, come to think of it. I took my pals Kim and Bob out there during their vacation here in NJ. Having that Jeep seems to make going up to the Reservation a lot more fun, what with driving up the winding, tree-lined road from the Undercliff Road entrance.

Today, I decided on impulse to head up that road. I found hundreds of people in the park at two this afternoon. I saw dozens of cars backed up at the Eagle Rock Avenue entrance, waiting to get in with a fair amount of patience. I saw families, singles, couples, old people, young people. The entire wall lining the mountain view was turned into a memorial, topped with candles and clippings and pictures. One young man was wearing the American flag like a cape. People everywhere had cameras, binoculars. I had neither.

I walked unerringly toward the center of the wall that faces the skyline. For some reason, the absolute center point--the area that gave the best view of New York--was empty, as if no one wanted to really be at the point where you can see the destruction the clearest. I walked, I stopped, I stared. I saw the smoke rise from the site we're all calling Ground Zero, and I felt acutely the incompleteness of the skyline view.

The towers weren't there. The Empire State Building is the tallest building in the skyline now, and it just plain feels wrong. I've lived around here all my life. The New York skyline is indelibly etched in my subconscious, and chief in that image are the Twin Towers. I always felt they were the least attractive members of the club. I would berate them to my out-of-town friends, preferring instead the Art Deco facades of the Chrysler Building or the Empire State. And yet, driving down Route 3 on my way into Manhattan during the years I worked there, or commuted nearby, I would always turn my glance to the south to take in the whole skyline, to appreciate even those ugly, boxy things.

I miss those ugly buildings. Every morning since Wednesday, I've woken up thinking, "No, it wasn't a dream." Every morning since Wednesday, I've refused to drive on any road in New Jersey that would allow me to see the destruction for myself. It isn't that I thought it wouldn't be real if I didn't see it. I just didn't want to.

Now I have. Now the tragedy is one step closer to getting my subconscious to accept that the skyline of New York is irrevocably changed. It wasn't a dream. I mourn with you, New York, and especially with the victims of 9/11. It was more than people, and it was more than buildings, that died that day. It was an image bound into the subconscious of all of us who live in and around the city, if not the world.

And yet, with the wounds so fresh and the future so uncertain, I know that New York will make the skyline right again. And on that day, I'll go back to Eagle Rock and cherish the view.--MAY