My husband, Col. David M. Scales, a personnel policy integrator with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, had recently moved into his new office on the Pentagon’s "E" ring in the newly renovated section.
Sept. 11, 2001 fell 11 days before our 17th wedding anniversary and 16 days before David’s 45th birthday.
Like many military families, we were geographically separated. Our son Ashton has asthma, and the east coast pollen caused him to be ill more often than well. His father and I decided it was best for us to move to a climate where Ashton’s wellness was the rule rather than the exception. That is how Ashton and I came to be in a small, southeastern Arizona town while David performed his military duties in Washington, DC. He was to retire and come home in May 2002. In the meantime, we had visits several times a year, marathon telephone calls each weekend, and several daily e-mails.
I received David’s last e-mail at 9:26 a.m., EST, on Sept. 11, 2001. I answered immediately. I would later learn that he was found with his finger on his mouse button. I choose to believe he was reading my message. That series of messages and replies remains on my computer.
I cannot even begin to describe the all-consuming terror I felt that day. Like many Americans, I was glued to the television set, my stomach knotted as I watched events unfold. I was grateful that Ashton was at school, and I prayed that school officials would not announce what was taking place in Washington, DC.
I tried to summon calmness, realizing that if he were able, David would have stayed at the Pentagon to help in any way he could. I prayed harder than I have ever prayed in my life. I waited for his call; he would let me know he was safe. He had to call me. I could not get through to him because the phone lines to his Pentagon office were not working.
The day crept by so slowly. Ashton came home from school. The students had been told that the Pentagon had been attacked, and he asked me if his father was all right. I had to tell him that I did not know, that I had not been able to reach him and that we would have to wait for him to call. My son joined me in that place of fear and dread. We hoped for the best, but were trying desperately to brace for the worst.
After Ashton went to bed, I called every hospital within a 25-mile radius of the Pentagon. I knew there could not be that many slim, red-haired men injured in the attacks, but he was not in any hospital I contacted. David’s parents and siblings had not heard from him, and there was no response to the many messages I left on David’s answering machine.
By the next morning, I knew, on some level, that David was gone. I kept Ashton home, and we waited. When the military car drove up to our home the following day with an officer and a chaplain, I knew we were in trouble. David had told me to expect this if anything ever happened to him. They told me he was missing. He was identified on Sept. 24. Many times, I felt like I was outside of my body watching someone else’s life. Certainly, this was not real.
It is now nearly one year later. It is hard to believe sometimes. As we prepare to return to Washington, D.C. for the one-year anniversary, the memories of "that day," and the time in between, come flooding back and sometimes knock us off the delicate place we call normal now. While we can say that we have survived the first year, "we made it," rings hollow. Each victim was loved and valued by someone. The terrorists did not just steal the futures of the innocent people they killed on Sept. 11. They ripped away the futures of those who loved them. We had plans. Life was not supposed to turn out this way.
Moments of joy have been few and far between in the last year. Gradually, what was so surreal has become all too real. There are aspects of our lives that are not normal, but then there was nothing "normal" about this loss. Most people who lose a loved one do not see it on the news daily, or see the loss change the way the world operates the way Sept. 11 did.
The outpouring of love and support that we have received from Americans we have never met has been so very touching, but we live life on a double-edged sword. We want people to remember our loved ones and their sacrifice. Indeed, we hope that every name and face will be indelibly inscribed in peoples’ minds. The "fish bowl" existence, however, is exhausting. The assumptions that some people make about our lives, the occasional cruel remark, leaves scars.
Our faith in God, and our belief in Heaven, ground us. This certain knowledge that we will see David again is the only thing that makes moving forward --albeit often in a start-stop fashion -- possible.
Someday, life will be comfortable again. I have come to believe that this thing called healing is another way of describing the adjustment we make to the hole in our lives -- much as someone adjusts to living with arthritis or bifocals. I hope I am wrong, but it is too soon to tell.