Their is a set rule in the Scott household: Always, no matter how you feel at that particular moment, say "I love you" at bedtime.
Why? Because life offers no guarantees.
"You don't know if I'm going to wake up tomorrow or not," Eldrie Scott would tell her 15-year-old daughter, Arnise. "So every night, we have to say 'I love you.'"
And they did, even (especially) on those rare days when there had been friction. If, God forbid, something were to happen, that would be the last words said between them.
But the last words Arnise said to Eldrie last Sunday night — amid the panic, the 911 call, and the mad dash to the hospital — were "Mommy, I can't." That wasn't the way it was supposed to be, and Arnise certainly wasn't supposed to be the first to go.
"They were taking her to the stretcher, and I noticed her feet were dragging," Eldrie said. "I said, 'Arnise, walk.' And the last thing my baby said to me was, 'Mommy, I can't.' I'll never forget that."
Thirty-six hours later, after all attempts to save Arnise's life had failed, Eldrie and Anthony Scott let their daughter go. They asked the doctors to remove her from the life-support machines that had couldn't reverse the effects of a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.
"We were praying for her to live and walk out of that hospital," Eldrie said. "That was my plan — 'You're going to heal and walk out of that hospital and I'll still have my baby. I never once would think that a 15-year-old girl could be taken to the hospital and not come back out. I mean, she had her life ahead of her."
A clear path
Most kids fly by the seat of their pants or change directions with the breeze. Arnise Scott, still not 16 years old, had already mapped out her future.
Step one: Graduate early from Bethel High School, where she was a 3.51 student and a regular on the Honor Roll. Step two: Enroll at the Riverside School of Health Careers, where she would become a registered nurse. Step three: Enroll at the University of North Carolina, where she would study to become an anesthesiologist.
"I mean, she had her life planned," Eldrie said. "She knew the day she'd get her learner's (permit). She knew the day she'd get her license. When we went to Riverside and she met with the head of the school, he told her what her prerequisites were. She went back to her guidance counselor to plan it out."
School was always her thing. If she ever had to miss a day, be it the flu or whatever, she hated it. And fought it. From her first days in elementary school, she always read above her grade level.
"When she was in the seventh grade, she wanted a dog," Eldrie Scott said. "And my husband doesn't like dogs. So she said, 'Dad, if I get straight As, would you get me a dog?' And he was like, 'OK, if you get straight As, I'll get you a dog.'
"And she did it. I don't know where she got this from, but she named the dog David Jones Scott. Why, I don't know. We nicknamed it D.J."
Arnise played field hockey her freshman and sophomore years, and she came out for the Bruins' soccer team this spring. New to the sport, she impressed Bethel coach Steve Midlik with how eager she was to learn. She was named the starting goal keeper, a job she treasured.
"She was always great, even during conditioning," Midlik said. "At every practice, she worked hard. She earned that starting goal keeper position."
On April 17, Arnise was in the goal against Phoebus. During a flurry of activity outside the net, she jumped on the ball and assumed the fetal position. But, as she later told her mother, someone inadvertently kicked her in the head. That caused her head to hit the post.
Arnise didn't tell anyone and played the rest of the game. Afterward, some of her teammates mentioned it to the trainer, who immediately examined Arnise and called Eldrie. The next day, Arnise went to her family doctor, who Eldrie said diagnosed a mild concussion.
"He told her, 'I don't want you going to school,'" Eldrie said. "She was like, 'I have to go to school, I have an SOL I need to take.' So the doctor wrote her a note and told her, 'If you get a headache, a dizzy spell, anything, I want you out of that school.'"
According to Hampton City Schools' concussion protocol, athletes may not return to competition without a written medical release from his or her doctor and trainer. Arnise missed the Bruins' next four games, which she took about as well as she did having to miss school.
On Friday, May 2, Arnise went back to her doctor's office. Her regular physician wasn't there because of an injury, Eldrie said, but another doctor examined Arnise. Pending the trainer's OK, she was cleared to play in Bethel's next game, which was the following Monday at home against Oscar Smith.
That was perfect, because Eldrie had Monday off. She normally doesn't get to see Arnise's soccer games (Anthony goes) because of her work schedule. Arnise and Eldrie celebrated by going to see a movie.
On Saturday, Arnise went to visit her grandmother. She drove over — she has her learner's permit — but said she didn't feel like driving back. Eldrie found that curious, given how much her daughter loved to drive, but Arnise swore she was fine.
On Sunday, the family went to church and took communion. They made dinner, watched TV, and had a great night. Anthony went off to work. Around 10:30, with a big day ahead, Arnise turned in.
I love you, Mom.
I love you, Arnise.
Around midnight, Eldrie heard a horrible scream coming from Arnise's bedroom.
"Mom! My head! My head!"
Eldrie ran to her and saw that Arnise had thrown up on her bed. She was in agony, unable to say anything except "My head!" Eldrie dialed 911 and called a neighbor over to help. The ambulance arrived, and they were off to Sentara Careplex Hospital in Hampton.
But just as they were pulling into the parking lot, Eldrie heard one of the paramedics scream from the back: 'Make a U-turn and go to Riverside now!"
When they got there, Eldrie was told Arnise had experienced a seizure. A brain scan detected an aneurism, a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. She went into surgery, which doctors initially believed had fixed the problem.
"I was like, 'Thank you, Jesus,'" Eldrie said. "When she woke up, we'd find out if it did any damage. But a couple hours later, they came back and said, 'We have to rush her back in. She's bleeding.'"
A few hours later, Eldrie was told her daughter was showing no signs of brain activity. Knowing the end was near, she summoned family and friends to the hospital.
"Around 11:30, Tuesday morning, I called everyone in and we had a prayer," she said. "I talked to the doctor and said, 'Before I release my baby, can you do the test one more time?' So he did the test, the third test. He said, 'Ma'am, if I see just an inkling of life …' but there was not.
"I laid down beside her, and me and my husband just stayed there for a few minutes. I said to her, 'Arnise, you've got to let me know if I need to let you go.' She didn't move. And I said, 'I got it. I release you now in the name of Jesus.'
"As a Christian, we don't want anyone to die. But I know there's a circle of life, and I know there's life after death. When I say I released her, I had to let her know that if she was trying to stay around for me, she had the freedom to say it's OK to go to Heaven."
An obvious question: Arnise was diagnosed with a concussion on April 17 and died from a ruptured cerebral aneurism on May 6. Was there a connection?
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. The manner of death — accident, natural, etc. — is still pending.
That might help conclude whether the concussion played a role. But J.A. Smith, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Riverside Regional Medical Center who specializes in sports concussions but did not treat Arnise, said it's "extremely rare" for a concussion to cause a ruptured aneurysm.
'Peace in the middle of no peace'
Eldrie's brother works at Bethel and had been keeping the administrators informed. The final bulletin was a shocker.
In his worst moment in 14 years as an athletic director, Ray Smith broke the news to Arnise's teammates Tuesday afternoon. In 2003, while coaching tennis at Hampton Roads Academy, he had been devastated by the death of Stacy Philips from cancer.
This, while equally tragic, was different.
"With Stacy, I sort of was preparing for that possibility," Smith said. "This caught me off guard and emotionally, I had a hard time telling them. It was pretty difficult, to say the least."
Bethel had a game scheduled at Poquoson the following day. Everyone would have understood if they canceled, but the players voted to play. The wore black arm bands with a gold 13 — Arnise's number. A moment of silence was held before the game, and instead of admission, Poquoson collected donations for the Scott family at the gate.
Eldrie appreciates that. Actually, the list of people she appreciated last week is long, starting with the ambulance drivers, the people at Riverside, and everyone at Bethel.
How does someone get through something like this? One word: support. It's been there in droves for Eldrie and Anthony, from their friends and neighbors to Bethel High School. And from New Life Church — which Eldrie's parents, Lawrence and Josephine Lewis, founded in the early 1970s.
Hundreds turned out for her memorial service Saturday morning. Eldrie never knew how many people Arnise had touched in her short life.
"Support gives you some type of peace in the middle of no peace," she said.
Something else gives her comfort — that nightly ritual.
"She knew that I loved her," Eldrie said.
Johnson can be reached at 757-247-4649.