Like the rest of Mercy Medical Center, the waiting room is gone.
But for the Arnold family, that space still holds an indelible memory.
Fourteen years ago today, they were gathered there, near the emergency room, awaiting a doctor’s report on the condition of 23-year-old Titus Arnold, who had suffered a single gunshot wound.
“We were all under the impression that he was in surgery or he was OK and being treated,” his mother, Vickie Arnold, said while seated on the couch of her home in Springfield’s Southgate neighborhood.
Seconds after the doctor arrived, however, Willie and Vickie Arnold weren’t asking questions about Titus’ recovery. They instead were being asked to identify his body.
“We just wanted him to wake up,” Mrs. Arnold said, “to sit up and say, ‘I’m OK, Mom.’ And we didn’t get that.”
Absorbed by the stunning turn of events, when Mrs. Arnold looked around and noticed her surroundings once again.
“The boys were gone. My girls were all screaming and hollering. I was looking at my husband knowing there was nothing I could do to give him back his best friend.
“It’s something that you never get over.”
But the Arnolds have managed to keep on keepin’ on.
A divorce and his first wife’s relocation to Seattle combined to separate Willie Arnold for years from his first son, Jason.
Then a son from a second marriage offered a second chance, and he took full advantage.
“Titus became not only my son, but my best friend,” Mr. Arnold said, “and I think it went both ways.”
Shifting his weight on a kitchen chair, he began to describe the dimensions of the crater left by Titus’ murder.
“As a man, I really don’t have a lot that I can say I’m really proud of,” he said. “My kids show the merit to anything that I’ve done.”
Titus’ accomplishments as an athlete, his performance as an athlete and student at Urbana University and his interest in being a youth counselor, all show the behaviors of a son “we never had any issues with,” Mr. Arnold said.
That Titus “accepted college instead of selling drugs as a way to go … I’m very proud of him. I could see the fruition of what I’d said to him (and knew) that he heard me.”
Then Titus was gone.
It’s still hard for Mr. Arnold to think or talk about that day.
But after enduring a loss that shook him to his core, he eventually was able to join his wife in reaching out to other parents who lost children to violence.
His work with grieving fathers has taught him two things:
1. That his own loss has, in some ways, helped him to comfort them.
2. That, in other ways, it never will.
“You never know where they are head-wise,” he said.
And he respects that.
The day a man demanded that Arnold get out of his face, “I did just that,” he said.
Arnold didn’t lash out with a protest that he was only there to help. He instead recognized that, at the moment, he could not be of any help.
“Some need to verbalize,” Mr. Arnold said. “Some need to vent in a more physical way.”
“I would never force a man to be civil. You’ve got to let those feelings flow. And they don’t flow easy.”
One thing that has helped him and his wife in moving on is the extent to which the children who hardly knew Titus, along with nephews, nieces and others who did, have embraced Titus’ spirit.
To hear them repeat the things Mr. and Mrs. Arnold taught to Titus and Titus taught to others in the family “makes me very proud,” Mr. Arnold said.
Those recollections are particularly on his mind on Titus’ birthday and on the anniversaries of his death, when many visit his graves
They are shared by younger Arnolds when they stay in Titus’ largely untouched room, playing on the king-size bed added when his feet began sticking over the end.
Some younger ones share memories of huddling together in court during the trials that followed Titus’ killing.
Titus’ fiancé and the mother of their children, Ebony Carter, who chose not to be interviewed for this story, no doubt shares them as well - and receives high praise from the family for all she has done raising their three children.
Now 14 years old, Eyrionna Arnold was 9 days old when her father was killed and knows him only through photos, videos and stories she has been told. Relatives say she does sense her loss when other children talk about their dads or father-daughter events.
Now 19, her older brother, Tavione, has a 5-year-old’s recollections of his father.
“He always was a family-oriented guy. He kept us around each other.”
Specific memories involve football games and watching his father coach one of Tavione’s cousins in football. There also are memories of dishes of ice cream served up after practices and games.
When his father was killed, “I didn’t really know what happened,” Tavione said. “As a little kid, I was wondering when he was coming home.”
Tavione’s younger brother, Ty’aaron has just two memories, “the day my sister was born, and one of his coaching days. The day my sister was born, I remember him picking me up from preschool.”
He feels his father’s absence most often on the playing field.
“Most of my friends have dads that take me under their wings in sports and stuff. I wish I had that. And when it comes to playing sports, I’m not playing sports for me, I’m playing for my dad.”
At homecoming in the fall, he shared a missed milestone by visiting the gravesite, having a picture taken at the place and saying what he often says to himself, “Dad, I just want to make you proud.”
Now 21 and a basketball player and student at Wilmington College, Titus’ nephew DaeShawn Jackson said he was playing for the Mudcats in a coach pitch league when he learned of Titus’ death.
“He used to take me everywhere he ended up going” and “always kept us around,” Jackson said.
“He would take us up to Evans (Stadium) and make me and my cousin work out all the time - all the time …. He didn’t give in to us quitting. We knew what he expected us.”
There also was family time spent playing Madden football.
Jackson appreciates “just having him around for that little bit of time, so (I’m) able to show the younger generation what he left behind.”
Like his cousin Ty’aaron, he honors Titus by putting his name and number on the sweatbands he uses on the courts and fields.
Titus’ older stepbrother, Jason Arnold remembers Titus for having “a better head on his shoulders than I did” when Jason returned to Springfield.
Brian Arnold, returned from a foster family Alabama to reconnect with the family, describes Titus as “a gentle giant, someone you could talk to” and who gave good advice.
Today, Titus Arnold is, in one sense, gone like that waiting room in Mercy Medical Center where his family gathered 14 years ago. But his memory has since that day served as a source of ever-present strength that has allowed his family to keep on keepin’ on.