Nonfiction: All the Leaving Times
Listen to podcast interview here: https://anchor.fm/melodie-rodgers/episodes/Brooke-Dupree--SOREN-LIT-Summer-issue-2021-e13i2ce
All the Leaving Times
It is the end of April, 1978.
My mother is swollen and tired as she gets into a yellow cab outside Fairfax hospital in
Virginia. Her belly is round and soft and pale, but much smaller than it was when she first
arrived. The doctors have cleared her to go home with her newborn baby girl.
My birth, just three days ago, was traumatic. The umbilical cord, wrapped around my
neck, tried to prevent me from being born, tying off my tiny throat with each thrust of labor, like
a snake contracting around its prey. A young doctor told my dad he would do the best he could,
but be prepared to make some decisions.
The mother or the baby, he’d said.
Do whatever you have to do. Just, please.
The doctor tried again. His head between my mother’s blanketed knees, he used metal
instruments to untangle me and finally, I was born. I hardly made a sound while my father held
me and the doctor stitched up my mother’s open wounds.
My mother is alone in the back of the cab my father sent her home in. Instead of going
with her to their townhome, twenty minutes away, to my nursery decorated with Winne the
Pooh, my dad went to his office. He left us, for the first time.
It is late March, 1990. I am eleven years old.
I am in my room packing a suitcase when Daddy appears in the doorway. He is dressed in
a suit, his normal work attire. It is barely two in the afternoon. I ask him if I can take my
Walkman to the hospital and he says I can take anything I want. Daddy hugs me tight and asks if
I am okay, and I say I don’t know.
God will never give you more than you can handle, he says, and he leaves the room.
Earlier that day, the pediatrician confirmed my mother’s suspicion that my blood sugar
was too high. The doctor ran some tests and called my mother at our house.
She definitely has Type 1 diabetes. Bring her back to the hospital so we can admit her.
My mother called my father and he came home right away.
After I pack my Walkman and my diary and my pajamas, I am in the front seat of my
mother’s white BMW and I can see my dad’s grey Mercedes in her side view mirror following
us through the narrow streets of Hilton Head Plantation. The sun makes shapes of shadows
through the pine trees that line the sides of the road. I am wearing a blue shirt and shorts that
match, one of my favorite outfits. I feel confused because what are you supposed to wear to be
admitted to the hospital? We arrive at the house of a family friend who has agreed to watch my
younger siblings, Brad and Katie, while my parents take me to the hospital.
My dad does not get out of his car while my mother walks Brad and Katie to the front
door. I watch Brad and Katie go into the friend’s house as my mother steps lightly down their
front stairs as the other mother closes the front door.
Dad follows us to the intersection of Highway 278 and the exit of Hilton Head Plantation,
except, where he is supposed to turn left, in the direction of Hilton Head Hospital, he turns right.
I watch his car, again in the sideview, only this time I can make out the silhouette of his face.
Why is he going that way? my mother asks the passenger side window, the frustration in
her voice replacing the panic and fear from earlier.
I can’t answer this, so I just watch his car disappear on the other side of the trees in the
The light turns green and we proceed left, on to 278 by ourselves, and when the woman
at the front desk directs us where to go to be admitted, I wonder if my dad is going to know
where to find us because since I am only eleven years old, I think he is coming to us right away.
While I am being admitted, given an IV with fluids, and asked countless questions by the
nurses, my mother stays with me and holds my hand while I cry. After several hours we are left
alone in the small hospital room. I flick the remote. My mother checks the hallways. The
window is black and I can see my reflection in it. I have been visited by many doctors and nurses
and I am now in my own pajamas and I have not been allowed to eat. I have been given several
shots of insulin. Earlier while I used the bathroom, my IV slid out of my arm and blood squirted
out everywhere. I had never seen this much blood before and I panicked. My mother stood over
me and pulled the cord to notify a nurse. The nurses inserted a new IV sticking me all over again,
and I cried, again and kicked my feet, and said, to no one in particular, “I want my Dad!”
Suddenly, while I have the remote to myself, my father appears in the doorway of my
small hospital room. He looks big to me against the yellow wall paper and the metal door and he
smiles at me and I smile back and hug him back and smell his cologne on his suit.
My mother does not smile. They leave the room together and I will later learn that a nurse
had to ask them to leave the hospital because their shouting and cursing could be heard by other
patients down the hall, furthest from my room.
My mother stays with me that night and I do not see my father at the hospital again until
the next day when he brings Brad and Katie to visit and flowers and a new book and a teddy bear
and a New Kids on the Block, Hangin’ Tough poster and a Bart Simpson poster -- Don’t have a
cow man! – and doesn’t apologize or acknowledge that he left me alone there.
It is June of 1990. I am now twelve years old.
It is only three months after my diabetes diagnosis. My mother stands at our wet bar in
our kitchen and I watch her as she turns her back to us, me, Brad and Katie, and tries to hide her
tears. Her back hiccups and she looks straight ahead, her chin high, as if the tears won’t fall, as
long as she looks up.
We are leaving through the front door to get into my father’s car waiting for us in the
driveway. He is taking us to his three-bedroom condo three miles away in Skull Creek Marina,
for the very first time, where he decided to live during my parent’s separation from each other.
Earlier that day, my sister had asked what she was allowed to bring to “Dad’s place,” a term that
will stick to weekends and every other Christmas like burnt plastic.
Brad and Katie are ahead of me out the front door, so I turn around to close it. I glance
back in the direction of where I’d seen my mother crying, but she is gone.
It is October of 2008. I am thirty years old.
I am being wheeled out of MUSC Hospital by a nurse in a white coat and squeaky white
shoes. My husband is waiting for me in the car out front. Our daughter was born here three days
ago, but she is not with me. She is in the NICU, her skin is mustard yellow, and as of a few
minutes ago, she is sleeping soundly, wearing nothing but a diaper and heart monitors on her tiny
chest. She is in a small incubator getting what Travis would later call a suntan, because she needs
ultraviolet lights to help the excess bilirubin exit her body.
The day after I gave birth to my daughter, my dad had brought me a dozen pink and
white balloons to congratulate me. The nurses wouldn’t let him bring them into the maternity
ward, so he had to leave them at the front desk of the hospital. As we are leaving, the nurse rolls
my wheelchair right past the balloons, floating there. I am so distraught over leaving my baby
girl behind, I don’t notice them.
Somewhere between the hospital and our friend’s house in Charleston, I remember the
balloons. My husband shrugs his shoulders at the unfortunate mistake, but me, I worry my dad
will be heartbroken that I didn’t even get to enjoy them, floating there in all their pink and white
fluffiness of welcoming a perfect baby girl into the world, after her being delivered by
emergency C-section, seven weeks before her due date.
It is December of 2011. I am thirty-two years old.
Travis and I take Caroline to Hilton Head to celebrate the Holidays. We have just
finished dinner at Frankie Bones and returned to my dad’s house to exchange gifts. I am in the
small bathroom in the hallway, nearest my father and stepmother’s bedroom, washing my
hands. I am wearing tights that match my gray sweater dress. I can hear my dad and Debra in
their bedroom, as she changes out of her heels and dress.
“Can you just pretend to be happy, for one night, Patrick?” Debra says.
“You need to enjoy this, Patrick. Brooke and Travis don’t get to bring Caroline here often
you know. Besides, it’s Christmas.”
“I know,” he says, and his voice is low and strained, and without being in their room, I
know what this scene looks like: him, sitting on the left corner of their bed, one leg on each side,
shoes off, his socked feet rubbing the carpet. He is probably staring at his hands. It is the position
he always takes when he is sad; childlike and shameful.
I stand at the sink, pretending not to hear, trying to hear, wishing not to hear.
“Caroline is so cute, isn’t she?” he suddenly says, and I can hear the bed squeak, knowing
he has stood up. I busy myself with the hand towel, straightening it and fluffing it, and then
straightening the soap dish, the candle, the little ceramic flower. I hear the door to his room
squeak open and I can hear his socks padding the tile floor from his bedroom. I’m still
pretending to fluff the hand towel.
Before I turn around, preparing to greet him as if I know nothing, he walks past without
noticing me, and I am relieved by this. I pause a minute, creating distance between his arrival at
the Christmas tree where Caroline is waiting for him. I worry I have just heard a definitive nail in
his coffin, his depression and sadness, having been all too obvious at dinner and in several phone
calls and texts over the last several months. He has told my brother that he can’t afford to pay
him for helping him out at his office of his real estate appraisal business and told me he didn’t
want anything for Christmas because he didn’t want me spending any money on him. It’s not
worth it, he’d said. I have everything I need. Don’t waste your money on me.
Me, Brad, Katie and Dad take a picture with Katie’s phone in front of the brick fireplace
in his living room. We are all grinning and smiling and are still red faced from the bottle of wine
we shared together. It is the picture I will post on Facebook for several months after his
memorial service, and the picture that I will blow up and frame and it will stay on the glass table
in my living room in Myrtle Beach.
The next morning, instead of making a point to talk to him, I focus on Caroline and
packing the car. But when it is time to leave, I cry on his shoulder in his kitchen as we say
goodbye, something that surprises us both. He hugs me so tight, I think I might not be able to
breathe. He whispers in my ear, “I love you so much, Brookie, so so much,” and when he kisses
me, he misses my temple because I have tried to move away and he loudly kisses me on my ear
This is the last time I will ever see my father alive.
It is February of 2012. I am thirty-three years old.
I am in a hospital room in Hilton Head Hospital. I am sitting in a chair, holding the hand
of my father, lying unconscious in the bed. He is covered with a white sheet and his toes are
sticking out from it, a bluish-purple color. His hair is dirty, his face is stubbly from not having
shaved in four days, and his skin is ice cold. A ventilator is assisting his breathing and his eye are
He is here because four days earlier, my stepmother found him lifeless on their bedroom
floor, white foam seeping from his mouth. When the paramedics came, they jumped his heart
back into a weak rhythm and brought him here by ambulance. My stepmother found about a
dozen empty pill bottles on his dresser.
The neurologist ran tests and brain scans and determined that my dad had no brain
activity. His kidneys and liver are already shutting down and he is beyond the point of being able
to be saved. I am here to say goodbye and I don’t know what to say, except, I love you and I’m
sorry and I will miss you and I forgive you and I’m sorry and I wish I could have helped you and
I love you and Please, Daddy, why?
Several hours later, a nurse takes the tubes out of his throat and he stops breathing on his
own. I watch the color drain from his face, until the sheet lying on top of him is thin and papery
and his skin is gray as putty.
This is it, I think. He’s really gone this time.
Brooke Dupree's BIO
Brooke Dupree is a future memoirist and an English instructor at Greenville Technical College in
Greenville, South Carolina where her passion is teaching entry level reading and composition.
Brooke has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of South Carolina, a Masters in
Writing from Coastal Carolina University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens
University in Charlotte. She enjoys spending time with her family and drinking wine with her
friends. Brooke lives in Easley, South Carolina with her husband and daughter.
Listen to podcast interview here: https://anchor.fm/melodie-rodgers/episodes/Brooke-Dupree--SOREN-LIT-Summer-issue-2021-e13i2ce