My femurs remember holding the tension of my 10-hour workday just below my hips. My thighs were the barrier between the pain of the floor and the place where my brain might absorb it. My body held dozens of silent conversations with the floor, without my permission. After the store went out of business, I stood in the empty spaces, and feel that floor. It was the source of my memory, the part that kept me sure it had all been real.
That concrete floor was a kind of home to me. The first time we had concrete poured at the Buffalo Ranch, the people in town knew. My parents bought the Buffalo Ranch and the three of us went to live on the land that was named long before we got there, to walk in the tracks of the beasts before us. Fifteen buffalo stayed on with us for a year while their owners worked to rehome them. Mom and I fed them hay through the fence with our bare hands. Their grunts reminded me of warm comforting exchanges with my grandmother, their breath sweet with hay, and black eyes watching me through their fluffy fur.
The first pouring of concrete was our sidewalk. Until the sidewalk, mom had creatively repurposed tree rounds to create a path from our driveway to the front door of our single wide mobile home. They lay in our yard like misplaced slices of bread. They gave our home a quaint, rustic vibe, but they were not a permanent solution. The sidewalk was permanent. It was one of the first steps we took in establishing our home, that could not be reclaimed by the wilderness surrounding us.
A wooden swing and a rope swing lived in our barn above a pile of hay. Some bales were stacked, not yet ripped open to feed the livestock they were intended for. The hay pile meant endless joy for me, climbing the winter woodpile, the thick heavy rope swing in my hand. In a single move, my feet jumped around the knot and I held my breath, gravity sucking me forward. I was suspended, swinging until I chose the moment to let go and allow my small body to fling into that hay and roll into the dirt. The wood of the rafters where the rope was tied cracked, echoing off the sheet metal.
When Dad poured a foundation in the barn, and my playhouse became his business. Edwing Boats Inc. had already been growing. Dad’s wardrobe consisted of flannels and jeans that collected burns and holes from the sparks of the welding guns. Diesel and sweat were part of his permanent chemical makeup a scent he carried with him everywhere. Now the lines were drawn. If I fell on the concrete after a swing, no amount of hay could save me. The swings were cut down, the hay moved out, and I signed my name in the new cement.
When I am three, Mom decides I need to learn to read. She says I have too much energy and there are not enough places for it to go. She tells my father to start reading aloud to me. I remember crawling into his lap and looking at a large bright yellow engine manual as my bedtime story. I didn’t understand and it didn’t matter. He reads it to me anyway.
One night I bring him a book I want to read. It’s “Aladdin” and it contains fifteen chapters. Dad tells me he will not read it to me, that I will have to read it to him. “No!” I protest, but we practice every night until I do.
“When you’re in college, you’ll have to read at least 100 pages a night,” he said.
He teaches me how to ride a bike. Every night he runs behind me, a rake jammed into the bars behind my bike seat. He never lets me fall. It is weeks before I realize he is jogging behind me, no longer holding the rake. He teaches me how to drive. He gets out of the truck and places cans in the middle of the road until I can back over them perfectly. We roll down the windows so we can hear the aluminum crunch.
I brought home good report cards that got me into a state university. It was the first Thanksgiving break home from college when my father sat in the dark living room with me and cried. He told me he never finished his first semester at Pacific Lutheran University, dyslexia crippling him. I struggled to understand why staying enrolled for just 10 weeks had been so easy for me, so difficult for my father, and how it meant everything to him that I had done a thing that he could not. Tears wet his soft face until his beard absorbed them.
I couldn’t think of what to say to contain him, put him back into a form I could understand. He was my father, the man who never let me quit, by giving me space to fail until I succeeded. He was there with me, letting me know it was okay and to keep going. I know now, he needed to be vulnerable. He was proud of me. He was allowed to cry; to let go of the rake. I wish I’d put my hand on his. I wish I had told him my ladder was his ladder. Until that moment, I didn’t understand that I had something Dad didn’t. I had the foundation.
Elaina Erola studied English at Western Washington University and is an Alumni of Humboldt State University. She is currently pursuing a Juris Doctorate from Northwestern California University and has been published in the Seven Gill Shark Review, winning both honorable mention and second place for prose. She was selected for a scholarship to the 2020 Mendocino Writers Conference as well as third place in their annual writing contest for memoir. She is published in Bad Bride Magazine, The Dewdrop, and The Bangalore Review. This year she was chosen for a scholarship for a Master Class in Memoir and participated in the UCLA Writers’ Program. She is working on her first book.