I drag my suitcase through customs and enter the Vienna airport lobby. It has been almost an hour since landing. I check my phone for messages again. Nothing. I can feel the headache creeping in. I put the phone in my pocket and scan the crowd for Dad. It's impossible to miss him. He is towering over the travelers in the hall, tall and robust. He has gained some weight since the last time I saw him. He gives me a bear hug and for a fleeting moment, I am a little girl again. Then I think to myself, that's how you know you're adult. When hugs don't fix things anymore.
"How was the flight?" Dad asks.
"Long,” I answer.
"I'm sorry, honey,” he says in a soft voice and I know he is not talking about the flight.
"Yeah, me too," I mutter.
"I wish it was under different circumstances,“ he continues, “but I'm so happy to have you home for Christmas.” He gives me one more squeeze and takes my suitcase.
We walk past the shops that blast 'All I Want For Christmas Is You.' The headache gets worse.
We make it to the car. It is dark and crispy outside. The air is filled with the scent of fresh snow and the all-embracing joy of holidays. I take a deep breath. It is good to be back. The chill is not the wet and humid kind that penetrates your flesh and shatters your bones, like the one I left behind in New York. This one wraps you gently in an icy veil and exhilarates your senses. I get in the car and pull my phone out. Dad glances over quickly, then goes back to paying attention to the road.
"Do you want to call him?”
I hesitate before answering.
We get out of Vienna and drive through the countryside towards my hometown. I am staring out of the window, looking at the snow covered hills. Houses are puffing smoke through stone chimneys in silence, their windows sparkling with flickering Christmas lights.
It's been five years since I was home for Christmas. In all those years, December would leave a gaping hole in my heart. New York shimmered and glowed in the flood of ornaments, carols, flashing reindeers, electric angels and laughing Santas. I was a stranger in that world. But now I am home.
Tomorrow we will go to town. We will visit the Christmas market and walk from one vendor to another, their goods displayed in little wooden sheds, their faces bright and red from the cold wind, their hearts filled with warmth that can't quite reach their freezing fingers and toes. We will buy a cup of hot spiced wine, cradle it in our hands, craving the heat, then feel the liquid burn its way down to our stomachs. We will cheer to people's good health, not knowing their names or age. We will stretch our hands out to catch the snowflakes, our palms heated from holding the steaming cup, and snowflakes melting in them instantly.
"We are here." Dad says and I open my eyes. I look up at the windows on the third floor. The lights are on. Dad takes my suitcase and we walk up the stairs. Mom is waiting at the door, her arms wide open. I hug her. I am surprised I haven't started crying yet. We step inside and I sit down on a sofa. The stain from my coffee spill is still there, five years later. Some things last. I look at the shelf where my parents put my wedding photo. It is there, but facing the wall.
"What's that about?" I point to it.
"Well,” Mom frowns, "I was going to throw it away, but Dad said I should leave it and let you decide. So he turned it around, you know, in case the picture would disturb you." In that moment, I love them more than ever.
"You guys are so silly," I laugh. Tears finally fill up my eyes. I get up, look at my phone one last time, then walk over to the shelf and take the picture. In two weeks, I have to head back to New York and sign the divorce papers. Right now, I am home for Christmas. I walk to the trash bin and toss the photo.