Every year since we got married, we've been going to her folks' place for Christmas.
The rain splatters on the snow unrelentingly. The sound that comes from the impact reminds me of the dull thud that comes from a knuckle tapping acrylic. The snowfall's heavy this year; 4 inches. Or maybe that's just me. Everything always seems heavier these days. I've certainly gotten a little heavier.
We would leave our house in Oregon for Colorado by 7am the week before. The day we left on depended on how early I could take my leave from the office.
I lift my duffle bag and place it where it belongs in the bus' passenger cargo wordlessly. There's not much in it; just a few change of clothes, toiletries and… And a stuffed toy. My heart wrenched a little at the thought of it.
After a few pit stops and toilet breaks, we would usually arrive by nightfall. She always insisted she take the wheel most of the time. Fearing for my and other drivers' lives, I never let her have it.
Taking a seat by the window at the back, I settle in for the long drive. Looking out of the slightly fogged window, I watch the lights go by in the night sky and soon enough, I was asleep. I felt her hand holding mine and squeezed back a few times. I smile as I feel her caress my knuckles with her thumb.
When we made some pit stops, we would always look around the town for an hour or two; just taking in the sights and doing some last-minute Christmas shopping.
When I wake up, it's morning. We've arrived. From the bus terminal, I take a taxi to her parents' house. The directions came easily to me. As we near her house, my heart starts beating fast and my gut twisted a little.
I brave myself and pay the driver. Stepping out and walking towards the porch, my heart keeps on beating fast. As I stood in front of the door, I froze in the moment. For a while I was unable to move or breathe, but then a warm and reassuring hand placed itself on my shoulder. I looked at the direction it came from and smiled softly. Taking a deep breath, I pressed the doorbell.
A woman who had just recently begun to look her age opened the door cautiously at first; peeking through from behind the door. I gave a little wave and weak smile. Seeing who I am, her mouth dropped open slightly before fully opening the door to give me a tight hug; as if I would disappear if she ever let go.
I hold her just as tightly. This is her mom. We've been rocky the first few weeks me and her were together but eventually she let up and we've been great ever since.
An older man who had more gray hair than I remembered came in through the doorway to the livingroom; asking his wife who it was. Upon seeing me, he parroted his other half's initial reaction and joined in for a group hug. This is her dad. Me and him got along great from the start, despite his wife's initial dismay of me.
"It's nice to see you again; Mom, Dad." I say, a tear threatening to fall out of my eye.
She's no longer with us now. But I can feel her presence with me wherever I go. She puts me at ease when I'm lonely or anxious; just like how she did when she was alive. I keep some of her ashes with me in a bottle around my neck. Somehow, it always manages to keep me warm and make me feel safe.
"We didn't think we'd see you this year."
Every year, we go back. We haven't missed one yet. And we're not gonna start now.