It's here, under Costco's fluorescent lights, that my culturally disparate, non-verbally affectionate relationship with my mother flourishes. We share neither fluency in the same language, nor an ease with physical displays of affection, but we do share an affinity for food.
My mom might hug me just once a year, but her regular, hearty preparations of seafood risottos and kimchi bibimbap offer me a comparable rush of serotonin. The complex layering of ingredients and hours-long prep times replace most families' verbal showcases of love.
Costco -- a warehouse packed full of mutually comprehensible stand-ins for common interests -- supplies props and a stage to the theater that is this deeply felt, albeit seemingly cold, exchange of familial love between my mother and me.
We tag team our first sample station of the day: pizza bites. We take turns grabbing two samples each. I'm still six years away from telling my mom I love her out loud, but I sneak her enough appetizers today that she must know.
My mom is on the same page. I know this because the next item that Tetrises into our cart is a 36-count box of Haagen-Dazs. "I love you too, Michelle," the freezer whispers into the air before the suction doors close. She probably finds it hard to keep track of my fickle taste in clothes, music, and friends, and much easier to remember my penchant for dessert. Other kids get bags of carrot sticks, my mom loads up on ice cream, happy for the rare opportunity to demonstrate her keen understanding of my preferences.
I watch her push the cart around at a snail's pace; she stops at every aisle, and I can't make out the limp that Polio left her with when she was a child. One leg is shorter than the other -- the reason for which I'll only learn later in my early 20s, when I start to live on my own and become curious about the pre-Michelle lives my parents once lived -- but here, on this day, in the camouflage of Costco, no one has to know.
She's momentarily normalized, which is a shameful relief.