Even if I‘d wanted to look at him, I couldn’t have. The salad bar’s sneeze guard obscured my view, and Colin’s face was refracted through its surface. But believe me when I tell you, I wasn’t looking at him. I was focused squarely on the task at hand -- spooning kidney beans into my bowl and searching for the freshest clumps of blue cheese.
Then our story gets hazy, at least for me. For Colin, there’s no question about what happened next. For years, he has sworn that as we stood there on opposite sides of the plastic barricade, I reached a pair of tongs across the bins, a whisper from where he stood, let them linger there longer than necessary, and tonged a tomato at him. That’s right: I tonged a tomato at him.
He recalls this gesture as a come-on, one so deliberate and highly-charged he couldn’t possibly have mistaken my intentions. He says he returned to his dorm room after lunch and told his roommate of my flirtation.
“Cheryl Sternman tonged a tomato at me.”
After 18 years of marriage, as Colin tells this story, and retells it, and tells it some more, the fact that no one else in history has ever used this technique to ensnare the object of her affections never fazes him. Every time it comes up -- which is often, especially in August, the height of tomato season -- I remind him that he must have misinterpreted my gesture. That my desire that day was to procure an item for my salad bowl. That my actions were practical, mundane, and innocent. That it’s almost embarrassing that he still imbues them with so much meaning after all this time.
But he’s steadfast.
He doesn’t waver.
And in the more than two decades since that fateful day, I do acknowledge this: our story has evolved. Not because of what happened, or didn’t happen; that's over and done. But because every time I eat a tomato, a small part of me wonders if maybe he was right. Maybe I did want him that early on. Maybe I loved him already, way down in my tippy toes, in a place so hidden it was reachable only by a pair of nondescript, plastic, salad bar tongs, a pair of tongs that knew me better than I knew myself.