Gerry tosses a green beach ball -- the color of a lime Popsicle -- to Anna. Although she is seated in a wheelchair, Anna is able to catch the ball, which is slowly deflating and becoming cushy, and send it back to the physical therapist.
I have joined the half-circle of six hospital patients who are participating in this mild exercise class. My friend, Louise, who has a broken right arm, is seated next to me. I am able-bodied, but am allowed to accompany my longtime friend because she threatened to skip the session to have more time with me.
After class, when Louise choses a chair for her lunchtime, I perch on her hospital bed and attempt to cheer her. The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be, Louise sings as I remove the heavy cover from her vegetarian meal. As I cut the grain burger into fourths to make it easier for her to do a one-armed grab, I remind her, you'll recover and go home soon. I am trying to dissuade her from a track that typically veers from the ditty to depression.
As our conversation continues, several thoughts hit me: I am good at this and surprisingly, I enjoy caregiving.
Then, a scary one bubbles up: Could this sense of enjoyment propel me towards a new male in need of rehabilitation rather than an able-bodied one?
What if I haven't shucked enough of the comfort and care I had bestowed on my late husband, and have leftover succor that seeks a target?
That question frightened me so much, that on the spot, I made a resolution: To avoid falling for a failing fellow, I would abstain from getting involved with any male. I would give up the idea of dating; for surely, with my proclivity for caring, I couldn't be trusted.
Just then, I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. The touch was so tender I knew it wasn't real or earthbound, but instead, coming from a deceased loved one. It couldn't be Tommy because I knew he avoids topics where other males are involved. And, I had recently gabbed with both my mother and father. So, who was it that wanted a word in on my latest vow?
"Sweetheart," came the familiar voice.
"Rita?" I said. "It's great to hear from you. This is the first time you've come down to chat since you died 14 years ago. I'm thrilled to have your presence, but why now?"
"Just because you haven't heard from me doesn't mean we're not in each other's thoughts. I notice you dream about me quite a bit. And you wrote about me in your , right?"
"You read that?" I said.
"It's an eBook, so I read it on iCloud. Loved your description of me: Rita had dark hair cut in a pageboy, eyes almost too big for her small face, earrings that overwhelmed her tiny lobes, and she wore a suit with shoulder pads that widened her slim figure."
"You memorized it!"
"Who wouldn't?" she said. "Listen, the reason for my visit is I heard you declare you were abstaining from men. Is that true, or did the words get garbled when they travelled between earth and heaven?"
Of course, it would be gorgeous, male-attracting Rita concerned about my total avoidance of the opposite sex. My dear friend was never without a good-looking, fun-loving guy at her side.
"I think it's for my own good," I said. "I realize I like caregiving. Sure, there were times with Tommy when fear and weariness took over, but generally, I got pleasure from it. I'm afraid I'll find myself back in a situation that can only end badly. Why not avoid it altogether and be solo for the rest of my life?"
"What about excitement, passion? Surely there's a spark left?"
"Rita, dearest," I said. "Up there, you're still a comely 67 or maybe younger. Down here, I'm a shrinking 75. And, I'm not only talking about height, but also libido."
"Stop, shush," she said. "That attitude is verboten up here."
"Of course, we're still horny in heaven. In fact, I've got a date tonight, so I have to say so long."
"Anyone I know?"
"Think matinee idol," she said.
"Cary Grant? Marlon Brando?"
I heard Rita's adorable laugh; and then silence; she was gone, likely primping for her date.
Instead of considering Rita's view, I chose the couch and the remote. Here, my boyfriend Netflix and I cuddled, where the only caregiving required is a switch from Cable to HDMI2.