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 roman a clef, 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."

"You mean..."

"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.

From Third Wheel to Driver’s Seat

As I skipped from table to table at the bar mitzvah luncheon last weekend, I felt a novel emotion. Although I wasn’t paired up like my friends who were attending the same celebration, I lacked any sense of third wheel.

I felt no envy, no mad desire to be coupled, simply a feeling of being comfortable enough to chat with strangers who were seat companions, in the buffet line, and anyone who caught my interest.

This was a very different experience than my previous episode of singleness. After my divorce from my first husband, and before my marriage to Tommy, I relished my freedom for a bit, but then wanted desperately to be paired up. I hated being the gal left at the ballroom table to keep an eye on purses while couples danced. I yearned for a man on my arm, so I would better fit in with my married friends.

The Chicago Reader was the of its day and I found several men to date. In the auditions, I was impartial. Fellows who I would’ve ignored if I weren’t so nauseatingly needy, would get at least one date.

Of course, that was 23 years ago and I have grown up since then. And although I have, on these pages, admitted eyeing men at the gym, I just don’t have the same pathetic ache, which I attribute to several factors:

*I really enjoy the studio apartment I have chosen to replace our home. Although only 615-square feet, at my petite size, it feels like a perfect fit. There is no space for a roommate and his stuff.

·      *At bedtime, I use a pillow as a stand-in for my late husband. In spoon position, I tell him my day’s activities. While this lacks an audible response from my proxy, I can easily imagine his voice and sweet goodnight. Schmaltzy as this sounds, it totally lulls me to sleep.

           *During the luncheon I described in my opening paragraph, I witnessed several friends who were either full-blown caretakers of their spouses, or were struggling with the impending role. Their plights reminded me of the last years of Tommy’s life when I was an around-the-clock caregiver. I have to selfishly admit, I am not eager to reenlist for the job, which, at my age, is a real possibility.

·      *Except for a few long-time friends, most of my crowd is single. If I want companionship, a phone call, e-mail, or text message can usually find me a delightful sidekick. And this pal is likely to be agreeable to my choice of event or menu.

·      *Although I no longer own a car, I have learned how to travel throughout the city and suburbs via public transportation. For example, here’s how I got to the aforementioned Skokie bar mitzvah: I caught the Brown Line at the Merchandise Mart, exited at Kedzie, took the #93 Foster bus to Dempster, and then the #250 Pace bus to Central Park. Okay, it was 90 minutes door-to-door, but I had a window seat and a scenic adventure.

·      *My waking and sleeping schedule would likely deter any potential swain. And I’m reluctant to adjust my body clock just to be part of a couple. I suspect that a single man seeking a girlfriend would want his female companion to remain awake throughout a movie or play, erect on a dance floor, and conscious for a goodnight kiss.

·     * I love television. No, I mean I REALLY LOVE television. My favorite evening activity – prior to falling asleep on the couch – is to watch favored episodes on HBO, Showtime, or Netflix. This viewing is typically accompanied by feet propped on my coffee table, an ice cream dish in my paws, and a sigh of solo satisfaction. Would a guy find this alluring? Would I be forced to share my Edy’s Slow Churned Butter Pecan?

·      *I won’t change my appearance or wardrobe to hook a guy. In my earlier single stage, I wore 3-inch heels, clothing I deemed alluring, and shopped at Victoria’s Secret for the “just in case” dates. Now, I refuse to dye my grey hair, get Botox or plastic surgery, or don anything that doesn’t stretch.

Having said all of the above, if you, dear reader, were to identify a divorced or widowed male, in my age group, who still drives – better yet, at night – I might be persuaded to shift some of my reasoning. For there are times when a ride in the passenger seat, with a sweet, bright, funny guy at the wheel does sound tempting.

Jealousy At The Gym

“I thought you said you’d never get married again.” It is my deceased husband Tommy who startles me awake.

“Where did you get the idea I’m getting married,” I say. His voice, which started in a dream, shifted me from prone to upright in bed.

“I saw you at the health club. Heard your conversation with your trainer, Kim. You were asking her to introduce you to some guy.”

“I thought you hated the East Bank Club,” I said, referring to the posh fitness place I tried to get Tommy to join. “What were you doing there?”

“Keeping an eye on you,” he said.

“Look,” I said. “I’m still wearing my wedding ring and I have no intention of ever taking it off.” I raised my left hand to the ceiling, assuming the image could break through the stucco and reach my complaining husband.

As I waited for his response, I thought back to the day more than 14 years ago when he and I walked across Ashland Avenue to Service Merchandise where we purchased our $25 gold bands.  After our wedding in Las Vegas, where we placed them on each other’s finger under the guidance of an ecumenical minister and 16 guests, I never took the ring off.

“Listen, Tommy,” I said. “I don’t ever want to marry again. You are my last husband. But, would you mind if I started to date? It’s been nearly a year, and I’m beginning to feel the need for a male companion. I miss the ‘what did you do today’ conversations and a guy on my arm.”

There was silence from my celestial spouse. Although in the last years of his life I had become accustomed to his aphasia, in our imaginary conversations, I had returned him to full voice. That’s why this pause bothered me. Was he angry and retreating from our beloved dialogues, or was he contemplating my question?

“You change your mind so much,” he said, ignoring my excuse.

“I won’t debate that,” I said. I counted on my easy agreement to let me off the hook.

“I heard you tell your daughters and your friends you were glad you rented a small apartment because there’d be no room for anyone else in it. Did you mean that?”

“True,” I said. “But, I’m talking about dating someone, not having them move in with me.”

“Well, it was hard for me to hear you asking your trainer to play cupid,” Tommy said. “You can understand that.”

“Of course I do, honey,” I said. “But, I’m spending too many nights at home; me and TV. When you were alive, and we watched shows together, that was one thing. But, I’ve continued our tradition in spades. Now, with Apple TV and Netflix, I’m more tied to the set than ever.”

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked.

I smiled as I recalled our evenings on our two couches. Each of us stretched out, watching our favorite shows night after night.

“No, honey, you’re right,” I said. “I loved every minute of our marriage. And I know I’ll never find another guy who wants to sit home and watch TV with me.”

“Well, it seems like you’re trying hard to replace me,” he said. “I also heard you asking your two lawyer friends to keep an eye out for a single man your age.”

Now I was rankled. Tommy disdained my health club in favor of his plain YMCA. Oh, he liked the golf center all right, and he enjoyed running its track on winter days. But when I posited joint membership, he turned up his nose. Now, it appears I can’t get him away from the place.

“Okay, you’re right,” I said. “I did ask Jimmy and John to keep me in mind. I’ve known both of them for years and they’re my same age. I thought they’d be good matchmakers.”

“They’re both Jewish, aren’t they? Is that what you’re looking for? Finished with Gentiles are you?”

“No, no, honey,” I said. “I didn’t specify a religion. In fact, I wouldn’t mind someone who’s not Jewish. You and I were in-tune, despite our different faiths.”

Another pause from above, had I convinced Tommy of my innocent need for a companion, and not a husband? Had he retreated to his heavenly home, contented he would never be replaced?

Then came that voice that I can still hear clearly. “Listen, sweetheart, I’m really just teasing you. It makes me happy to hear you’re thinking about dating. That means you haven’t soured on men; that my part in your life has you seeking another me.”

“Never another you,” I said.

Re-Couching the Potato

I'm on the couch watching an episode of "Castle," when I say aloud, "This is a fun show, Tommy, I wonder why I didn't watch it with you?"

Of course, there is no reply from my spouse as he has been dead for over six months. But, like many widows, I regularly engage in one-sided conversations.

I continue, "I know you're getting a kick out of me being back on a couch. They tried to pull me off, but the routines you and I treasured are winning out."

The "they" I'm referring to includes my daughters and my friends who derided my married couch-potato lifestyle. Neither Tommy nor I were partygoers or night owls and we preferred staying home, watching television on our dual couches.

It's likely they blamed my reluctance to venture out after hours to either my husband's preference and my adherence to his wishes, or later, during his illness, to wanting to be on hand for his care.

While some of this is true, I must now confess: Tommy wouldn't have cared if I left him to join friends for an evening out. On the few occasions I did this, I'd return, flop onto his couch and jokingly say, "Don't make me go out again."

"You belong home with me and the Pooker!" he'd say. Buddy, our Golden Retriever, would be tucked in next to Tommy, so I’d have to squeeze myself in between man and dog to make my silly announcement. Of course, that scenario occurred several years ago, before aphasia robbed my spouse of speech and when Buddy -- who somehow became “The Pooker” -- hadn’t succumbed to his 14-year-old canine ailments.

My life obviously changed when Tommy died. With his presence not overriding decisions, I opted to try to fulfill the wishes of They. So, I booked theater events and dinners out with friends. In long distance calls and on Facebook status updates, I trumpeted, “The potato is becoming un-couched.” At once, I was lauded by those championing an exit from my nightly horizontal TV-watching habit.

And, when I sold our house and moved to a downtown apartment, my support team concluded, “Now that you’re in the city, you’ll find it so much easier to go out in the evenings. Restaurants, theaters, movie houses all nearby.” With my interests at heart, they likely envisioned me dolling up nightly, slipping on high-heeled shoes, enveloping myself in new, not-black t-shirt and not-blue jeans clothing.

Alas, a leopard doesn’t change her spots and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Take your pick of these animal-themed cliches. After a month in my new urban lifestyle, with a vibrant city and night lights summoning from my floor-to-ceiling windows, here I am plopped on my solo couch, and even finding new TV shows to watch. I offer a few reasons:

1) I love T.V. Tommy and I had a roster of shows -- primarily police and medical procedurals, with a few sit-coms thrown in -- that I taped so we could watch them together during our 7-8 p.m. viewing. Recently, I stretched that time to begin at 6 because I added Netflix and Apple TV and am catching up on missed programs.

2) I’m an early-to-bed and early-to-rise kind of a gal. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As proof, there are black-and-white photos of me slumbering atop folded arms on banquet tables at weddings and bar mitzvahs. So, like those metal doors that seal run-down storefronts, my lids fold at 8 p.m.

3) Because I am much more active during the day, I require evenings at home to recharge. I live adjacent to a health club, and I exercise most mornings. There’s a Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and Target within walking distance. These frequent 2-mile roundtrips, accompanied by age and arthritis, demand relief.

4) I have lunch dates nearly every day. Friends are eager to see my new place,  so we’ve been booking meals at nearby restaurants.  One restaurant meal per day is fun, two is overkill.

So now, in my adorable urban apartment, with a view of the Chicago river and skyscrapers, I’m on my couch with a dinner tray atop my stretched out legs. While my loved ones might be disappointed in this turn of events, I know of someone who’s delighted. “Move over,” I imagine him saying. So, I do, and at the same time, make room for the Pooker.