I never open my eyes, but this time I do.
It’s the bubbles. I am drawn to the bubbles from the filter, as if I need to see them up close for my immersion to count. I know it’s silly. I am not a little girl in the kiddie pool. But they have a hypnotic effect on me and I cannot help myself. I lose where I am and who I am, and in that flash of a moment, I forget why I have submerged in the first place, letting the reasons descend through the water like white flakes slowed by the glycerin in a snow globe until they hit the hard mikvah bottom in silence.
In the beginning, it’s blurry. When my eyes adjust, I put my hands out in front of me and look for the moons on my nails, that curve where fire emanated from Adam the first man, though I wonder why it wasn’t from Chava the first woman. I half-expect to witness that kind of miracle while I am down here. Instead, my eyes burn, from the boron I guess, but I don’t mind because there is poetry in knowing that something is cleansing the water while the water is purifying me.
I glimpse the corner where the tiles meet at an angle and think how complicated this bath is with all its measurements and requirements and exactitude, yet there is something lyrical in the precision, too, and in the rain water that gathers here. I used to hate rain, even a fleeting sun shower – the mind-numbing staccato of it, the thunder and lightning, how it soaked everything and kept me indoors. Once I heard a rabbi talk about how rain is a blessing and I still wasn’t convinced. Then I walked with my husband before he was my husband through the Old Town of his city during a downpour and the whole world became that blessed space beneath the umbrella and the rain turned into music on the cobblestones beneath our feet. Kosher.
The attendant hands me a towel to cover my hair while I make the bracha under my breath. I hope she doesn’t suspect just how much I would prefer to submerge without anyone watching and that she is not disappointed I haven’t given her the chance to say amen, because maybe I’m being selfish in not sharing the words, preferring to keep them between me and G-d. Still, I want to reassure her that He has my undivided attention for the duration of the blessing since there is a good chance she can hear the loud drama unfolding in my head where only holiness should be while I’m in the water.
Next, I start to imagine the noise in her mind – whether her children will be in bed when she gets home and if her husband remembered to take the cake out of the oven, the one she must have prepared right before coming here since she has the sweet, floury smell of baking on her when she enters the room to guide me into the water. Back in I go, my head filling up with all the rules of this place, the rules of getting ready and the rules of counting and the rules of checking and the other rules of intimacy with my body, knowing its ticks and tocks and exactly where every wrinkle and spider vein resides. It’s exhausting, really.
Yet isn’t it something there is a blessing for everything and sanctity in everything and I hope my boys loaded the dishwasher after dinner and put away the food so I won’t lose the peace that has taken root beneath all of this head-chatter, that anger won’t fill me up when I come home to find my house a mess, because while it is on me to keep our family pure, it should not be on me alone to clean the kitchen. It is quite possible, I realize, the attendant is thinking the same thing. Kosher.
I’m embarrassed because I’m long overdue to get my hair colored and I’m certain she notices the grey splotches on the top of my head, though I briefly consider that she must also have something she wants to hide, some corporeal secret of her own I would never judge her for if our roles were reversed. I drop in deeper this time, catching a wayward cluster of hair, pulling all of me lower and lower, as if I’ll be that much purer the closer to the bottom I go.
Finally, I close my eyes and imagine I am floating just above the floor of the ocean. I emerge untarnished – lithe and youthful and alabaster like Venus from the sea, my skin unmarked by age and worry, my abdomen unetched with a detailed map of child-bearing. I question when my body will say it has had enough and I will no longer have to come here, and whether I will feel emancipated from a burden or empty without the consistency of it, bereft of this private way of clocking time.
I stay down a few seconds longer before I come back into the air, the last kosher a gentle gasp of wind. I wipe my eyes, breathing like it’s my first time tasting oxygen. The attendant blesses me and I wrap the words up inside my robe before I prepare to head home, avoiding the watchful eye of the oversized, 10x-magnifying mirror on the vanity. I have seen what I need to know of myself beneath the waters, and I don’t want to spoil the view.