I’ve done the math. It’s not hard. Married twenty-three years. 23 *12 = 276. Less one pregnancy, so 276 – 9 = 267. Two-hundred and sixty seven. I have been to the mikvah approximately 267 times.
Numbers. Why does everything come down to numbers? I don’t like numbers.
I’ve read the books, gone to the shiurs, listened to the mussar (Have you heard about the Russian women who were given ice picks as wedding presents to break the ice so they could dunk in the frozen rivers, their children born nine months later with telltale rosy cheeks?). I’ve dragged myself out of the house when the last thing I wanted to do was, well, drag myself out of the house.
I’ve answered my children’s questions over the years. The toddler who woke at the slightest noise, screaming “Momma, come.” “No sweetie, go back to sleep,” I reassure as I leave the house in darkness. A bit older, he asks “Momma, where are you going?” “To a meeting,” I tell him. He seems satisfied when I offer that explanation. Later I would tell him I was going to do a mitzvah. He seemed to like that one the best and eventually caught on to, well, the rhythm of a monthly mitzvah. Let’s just say that the questions stopped when he eventually realized exactly where I was going and why.
Questions. Why so many questions? I don’t like questions.
I’ve made the appointments. That’s how it’s done here. The number on speed dial when speed dial was a thing. Now, the number in my contact list. But really, the number preserved in my memory, like the phone number of my best friend from grammar school.
I’ve heard the voice. “You have called Mikvah Ataeret Yisroal,” it says. The voice is familiar. Soothing. But then the voice is gone and so is she. A death in the community. Sad. So sad. Then a new voice. Equally familiar. Equally soothing. I leave my name, my number so they can call me back with an appointment. I’m sure they recognize my voice by now. After all these years, they must know my number by heart. Is it preserved in their memory? I leave it anyway.
I’ve looked on enviously. At the women in the community who have no trouble getting pregnant. At the women in the community whose eyes glow with the light of their Shabbos candles all week long. All week long. I want them to know I go. Not only that I go. That I have struggled with this mitzvah. Struggled until there was no joy left in it. I want them to know that I have stood on the edge of the mikvah and cried. Not for any deep, spiritual reason, Rather for the absence of one. I go. Yes, yes, I go. Every month. Every. Single. Month. But I don’t know why. Yet I continue to go. I never miss a month.