“”You stuck, are you?”
“Yes, I don’t like the water.”
“Want to learn how to swim?”
I hate this swimming pool. Some once a week treat, standing in shivery cold water, clutching onto the stair rail as sixty whole minutes each taking sixty seconds, finally go by. And that teacher shouting at me to let go. Let go? I once did by mistake and the water lifted me off the ground. I screamed and grabbed the rail pushing my feet down until I could feel solid concrete under my heels and toes.
I hate my swimsuit, tight like a constricting snake, squeezing fat me inside. Now everyone can see just how fat I am.
I hate my teacher. She reported me to the headmistress. She told her that I wouldn’t learn to swim. That’s the first time I’ve ever had to go to the headmistress. She disgraced me. She’s not here today, so I’m going to show her and let this kind pool lifeguard teach me to swim.
“O. K. teach me . . . . Please.”
“Right then, hold your float in front of you . . .”
At the end of those sixty minutes I was swimming. I couldn’t wait till next week to see my games mistress’s face. I never did have that pleasure. The next week was my father’s funeral and, when I went back to the pool, my feet clung to that solid safe concrete pool floor.
So I couldn’t swim, so what? I left that school well qualified to follow my academic career. Being a non-swimmer didn’t touch my life. Until . . . I was going to get married.
Oh, the weeks before my wedding; the dress, the hall, clothes for my new life, utensils for my kitchen. Day by day shopping, planning, and dating. Right in the eaves of my mind a well wrapped almost hidden thought sometimes breathed at me mikvah; you have to get your head under the water. The week of the wedding arrived and I hadn’t even planned when to go. That first night of the last week before my wedding I panicked.
I have to go. How am I going to do it? It’s not just my head. How will I lift my feet up? I can’t get married, I can’t. I so want to, but I just can’t. But I did learn to swim, remember? In one hour. I can do that again. Of course I can do that again for Shalom.
So I went.
The Mikvah Lady beamed at me. “So this is the Kalah, mazal –tov, when’s the wedding?”
“Let’s go over the check list . . .”
Wrapping myself tightly in the bathrobe, I walked towards the steps.
“Here, I’ll take this.”
She pulled off my bathrobe. I held onto the rail dropping my head and curling up a bit to try to hide my exposed body. One step; at least the water is warm. Two steps, three, I can hardly hear myself think over my racing heartbeat. I reached the bottom. The water came up to my neck and I needed to hold myself very stiffly to stop myself from floating. I felt sick and woozy and terrified.
The mikvah lady stood next to the mikvah and looked down at me. “That’s it, now let go of the wall and try to go under the water.”
I let go with one hand. My body started floating. I fought for control and clung up to the wall. The Mikvah Lady from her safe position on dry land carried on smiling “Lift your feet up and put your head under the water.”
I must have made some movement because she said “Good but not quite, try again.”
I did try again and again and again receiving encouragement after encouragement. Each time she said it was a little closer but . . .
“Wait there a minute; I’m just going to fetch someone who can help you.”
So a lady, who I had never seen before, stood opposite me in the water and held my hands
“One, two, three and . . .”
We tried a few times and then, for a split second, as she let go of my hands, I managed to lift up my feet and have my head, hairs and all, under the water.
“Mazal-tov!” My Mikvah Lady said and she and my helper hurried away.
I was alone in my en-suite mikvah/bathroom. I dried and dressed myself one minute elated at the thought of tomorrow. Next minute clutched by a stomach-cramping fear at the thought of the month by month visits to this trial by water.
* * *
Mikvah night was never easy, even after I was allowed to go under only once instead of the accepted three times.
Now I too am a mikvah lady and all those who are frightened of water come to me for I know just what it’s like.