So there I was, on the lawn between two play structures, my children taking drags of water from sippy cups and ambling off to climb and slide and squeal. My heart ached for these women who were so lonely in their relationships, who felt desexualized from breastfeeding babies, whose hormones had killed their libido. I couldn't imagine 27 months without Avy's touch—12 days is an eternity.
Every system can strangle you if you let it, and I had just been complaining to Avy about the strictures of our religious sex life. "So what if I pass you the ketchup!" I spat. "It's not going to make me have sex with you right here."
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"I kinda like having these nuances," my husband said quietly. "I miss you, but it's exciting when I can just come up behind you at the sink, lift your hair, and nuzzle your neck. Hell, holding your hand makes me want you. Would that happen if we didn't do this?"
I was quiet. Religion is hard, which is why so many people don't practice it. But there is joy in it, too—which is why I joined the thousands of ba'alei teshuvah, Jews who abandon secular life for the incredible passion that results from devotion to the Torah. And Avy was reminding me of one of the greatest joys: sex.
I am ready. I take off my clothes and fill the bathtub. After a 45-minute soak, full of peaceful reading, then scrubbing, combing, and rinsing, I am ready to descend into the mikvah's waters. I follow a woman down a silent, tiled hall until I reach an unmarked door and walk through it. Bright light bounces off the white ceiling. I take off my robe and step in until the water reaches my shoulders. I can hear my breath echo against the wall.
I go under; the water gulps. I bend my knees, burying myself in it. I emerge, and the mikvah attendant says, "Kosher."
I dunk a second time, a third time. "Kosher." "Kosher."
When I am finished, as always, I ask for a moment by myself. The kind woman who assisted me steps outside to wait. I face the wall and talk in whispers. I have conversations, but I am alone. It is my most religious moment.
"Please," I whisper to the tiles, and emerge into cold air.
Afterward, I whip off the towels and pull on the Pink, see-through underwear that rides low on my hips. I dry my curly hair until it's long on my back, paint my eyes with brown pencil. By the time I leave, I have sprayed perfume, brushed my teeth, and smoothed lotion over my newly shaven legs.
My husband is waiting at home. He's put the kids to bed, turned off the game, lit candles in our bedroom, poured two tall glasses of apple wine. I drive into the garage and, before I kill the engine, the door swings open. He is backlit by our house, our life, and he seems larger than ever, dressed in the shirt he knows I love. I smell cologne. We've been married for five years, but my heart is pounding: I am so ready to be home.
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There's no blessing over sex, but every time I go to the mikvah I think about all the Hebrew blessings: the one for the first time you see the ocean, the one for overcoming danger, the blessing for a major purchase (a house, a car, an Armani suit). There are blessings for rainbows, lightning, mountains, truly ugly or beautiful people. Each Hebrew phrase thanks God for creation, connection, and knowledge. The blessing for the mikvah is no different—it is simple and straightforward, a woman thanking God for commanding her to immerse herself. I think about how the best sex in my life has come from total immersion, and I start to wonder if perhaps all these blessings apply equally to my marriage; truly ugly, truly beautiful, the roll of the ocean over and over again until it's quiet.