by Cassie Seinuk
One night I went out to walk my dog, placed my foot on the step outside my door, and tripped, stumbling down four concrete steps, landing heavily on my left arm. The pain was sharp, and loud, and I knew something was broken, especially when I tried to stand and couldn’t. After a long night in the hospital, my husband and I anxiously waiting the x-ray results, I found out that I had not broken a bone – I had broken six bones – five in my right foot and one in my left elbow. This would be the beginning of a very long recovery. On top of it all, my play From the Deep was heading to the New York International Fringe Festival, and I needed to be able to travel, climb stairs, and navigate the city. Here I was in the worst pain of my life, confined to a wheelchair. There was no time for me to stop and recover. But I had to listen to my body, and give myself space to heal. It was a bumpy road, and not at all how I planned my New York premiere to be.
I was about to face an already difficult challenge of producing my own show, and I was going to have to rely on others for nearly everything. I couldn’t walk, stand, or climb stairs. I couldn’t get dressed on my own, bathe on my own, or comb my own hair. I needed help cutting my food, opening doors, and getting into my car.
As an able bodied person for my whole life, I had taken these small tasks for granted, and now my helplessness was hitting hard. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I’ve always had a hard time with lack of control. As a survivor of abuse, feeling like I have control of my body has been something I’ve struggled with, but it is deeply important to me. Not only was my lack of control highlighted by my fall, but suddenly I had gone from being perceived as a strong, confident person, to someone who was fragile and in constant need of help. I felt this more around men and strangers. People were constantly asking to carry me up the stairs at the theater or train station. No, thank you! I was determined to go up those stairs backwards on my bum, hoisting myself up with one arm and one leg like a lopsided crab. I didn’t want to rely on others, nor did I want to feel like a child being carried – let alone allowing strangers to touch me. And the more people asked to help me, the smaller I felt. I wanted to crawl inside some dark cave, and not come out until I was healed, until I was me again.
Ten weeks after I fell, I started walking again, carefully and with a limp. It was freeing, it was great, but I still felt I was holding on to the feeling of being small, of being helpless, of being trapped. My second day on my feet the teachers at my school, Kesher, and I went across the parking lot for a field trip to Mayyim Hayyim. I had been to a mivkeh before three years ago, the Friday before my wedding. I come from a Modern Orthodox family in New York, though I lead my life steeped in pluralism and egalitarianism now. There was an atmosphere to the mikveh in my home town that made me feel uncomfortable; I felt judged. That mikveh felt very clinical, and without spirit or kavanah (intention) behind the rituals. It was quick and awkward and I was done – never to return to a mikeh, that is, until I visited Mayyim Hayyim.
This past month I went to Mayyim Hayyim not only to participate in the monthly immersion, but mostly to use one of their rituals for beginning a new life chapter and healing. I wanted to shed off these feeling from my fall, the feelings that remained in my gut and heart lingering after this small, but potent, suffering. I also wanted to ask God for healing, to not only heal my bones, but my spirit. Each part of getting ready for immersion at this mikveh came with an instruction card, and each instruction told you not only what to do but what to think about, what intention to have, and how to find the beauty in each step.
The beauty of looking at my own eyes as I removed any makeup, the beauty of my hair as I combed it out, and the beauty in being happy with myself and body as I am. This was not the cold, sterile experience I had before my wedding. This was peaceful, relaxing, and inspiring. I left the mikveh that night feeling excited for my life post-fall, and the emotional pain felt lighter. I now look forward to my next mikveh visit, finding power not only in the renewing waters but in the intentions we give to them.
Cassie M. Seinuk is a Jewish Cuban playwright and AEA stage manager with an MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen from Lesley University. Seinuk’s play From the Deep is the second place recipient of the 2014 Latinidad Playwrights Award at The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, the 2014 winner of the Pestalozzi Prize for best New Play at the Firehouse Center for the Arts New Work Festival, and was a “must see” at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. She was a Next Voices Fellow 2015-2016 at New Repertory Theatre, and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. She teaches at Kesher Newton.