Whole Life Magazine

February/March 2013

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Page 41 of 43

Why I never became Jenny backwords FrIedlander O By Jenny Jedeikin n my wedding day 17 years ago, on a bluff above the Paciic Ocean in the northern California town of Bolinas, my father made a toast to the memory of my great-grandmother, Jenny Friedlander, who had been killed in 1941. There was a reason my father was mentioning his beloved ancestor. By my marrying Sam Friedlander, in my father's mind I would become Jenny Friedlander, thus sharing the name of my great-grandmother—a warm Russian woman who had given birth to 12 children before being shot before her time in Riga, Latvia. But my father didn't know me very well. I never did become Jenny Friedlander, because I never wanted to take my husband's name. In fact, we divorced six years later, but our partnership, forever entangled in the care and charge of our two growing daughters, lives on. I met Sam Friedlander in the early 1990s while performing stand-up comedy in New York City clubs. We were both working out new and old material in uptown dives and downtown low-rent haunts. He was half-French Moroccan and half-Russian Jew, and liked to wear a long, bright yellow raincoat in the winter, like the man in Curious George. I knew we were destined to share more than a few years when he told me on the irst morning we awoke together that from his vantage point on the opposing pillow, he could see large pores inside my ears. He was a comedian, after all. Our union was made more auspicious when we realized we both had Jewish ancestors from Riga. It was a creative partnership. Yet, six years and two children later, when we moved to Marin where I grew up, I shocked myself and my entire family by falling in love with a married suburban woman who had two kids of her own. I moved into her spacious home with my two young daughters, though Sam and I continued to share in their upbringing. Four years later, I woke up on the loor of Sam's apartment. It was Mother's day, and my girlfriend had thrown me and my kids out of her house the day before. My own mother was close to dying from Lou Gehrig's disease that very day, and I was grateful to have a place to lay my head. As I contemplated my next step, I stared at the primary-colored snap-together plastic shelving buckets next to me containing Polly Pocket pieces, crushed-velvet American Girl doll dresses and peeling Lincoln Logs. To this eclectic collection I added my sunglasses, tax returns, iPod charger, journals, credit card bills and various small assorted knobs and pulleys of my unraveling life. One month later I found a house to rent nearby. As divorced parents, Sam and I live apart but raise our children together. Noting our frequent family vacations, family holiday dinners, outings to kids' games and shared feelings about our girls, sometimes people remark they've never seen two formerly married people get along so well. Yet the pain and loss of breaking apart from a good man who is the father of your two children never entirely lifts. It can't. When I pick up the kids at Sam's apartment after he's left for work in the morning, I look around the kitchen. His cabinets are so much better organized than mine. And I miss some of the soup bowls he got in the divorce, and the spicy tuna pasta he used to make, 42 BW.indd 42 Great grandmother Jenny Friedlander with two of her children. and his home-cooked meals inspired by my French-Moroccan ex-mother-in-law. I open his freezer; he always has plenty of extra proteins to cook up something last minute, and stocks up on essentials. For instance, Sam has a wealth of contact lens solution in the closet—which I often have an inexplicable urge to steal. And once, I did. But if that is truly my worst crime, I am free, I tell myself. I am living a life true to who I am. And what else could I have done? I'm not any part of the equation: man and wife. At least I can make that choice. Jenny Friedlander was not so lucky. She was never asked if she wanted to land quietly in a ditch in the middle of the forest. She had no choice. And on a good day, when I can see through the fog of my guilt to the strength of my convictions, despite what they have cost me, I honor Sam for being so generous. And maybe, I say to myself, he's that way because somewhere in the space between our shared heritage and enduring progeny lives the gracious spirit of "the woman I never became." wholelifetimesmagazine.com 1/25/13 6:35 PM

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