My thinking for this post is freedom. What does it really mean? Because it’s tax season and tax season for me concentrates the mind. I have to think about numbers. Numbers and I do not have a friendly relationship. We are, in fact, barely on nodding terms. I don’t trust numbers. Even the word looks stupid. I don’t think in numbers. I always think numbers are out to get me.
This is an actual thing. You can Google it, if you don’t believe me. Alright, I made that last part up. I think.
So this year I made an appointment with my accountant. It’s the first time I’ve visited him on my own. Historically, my ex-husband took care of all the finances. This year I had to do it alone. Which was a little weird.
I approached with trepidation. I thought I would fail in some way because my ex husband used to spend hours and hours and hours compiling lists and charts and stuff to present to the accountant. Weeks it would go on. He suffered. In the extreme.
I set aside a weekend and prepared to suffer in the extreme. I cleared my social calendar. I wasn’t going out. I wasn’t going to have any fun.
But it turned out it wasn’t too bad. I put on some loud music, made a cup of tea and rounded up all of the stuff that banks and investment places obligingly send right to your house to facilitate this very experience. And I gathered a few receipts which was easy because I’ve been too lazy to open my mail and file shit, so it was all right there on my desk. And I did a thorough inventory of my social activities some of which are deductible. And it was a nice way to review the year and think about all the colleagues and friends who’ve stood by me, pouring wine and stuffing food down my gullet. Standing with me, week in and week out.
After I’d spent a couple of hours not really suffering, I called the cartoonist and said, hey, you wanna hang out? And he said yeah. I can’t remember what we did, but we didn’t suffer.
A few days later I took my rather patchy list of things to the accountant and said, “Sorry I don’t really know how to do this. On my own.” And he smiled and said, “That’s what I’m here for.”
So he plugged all the numbers into this document that is required by the US Treasury. And he sent me the draft and asked me to review it. And I thought holy crap. I have no idea what any of this means.
My ex husband obligingly pitched in. It means I get a refund and you owe $11,000 he said. And not only that, on top of the eleven grand you’ll have to pay an extra like seven grand for all the taxes you owe for this year.
Well that is just fucking typical. I thought. Here we have him, all Mr Present and Correct getting a refund. And me completely looking like an irresponsible idiot.
I mean, I know I dropped the ball financially last year. Mainly because I was so distracted I didn’t concentrate on things like quarterly payments and shit. I was a little more open with the purse strings. I bought new clothes and new underwear, and new shoes, and I ate out more than I generally would. I did what I had to do to get by. I think it was the patron saint of New York, Jay-Z who said: “We try to spend it all because the pain ain’t cheap.”
I spent to compensate for the pain.
But $20,000? Could I really have screwed up that much? So quickly? I don’t know much about money but I’m never in debt. Ever. I felt embarrassed. And I felt insecure. Like everything was going to fall down around me.
It seemed emblematic of something that I couldn’t put my finger on.
And like I really needed another reason to wake up at three am, my heart trying to escape my chest.
So today I stopped by the accountant’s office for another round of taxes for morons.
And he gave me all the documents and he told me what to sign and where and when to send the checks. And I looked at the numbers. And the numbers said I owe $10,000. Not $20,000.
Is that right? I asked. Yep, he said.
It’s not 20 grand?
No. He said. No it isn’t.
And it’s money I have. Lurking in my bank account because I did not make a couple of those quarterly payments. And I didn’t really overspend. Not really. You can’t break the habit of a lifetime. And I am in my heart quite frugal. I don’t need much. I drink in dive bars. I do not darken the doors of stores on Madison Avenue. I eat out expensively quite seldom. I’d rather have people over than pay somebody else to cook.
So tonight I poured a big glass of wine and turned on some music and sat down and wrote the checks. To the United States Treasury and the State of New York and to a couple of other places. I’m not sure why I have to pay a commuter tax, but I do and, just for the record, it’s $200 a year.
This is going to sound weird, but I had a great time. I enjoyed taking inventory. I enjoyed the feeling of knowing that things are not as bad as I thought they were.
I faced the numbers and I felt free.
And I enjoyed the, for me, novel notion that numbers really can tell a story.