Numbers

Mar 28 | Posted by: Andrea Zonn |
I hate doing my taxes. I’m pretty sure we all do. But it is one of the necessary responsibilities that I face every year about this time. Funny, since every time I do my taxes, I scold myself for waiting this long. I resolve that next year, I’ll knock ‘em out as soon as January rolls around. And yet, mid-March always finds me scrambling like this.

This year has been a unique challenge in that Leonard, now 5 ½ months old, doesn’t really appreciate me spending hours away from him (let alone 30 minutes), even if I’m just in the next room. He also doesn’t seem to get much entertainment sitting next to me in the high chair, watching me dig through my file box of ’07 papers, scribbling things down on my worksheets. Besides, the allure of snuggling with him and playing with him beats the hell out of paperwork.

And so it has become my after-hours task. I put him to sleep, and get to work. All I want is coffee, cigarettes, chocolate and sex. Coffee it is.

I was talking to a friend yesterday morning about our shared loathing for tax time. The truth is, it really doesn’t take that long. I’ve got a decent system, and everything is collected and easy to get to. And yet I stretch the chore over days, even weeks. It’s not that I have to decipher complicated tax codes. I have a guy for that. I have only to present him with an accurate account of my income and expenditures.

No, what gets me is the agonizing. There’s an emotional element that seems out of place here, even ridiculous, and yet, I can’t shake it. Going back through my checkbook registers, credit card statements, and cash receipts is like purgatory, reliving each day and each decision. Would I spend that money again today? I know I would. Because I continue to like and need the things I spend money on. And then there are the unpleasant reminders – money spent at the ER when complications arose after my C-section. And like that. I consider myself a person who deals with life pretty well on an emotional and spiritual level. I don’t continue to relive those C-section complications. But looking at those financial reminders awakens something queasy and sad within me. Weird, huh?

I try to look at this history with gratitude. Thank God I was able to pay these bills, that I have a warm house and food on the table. Aren’t I blessed to have such a bountiful life? Of course I am. In my day-to-day spending reality, I practice and believe this, and yet, here in the paperwork, there’s that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Still. Maybe I just have a healthy resentment for the IRS. I don’t know.

I’m a girl who loves math. I love the absolute. The unwavering truth of it all. The satisfaction that can arise from the solution to any equation, if you’re only willing to, well, do the math. I love it for all the opposite reasons I love to cook. In the kitchen, anything goes, and experimentation rules supreme. Recipes are for pansies. But try to wing it in math, and you’ve got nothing but trouble.

My books are off. It’s driving me crazy. I don’t know how or when it happened. At some point, I stopped doing the math and reconciling my statements. I got lazy. And then I got overwhelmed. Last night, in an attempt to regain control and get every account balanced to the penny again, I found it an impossibility in my two personal accounts. I can’t emphasize enough how much this bothers me.

My checkbook started the year with a negative balance. This is not uncommon, as I try to keep as much as possible in savings, and I move funds back and forth between accounts as I need to. And if I forget, the bank does its nifty little overdraft protection trick to keep me in the black. But as I progressed, I fully expected to have that moment of certainty – “Ah, here’s the thing I forgot about. Now it all makes sense.” I waited to see that positive balance. I waited. And waited. With every chug of the adding machine, the minus sign never abandoned the total. People, I NEVER saw a positive balance.

It was like I was reading a book, someone else’s story, and I had no idea of the outcome. The suspense was killing me. A real page-turner. Would there ever be a positive balance? Would our hero ever escape the villain? Eventually, I had to tell myself to relax my stomach muscles. To exhale all the way.

By July’s entries, I was starting to see some humor in this. After all, in reality, I check my balances online, and know that if I were truly broke, this tax task would be so much easier. “What’s to declare? I ain’t got none.” I started to giggle, and realized that the error must lie within the register I can’t find anywhere in my office. It’s got to be in a box in the attic, alongside the bank statements, just at the top of the stairs. But I’m sure as hell not going up there by myself. At night. With the poor light, and the cold, and the spiders, and the ghosts. Not me.

And yet, I continued on, crunching these ridiculous numbers.

The TV was on quietly in the other room. It was bugging me, that out-of-focus dialogue, that droning noise, that curiously familiar and annoying sound effect. What the hell was that show (chug, chug went the adding machine)? It will drive me crazy not to know (crunch), not to identify (chug, chug) that stupid sound. I glanced up at the clock. Ten to two. I’ll get up in a minute and look at the TV long enough to resolve this dilemma before shutting the damn thing off. But I can’t stop just yet, or I’ll lose my place. Work faster. Just get it done. Chug, chug, crunch, crunch....

Something funny happened along the way. There was one number which brought me such exquisite joy. I was totally unprepared for it. Usually, I delight in the deposits, and get anxious over the expenditures. That’s the way it is. But when I came across this number, I almost teared up. It was the check I wrote to the hospital for Leonard’s birth. Not for my delivery expenses, but just for him. His first 3 days on the planet. What a sweet surprise. For that moment, the sick feeling lifted, and I really did feel the gratitude and blessing of it all.

At two minutes ‘til two, it hits me. That racket is none other than Who Wants to Be A damn Millionaire. I laughed out loud. And I didn’t get up. And I didn’t quit tallying up the total until I reached the end of the register. At quarter ‘til three.

Then I pulled out the last bank statements I received. I’d balance the books like I used to, and will from this point forward, be in habit of doing. Before I dropped the ball. Before I got overwhelmed and disorganized, before my files got turned upside down in the divorce, and my house got turned upside down in the move, before I got pregnant, before I was a mother, before I became sidetracked and exhausted... I’d already gone through every statement, reconciling all the entries, making sure all the information was there. So now, it was just a matter of the math. Simple enough. Oh, dear. I’m off. Way off. Like by almost twenty grand. (Where is David Lasley when you need him)? My checking account is off by over 7000 dollars. And my savings, over eleven. The good news? The negative balance is in my books, not the bank’s. According to them, I have positive cash flow. Way to make a mistake, Zonn.

None of that task, but none of it, had anything to do with getting my taxes done. Like writing this piece, it’s only a little jaunt down a side path, part of my necessary procrastination. Alas, in a moment, I will resume the tedium that really does need my attention. I just don’t like to do it all at once. Somehow, a little organization makes me feel like I won’t be in such a state next year. A little writing is good for the soul.

And as for that mysterious discrepancy in the books? I did what any self-respecting, attic-fearing girl would do. I cut to the chase and adjusted my books to agree with the bank’s. I feel like I just won a silly game show.

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