The realization of having to file taxes stings like shampoo in the eyes

Posted March 16, 2014, at 10:51 a.m.
Erin Donovan
Erin Donovan

I don’t think I filed taxes in 2003. It’s possible that I did, but it seems more possible that I did not. I’d like to think that I did, but I like to think that I do a lot of things people should do every year, like have dental x-rays and move residences in order to evade jury duty.

In reality, I do these things with less regularity than recommended and typically only after I’m forced to contend with something I could have avoided had I just done it every year. As for taxes, I know with certainty that they were filed by my parents through 2002 because that is the year I graduated from college. And because they remind me of this most days of my life.

In 2004, I became married to — brace for the kicker — a tax attorney, and then I never thought about my taxes again.

That year, in between expecting my parents to file my taxes and marrying a tax attorney who would do it remains uncategorized in the annals of memory. The irony of the situation is that in that year, I was busy not filing taxes, I wasn’t terribly busy doing anything else. I didn’t work much before 2003. I had moved to New York City out of college, bracing for bright lights and even brighter dreams. The bright lights proved to be of the overhead fluorescent variety and the dreams dimmed every day I arrived to that firm gig. So, I left that job with the smug indifference to unemployment that only those who have been freshly issued a diploma can muster. I spent the rest of that year eating pizza for a dollar, walking city blocks for free and committing tax evasion, as it would seem.

I can blame that oversight on the naivety I toted with me, like the high heels I would slip on before job interviews. That excuse, however, doesn’t pass muster for this year. I have done several things that kids just out of college do not typically do. The sort of things that leave wrinkles, but also wisdom, in their wake. I ended a marriage. I moved into a new home. I began a business. I started a retirement account. I even opened a post office box so to direct all the communication pertaining to these things in case all the moving to evade jury duty caused disruption. Despite all this hard-earned savoir faire, I was lost in thought in the shower, some cold night in February, when it hit me like the sting of shampoo in the eyes.

I have to file taxes.

I had no idea where to begin. In all this growing up I had done since 2003, I had never gotten an accountant. I didn’t even really know what filing taxes truly entailed. For all I knew, my ex-husband punched in a mess of numbers on one of those calculators that unspools a roll of paper, which he then showed to the Secretary of the Treasury who either asked him for more money or gave him some back, depending on the kind of hair day he was having. I always imagined that people who file taxes must have those pneumatic tubes which vacuum-sucked their cache of receipts directly to the Feds. At the very least, people who file taxes retain their W-4s and I-9s instead of using them to write grocery lists upon which are then left in the cart in the parking lot.

It seemed to me that my first step was an academic one. I needed to figure out which of my acquaintances really excelled at filing taxes and then cheat off their papers. Following an algorithm I devised based on the size of glasses frames they wore, whether they had leather or fabric car cushions, and how many men they knew named Richard, I knew my targets. The next step was to glean their bookies. “I heard you gotta guy. You know, a guy who helps you get you what you need.” The third step was to tail them all day in hopes they might have an appointment with their accountant. Once you’ve devised the coordinates of the accountant, you walk into the lobby, point at someone else waiting there, and loudly announce to the secretary, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

That is how I found my accountant.

Once I found that accountant, the rest has been relatively simple. They ask you to find all those income statements you left in the grocery store parking lot and they start crunching numbers for you. They send you emails, dumbed down with layman’s terms, to determine the state of your business and the income you are taking in. They will ask you questions to ascertain your expenses and deductions, which you can answer with things like, “I watched three seasons of ‘Homeland’ in a long weekend, which has to count for something.”

Best of all, though, is that they’ll tell you not to worry, because you probably did file taxes in 2003.

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