Almost all of the snow had melted at the edges of Bay Street as I walked the Bayfront yesterday in a daze. I had just come from having my taxes done. It was the first time I had ever paid someone to do my return. My late husband Fred was a licensed tax preparer and started doing mine shortly after we met. When he became incapacitated, I used Turbo Tax to do it myself.
But this year, with Fred having died and a trust, Medicaid and other issues to deal with, I decided I needed help. As it turns out, this year’s return wasn’t much different from the others. This would be our last joint return, but otherwise it was money in and money out as usual.
I was in shock for a lot of reasons. It was hard doing this without Fred, talking so much about him being dead and going over the expenses from the early months of 2011 when he was so sick. It was difficult having to enumerate all of my writing expenses, medical expenses, and charity deductions, to pull together a whole year of life that was often fogged by grief. And then I was gobsmacked to discover the preparer’s services would cost me $550. I have to pay $350 to the state of Oregon, less than I paid last year. But I am getting a refund from the federal government. Next year, as a single woman with a lower income and fewer pieces of paper, the whole process will be simpler. I think I’ll go back to doing it myself.
Doing taxes is a profitable gig. Tax money took Fred and me on many wonderful vacations to places like Portugal, Costa Rica, Canada, and Hawaii. Our trips, like our wedding, always happened after tax season. During tax season, Fred worked like a madman, rarely coming up for air. Our phone rang constantly with tax clients wanting to set up appointments, ask questions, or find out when their returns would be ready.
I have often wished I had the aptitude to prepare other people’s tax returns myself. There’s money to be made, and I like numbers, but they just don’t behave when I deal with them. I’m a words and music girl. Besides, tax returns are stressful. I used to feel the tension in Fred’s clients, just like I felt it in myself yesterday as I sat in the tax office, anxiously watching the preparer type numbers into her computer. Would I have to pay? Would they accept my deductions? Would I have all the numbers and forms I needed?
Coming out of the tax office, I gulped air and headed for the Bayfront. Despite the morning’s surprise snow shower, the sun was out. The street was fairly deserted, but I passed a family staring into the candy shop, men smoking outside the fish plant, and a young woman smoking outside the Bay Haven tavern. Glass art, kites, tee shirts and geegaws of all sorts sparkled in the gift shops. Late afternoon diners lingered over pizza and beer at Rogue Ale and shrimp melts at Local Ocean. I stood at the rail outside the Noodle Cafe and stared at the big white NOAA ships anchored across the bay. Cormorants and gulls glided by in the bright sky. I noticed an empty crab shell on the deck and wondered how it got there. Then I walked past Port Dock I restaurant, closed for storm damage repairs, to where the sea lions usually congregate on floating docks. They weren’t there. It’s winter on the Bayfront. I zipped Fred’s old jacket tight around me against the cold wind and walked from one end of the Bayfront to the other, the sun in my eyes slowly burning away the post-tax-appointment haze.
In my mind, I have already spent my refund four different ways. May your taxes turn out as well.