If anything were to drive me straight back to drink, it would be the financial aid forms for my kids’ school.
I have to finish them tonight, and then I have to get my tax return to the admissions office by next Friday. It’s a pain in the ass, of course, but then again plenty of things are pains in the ass, and (as my boyfriend pointed out) spending a couple of miserable days plugging numbers into boxes well repays the trouble (the school is generous with financial aid). However, something about filing taxes and filling out financial aid forms sharpens my particular neuroses to an unbearable point. Every year, I go into the whole process confident that I’ve finally learned how to function in the grown up world, thanks to the terrible lessons I learned last year around tax time. Every year, I start out thinking I’ve got my shit together, at long last. And every single year I’m reduced to jelly.
There’s nothing like taxes to make you feel hideously poor and financially irresponsible and guilty and doomed. How is it possible that I earned so little? How is it possible that I spent so much? Even boring, inevitable expenses (fixing the structural problems in the old house, which were necessary if the house is ever to sell) come to seem evidence of terrible financial incompetence, of poor judgment, of incorrect priorities. The house didn’t sell, after all. And things that seemed like good investments (the new little Honda Fit, which gets great mileage and won’t break down and will last for years and years and years) seem destined to raise eyebrows when scrutinized by the board of trustees. (She bought a car? And she’s asking for financial aid? The nerve.)
I swear I thought I had all my paperwork sorted out. I have an envelope labeled “Taxes”, after all. I have a three-ring binder. I have records of virtually every dollar I spent, thanks to online banking. I am on top of things, as I’ve had to be ever since the divorce. And yet I somehow am not on top of things, I’m missing crucial paperwork, I can’t find the damned mortgage balance, I don’t know what “Other IRS allowable adjustments to taxable income” means. When I dig out last year’s tax returns, the figure I entered gives me no clue.
I spent over an hour wading through a particularly vexing page of the financial aid application, only to be told, when I tried to save and quit, that my login had expired. All the numbers I’d triumphantly entered (and failed to write down, because I am an idiot) were lost, and I had to start from square one. By this point I was so demoralized that instead of throwing things I just bowed my head and commenced adding shit up again. I had to call my ex husband several times to ask about shared expenses. I totalled something incorrectly, and he called me to inform me that if my present calculations were correct then he had overpaid the contractor by two thousand dollars. I went back and checked, and he had not (which I knew) but the exchange left a bad taste in my mouth. Whether or not he meant to sound accusatory, he did. And I felt guilty and incompetent. Old old feelings, all reminiscent of the divorce, somehow. Paperwork, money, anxiety, the feeling that one is stupid, the feeling that one is terrible at math, the feeling that one has lived one’s life as an ignorant fool.
I’ve been having bad dreams. Last night I dreamed that a poisonous snake bit me on the right hand. Better than being chased by Itemized Deductions with hairy faces and huge sharp claws, I guess. Better than ending up in bankruptcy court only to realize you’re wearing no pants. In a week the horror will be over. That’s the thing about deadlines–as wretched as they are, they come and go, and leave you emptied out and grateful, a little smug, certain you’ve learned something about procrastination and organization, and that you’ll definitely do better next time.