Like the Walls of Jericho

My gorgeous girl . . .

The Walls of Jericho: by NPR’s Radiolab.  Worth a listen for nothing more than the fun of the science . . .

OK, it’s a bit of a strong title.  But there are days, particularly this next few, where I feel like the walls are tumbling down around me.  I don’t need the bleating of a ram’s horn to do it, I’m perfectly capable of wreaking havoc on my own house, thank you very much.  The consequences of splurging on your children – helping your oldest get the perfect prom; buying concert tickets and spending the night in San Francisco; hell, even seeing the Avengers in 3D with all four kids in tow is enough to take what is, in all seriousness, a balancing act.

The analogy of a wall here – the proverbial (funny how that adjective is apropo, isn’t it?) financial and emotional wall of our lives – is the one I use.  The whole balancing act wouldn’t have been a balance at all when I planned this all out.  In fact, it had been there simply to strengthen the whole thing, not watch it crumble.  You see, at the end of March I had done my taxes.  We never had them so complicated that I couldn’t just buy Turbo Tax and do them myself.  This year was no exception.  I bought the program sometime in February, actually, and spent over a week putting them together because, no surprise, we had crap everywhere.  I had to track down all the W2’s and paperwork.

But I’d made the decision not to claim all four kids as dependents when I started at my new job, just in case I had to offset some sort of issue with the loss.  The result was that taxes I’d normally have paid in capital gains were offset, and the loss of my wife led to being able to write off those gains to pay for burial expenses, tombstone, all of it.  (And why do they still call it a tombstone?  There’s no tomb, it’s not Turin here.  There’s no stone archway or rock closing the opening in a cave.  It’s a grave marker.  That’s the most apt description)

The reason I bring this all up is the fact that I saw the refund I was getting and it was more than enough to pay back-bills and still have the movies, prom, and hotel room at Fisherman’s Wharf that had already been booked.  But where my wall was crumbling, the IRS wall was stronger than ever.  The “latest” I was to receive a refund was 3 weeks after e-filing.  Then I got a refund date: April 11th.  They then changed it: April 20th.  Then when I called a day past the “estimated refund date” they inform me that even though I’d filed at the end of March, they didn’t really even open the file until something like April 6th.  So, yeah, even though I filed more than on-time, some pencil-neck at the IRS waited forever to open the file.

But it gets better.  “Call back on the 27th” they say.  I do, get no human being, and there’s no new estimated date.  Just a “sorry, we got your return and are processing it.”  It was maddening.

Just a week ago I get a letter, one that’s not particularly delicate or simple.  It’s addressed to “David Manoucheri, taxpayer and Andrea Manoucheri, Deceased.”  Not that being delicate is the IRS’ forte.  As hard as it is to see our lives summed up so bluntly, the interior of the letter informed me that there’d been a mistake in my tax return and they had processed it.

A mistake in my favor.

Apparently having my spouse “deceased” helps.  A lot.  They increased the refund by several hundred dollars, some typo that the software or maybe the IRS made in the form, and then they would process it.  That’s all it said.  I sit here now, weeks after the “27th deadline” and finally called.  Apparently, since my wife passed away, something that was clearly stated and dealt with on the tax forms themselves, the IRS decided it would be better to issue a paper check, not an electronic deposit like I’d asked for.

It also lets them delay my refund another 2-3 weeks, because after all that computer is apparently as bulky and clunky as “Hal” from the movie 2001, a Space Oddesey.  You know, some guy has to punch holes in the card and hope to God that the big red light doesn’t ask “Dave . . . why do you want that money, Dave . . . you don’t need to have a normal life, Dave, we the robotic overseers at the IRS will help you to assimilate . . . ”

Today, in frustration, I called the IRS again and got this same excuse.  “Paper checks take longer to process, and since we had to do that because we had to make adjustments due to your wife’s death (again, love the delicacy of the government worker) it was necessary to issue a paper check.”  The result?  “Could be 2-3 weeks before it shows up, but it’s probably closer to two.”

So here we are, nearly two months beyond when I filed, more than a month beyond when I was supposed to get my money, and I’m scraping change together because I’d spent my money.  It’s important to me that the kids never think I’m going to break my promises to them.  We don’t spend a lot of money, it’s not really that we need much.  But to give them all a nice weekend – the prom, the sleepover with their Aunt, the movies, all of it, I felt I couldn’t renig on those promises.  So I didn’t.

And now, thanks to the seemingly semi-permanent loan to the US Government that I’ve given, that promise is coming back to bite me in the ass.  The hotel was expensive . . . really expensive . . . and the movies are never cheap.  Taking 4 kids and myself, even to a matine showing of a 3D movie, is an expensive prospect.

Then today the announcements for Emmy awards came out and people asked if I’d been nominated.  I hadn’t really looked, but then I hadn’t entered anything, either.  Sure, I could have.  I know the station entered a couple, but for me there is well-spent money and poorly-spent.  I’m the Susan Lucci of local news Emmy awards.  I have probably 15 “nomination certificates”.  I gave up looking for the win.  If it comes, I’m happy.

But when I snapped the photos of my daughter.  When I looked at her in her prom dress we’d worked so hard to get and alter and everything.  When I saw the excitement on the kids’ faces when we went to the theater and saw a superhero movie . . . that was a reward.

Abbi posted on her Facebook page at the end of Sunday: “Black Keys, fancy hotel, plus prom and then the Avengers = best weekend of my life!”

So when I sit on the light rail, doing the math of the gas mileage in my head to see how far I can get and what meals I can muster each night until a week from Friday – when I get paid again – it’s easy to miss the forest looking at the bark of that tree in front of me.  It’s easy to miss the smiles and the hugs when you’re frantically looking through the mail for the IRS check that you should give up hoping is coming.

Then you get a text or an email from a friend who saw your daughter in her prom dress, and you suddenly realize it.  The rent’s paid.  You can eat.  (OK, maybe Ramen noodles for a night or so) You have a good job.

And then you see your daughter’s words and the smile radiating her Mom’s brilliant, warmth and you realize it.  We’re OK.  The walls of Jericho withstood Joshua’s horns, this time.  Doesn’t mean he won’t try again, but the walls didn’t come tumbling down.  In fact, they’re holding steady.  Few cracks.  Some mortar patches that don’t match (but Andrea’s not here to complain about the change in spackle colors anyway) but still upright.

That smile – hell, those smiles, all four of them – made it worthwhile . . . and the walls hold because they have a good foundation.

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