So, after three months, the IRS finally managed to get me a check in the mail. This, by the way, after I yelled – while at work – at the “customer service” representative and made her cry. I get that I was mean, I even get that I was frustrated and probably could have held my tongue a little better than I did. I daresay, though, that I held my tongue for far longer than most people would have.
But in the process I’m having to catch up on soooo many things. My kids’ tuition, which normally was easily paid, was behind because I’d counted on this refund check. The deposit for next year is overdue. The registration packet, all of it. The car payment. The phone bill. I cannot in good conscience have my kids in Nebraska for the summer and not give my folks money to pay for their expenses.
But the biggest thing, the one that I’ve avoided and tried to prevent dealing with this whole time, is finishing the gravestone for Andrea. I know it’s something I should have done, literally, a year ago. I know that Andrea’s folks are not happy that it’s not there yet. I also know that I did the preliminaries and I don’t want to face it. It’s like the day of the funeral when I tried to leave the cemetery. It isn’t easy. It’s really the most difficult thing and it seems to be the last, most permanent reminder that it’s all over.
I get it, by the way. I know that it’s been over since March 26th, 2011. I understand that she’s gone and that she’s not coming back. I’ve done everything for the kids since then. I’ve raised them, fed them, housed them, bought uniforms . . . all the stuff that Andrea dealt with – far better than I did – I faced and not well.
It’s the last thing I wanted to prevent happening. It’s like I had the opportunity to say “no, I don’t accept this!” and was doing it.
But now I have the check. It’s the last obstacle – the money – that I had to getting the stone finished and in place. I can’t spend a ton but I also don’t want to skimp on her. It’s like the last present I can give her. The problem is that is feels like the birthday I screwed up all over again. She wanted something amazing and I gave her a replacement for a decorator item the kids broke. I want to give her life and instead I’m sealing the grave forever by signalling everyone that it’s here she’s resting for eternity.
I asked the kids if they wanted to be part of it, if I should send pictures and get their ideas. They don’t. Abbi, as she’s often done when the topic of her Mom . . . when it comes to her death . . . comes up shut down.
“I don’t really want to, Dad” is her response and I can’t say I blame her.
But like so many things, it has to be done.
Now I just wait for the finished product. I have that long, at least, to pretend that it’s not over . . . not completely.
In my ongoing quest to receive my tax refund . . . you know, that loan of many dollars that the government got because my taxes were deducted for 6 people and not 5 in my family . . . I might as well have shoved an icepick into my forehead. It would have been less painful.
Let me start by answering your criticisms now. Yes, I know that going to the IRS and thinking that I might actually get a favorable outcome is like the crazy person doing the same thing over and over again and wondering why the outcome is never different. Yes. The agency by nature is designed to be maddeningly inept, frustrating and just plain ridiculous. That said, I thought I had done my absolute best to avoid the stupidity.
When I filled out my tax return there were forms. It’s not like they have a box that you can check that says “I was married but now I’m not, but it’s not a divorce she died.” There is, though, a change of status form. There’s also a deceased spouse for those filing jointly section. I did everything but send them a certified copy of Andrea’s death certificate . . . which I should have done now in hindsight. I even e-filed just so that I could get the refund – which was substantial.
But you see, I might as well have waited until April 15th at 11:59 and gotten in line with all the knuckleheads at the post office.
The IRS initially said I’d get my refund on April 22nd. Then it changed to the 27th. Then . . . the date simply disappeared. When I called them – which is like opening up a SKYPE line to the 5th circle of hell, by the way – it took nearly 40 minutes for someone to answer. I actually wrote an entire sweeps piece while hold was on the speaker. The lady on the other end first apologized profusely and then proceeded to tell me that I’d really filed on April 6th, Not the end of March. Even though I have everything on the computer showing when the forms were transmitted and the IRS “accepted” them. It would take 3-4 weeks after that.
The following week I get a letter from the IRS. It was addressed to “Dave Manoucheri . . . Andrea Manoucheri decesased spouse.” Literally, on the envelope. My kids got it from the post office box. That was a fun night. The letter? “We received and processed your return. Upon review, we believe there is sufficient missed deductions and we’re adjusting the return to add $500 to your refund.” That’s awesome! The letter says I should get it in 3-4 weeks.
In 3 weeks, I called again.
“There must have been some change in your status,” was the lady’s response.
“Ummm . . . yeah. That’s an understatement.”
“What do you mean?”
“My wife passed away. I filled out all the forms and everything they asked for.”
“Oh. . . that must be why.”
“What must be why.”
“They flagged this for a manual refund so they have to send you a check in the mail.”
“OK, but they knew all this I got a letter. When will it get here?”
“Well, they are a little busy. I’m sorry sir, but it shouldn’t be more than 4 weeks latest. It’s usually less than 2.”
In two weeks I called again. This time a man on the other end said:
“I just don’t understand why they haven’t processed this. It’s on the person’s desk the computer says.”
“Can you just go ask them why?”
“No, I have to send a form upstairs to that department and try to speed up the process. I fax it to them.”
Now, bear in mind, they both apparently work for the IRS. No email, no phone call, they fax the paperwork. You know, because the Internal Revenue Service building is actually a rip in the space-time continuum that sends you back to 1992!
“I’ll send this, sir, and hopefully they will speed it up. I’m very sorry.”
This is the new IRS, apparently. Make empty apologies.
So today I made the girl on the other end cry. Not with the story of my family because I finally lost it. I haven’t been this mean since I made an intern on my floor crew cry in 1994.
But the reason is this: when I called today, the girl on the IRS help line – again, the system to get to the 5th circle of hell in 1992 is delayed, apparently, and I had to wait 40 minutes again. I think they just pick that timeframe and then figure if you’re dumb enough to stay on the line they answer.
“Well, sir, we’ve done all we can.”
This is where I started to lose it.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they sent the contact letter to the department that does the manual refunds and that is all we can do. But you should get a date that they’ll process your file and start the check in 30 days at most.”
“30 Days?! It’s been 3 months already!!!!!” “I understand that, sir, and I agree it’s unacceptable, but that’s how it works. I very sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, do something about it! You’re not really sorry, you just aren’t doing anything!”
“I know, sir, but that’s just the way it works.”
“Um, you work for the same freaking agency! ”
“I know, sir, but you see your change in status makes it so we have to cut you a manual check that is in your name only.”
“Yes, and that’s typing numbers in a computer and hitting print!” “I know, sir . . . ”
“I mean, you get how ridiculous that is, right? I have waited 3 months. Now I have to wait a 4th to maybe get a date that they might process my file and may type the numbers in a computer. Not the date I get the money, but the date you finally take it off the goddamn stack of paperwork, right?!”
“Well, yes. . . ”
“And all this, because my wife died. You get that you’re penalizing me just because my wife passed away. If I’d lied and just filed the goddamn return unchanged this wouldn’t have happened right?”
“Well, no, but that would be. . . ”
“So I have to wait until July and even then there will be some other goddamn excuse. I needed this money to help with expenses, tuition, a goddamn gravestone!”
Here’s where I made her cry.
The thing is, I don’t even feel bad. You see, I know she’s the $5.00 and hour kid who answers the phone. But there was NO attempt to help. Just to apologize and placate. Get him off the phone. Follow script. When I asked to talk to someone higher up I was told there was nobody. When I said not to fix blame but fix the problem they said there’s no problem, it’s just the way it works.
And that’s the problem.
4 months for a tax refund that if it had been a tax debt the IRS would be booting my car and confiscating my Clapton Strat in order to get their freaking money.
So here I sit, the first time I’m really feeling like, beyond that first few weeks last year, that I’m penalized for Andrea dying . . . and it’s not her or my fault. It’s that out of control feeling that you can’t stop.
That, or maybe it’s just that it’s a lot harder climbing up from the 5th to the 4th circle of hell. Maybe that rip in the space-time-continuum will still be there. I’ve got some mistakes from high school I want to avoid.
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.