I pulled over the car on the highway because the IRS was calling.
“Daddy, why are we pulling over,” said one of my kids. I can’t remember which one. I didn’t care. At that point I wish I didn’t have kids because maybe then I would’ve killed myself.
My now ex-wife shushed the kids.
The IRS was calling to tell me how much trouble I was in. “Can I put you on hold for a second?” said the agent who was assigned to me and still is.
“Sure,” I said but I wanted the call to be over Over. Quickly. As fast as possible.
My kids couldn’t talk. I was on hold. My ex-wife was upset.
We were on the side of the highway just five minutes from our home.
The first day of a vacation.
Here were the plans for the vacation:
All the women in the car were going to my ex-wife’s mother’s house.
There they would eat well, go to movies, sleigh ride, make snowmen, watch movies, and have fun.
I was going to a meditation retreat because I was stressed and this seemed like a way to relax. I had never been to one of those before.
Secretly, I hoped to meet a new woman at the retreat. One who wouldn’t know my problems. She would make me forget.
Does that make me bad? Probably. I don’t know.
I was still on hold with the IRS.
We worked out a deal to work out a deal. Which means I would have to pay everything I owed and then more, interest and penalties, leaving me broke. Again.
I tried to negotiate. The woman told me, “there is absolutely no way for you to negotiate.”
It was 2004. The last time I had filed a tax return was 1987. A few months earlier I was talking to a friend of mine, “I wonder if they will ever reach out to me.”
He said, “they probably don’t even know you exist.”
Then another friend of mine was running for mayor.
I voted for him. The first time I voted since 1991. A few days later I got a letter from the IRS. They wanted 17 years worth of tax returns.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I googled all sorts of cases of people who didn’t file tax returns.
At first I thought I was in bad shape. Like I was going to go to jail. But then I realized I was in not-so-bad-shape, because most years I my employer probably paid more than I owed.
But then I realized I was in bad shape, because I had made some money recently.
So I started googling other things. Like, “If you put three cigarettes in a cup of water and let it sit all night and then take the cigarettes out and drink the water, will you die within sixty seconds?”
I called my mother in the morning. She said, “You’ll be so happy when you pay. It will be a big weight off of your shoulders.”
If I paid I was going to go broke.
I started googling again.
I got to the meditation retreat. I was the only one there that wasn’t part of a yoga teacher course.
Everyone else there was a professional yoga instructor taking advanced classes.
Usually I sat at the “silent table” so I wouldn’t talk to anybody. But one time I sat at a table with other people.
One woman asked me, “Are you taking the afternoon class on breathing?”
“I already know how to breathe.”
They all laughed at the table. “No you don’t,” one of them said, “Breathing is the most important part of yoga. It’s the most important thing that keeps you alive.”
I went back to my room to meditate. But my mind kept racing, “Everyone here is so nice. What would they think if I went to jail? Would people like this ever like me again?”
And then I realized my breathing was very fast and shallow. I tried taking deep breaths. Breathing in deep and letting the air sit in my stomach for awhile.
But it didn’t really work. I couldn’t stop thinking. And the air came right back up and stuck back and forth in my throat. Choking me.
I didn’t really know how to breathe.
I arrived at the IRS office with my two children. I made them dress up in their best clothes.
I had a bigger check with me than I had ever written before. Even when I bought a house.
A woman came to get me. To be honest, I fell in love with her. It was love at first sight.
We went into a conference room. I gave her the check. She said, “One second,” and left and then came back without the check, “Ok, that’s good enough. But you have to keep paying now. We’re going to be checking.”
“Oh, I will keep paying,” I said.
I said, “Have you seen that movie that’s out now about the IRS agent who falls in love with the baker?” I figured everyone working for the IRS had seen it.
“No,” she said. “Who is in it.”
“Will Ferrell”, I said, “it’s really funny.”
She didn’t respond. She got up. Opened the door. Time to go.
I was broke again. And outside were my wife and kids.
Now I’m so afraid of the government, I pay in advance. I pay even before I file.
They probably don’t even know what to do with the money I’m giving them except kill people in Syria and Iraq with it.
Here’s some money. That’s enough for twelve more 18 year old kids and some guns and some ammunition and baked beans.
I’m not even afraid of the government. I’m afraid of being afraid. I don’t want to feel that fear again. The uncertainty.
What a blessing and a curse uncertainty is. You open the door in the morning and the sky is blue and cars are honking and people are walking by and each one has a story.
What can happen today? I don’t know, maybe today is the day of magic?
Or maybe today is the day you get hunted down for sport.
I do know this. I want to be a good person. And that’s not always easy. But I know my life is better when net-net I do more healthy things than unhealthy things.
It’s like a game, and at the end of the day, did I write down my ten ideas? Did I love my wife? Was I good for my friends? Did I eat well?
Then I get points. And then when the day is over and the uncertainty falls into sleep, maybe I’ll be able to breathe again.
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