I’ve been a freelancer for three years, and this past year, I thought I finally had the tax thing down.
My plan went like this: I would collect all of my receipts in a single place — a Ziploc bag, much more secure than my usual manila folder, which had a tendency to leak receipts out its sides. I would spend a few hours each month organizing my receipts, putting them into a massive Google Docs spreadsheet by category, carefully noting which business contact had joined me at each meal.
There would be no more scrambling at the end of January to get everything together for my February appointment with my accountant. Instead of spending eight miserable hours on a single day trying to decipher various faded print-outs and my own smudged handwriting, I would spread the work out over the course of 12 months. After Jan. 31, I’d just have to wrap it all up, chase down the many straggler 1099s that were sure to be missing with cheerfully aggressive emails and sit back with a sigh of relief.
This strategy would work fairly well for the first six months of 2016, and then life got in the way, as it always does. The Ziploc bag did not leak, but it did get uncomfortably full. And I found myself sitting down at the beginning of February with a full day of sorting through a pile of receipts ahead of me yet again. I wasn’t too upset about it, to be honest. Sometimes it’s nice to have a task ahead that’s finite, that’s finished when it’s finished. And then I flipped over a receipt and found my ex’s name written on the back of it.
We had been together for a little over three years when we broke up in November, a week after the election, three weeks after we had admitted to each other that there were things we both needed to work on if our relationship was going to last. But he couldn’t decide if he wanted to do the work, and I couldn’t wait any longer for him to decide, and so it was over. As breakups go, it felt like it was very much on the mutual, adult, and respectful side of the scale. It hurt, of course, but it also felt right, like a weight had lifted from my shoulders, which was why I was so caught off guard by the sudden pounding of my heart when, three months later, I saw his name on the back of that receipt.
It wasn’t just the one receipt, either. My ex is also a freelancer, and we sometimes found ways to work together, meaning that many of our meals out could be considered business-related. Thirty-five times I entered his name into my spreadsheet, each entry calling forth a memory. Dinner at the bar down the street from our apartment in Los Angeles with the wide counters, the free WiFi, the perfect happy hour menu, and the Dodgers game always on the TV, where we’d bring our computers to work on projects together, taking breaks when Clayton Kershaw was getting ready to pitch. Coffee at the cafe that used to be our regular haunt, until the owner dropped a piece of a lighting panel on my head and didn’t seem to care, causing us both to storm out angrily, my ex’s fury almost surpassing my own in a way that made warmth swell up in my chest when I looked over at him. Lunch out in New York City before a job where I would be recording sound while he filmed; we ate wood-fired pizza while going over the plan once more time, my ex reassuring me that I really was very good at using a boom and a shotgun mic.
But there were also the memories of all the times we went out because we were both feeling restless in the home that we shared during the last year of our relationship, all the times that we didn’t really have much to say to each other, and so it was easier for us to eat out over our laptops than sit at our own dinner table with only the air between us, waiting to be filled.
About halfway through the 35 times I encountered his name, my heart stopped flip-flopping over in my chest at the sight of it. The rush of memories slowed, became less vivid, less sharp. Doing my taxes became yet another link in the chain of entanglement from which I’ve been slowly extricating myself since November. Even though my ex has fully moved out, and we’re giving each other ample space and silence, possibly forever, I know that there are still ties between us. They will likely keep surprising me, like those many receipts did. But perhaps I can face them in the same way I did my taxes — calmly and methodically, moving steadily forward, with the hope that the memories stirred up are at least equally balanced between the good and the sad.