My old tax returns made me sad.
I looked at my business income, held that year’s wad of 1099’s from clients, and then fed each year’s tax return into the shredder. One can’t make a scrap book out of financial records, after all, so they all needed to go. Boxes of my professional history now lay in layers of paper ribbons in big black garbage bags. One of them is still here behind my office chair. My business in a bag.
Those years were fabulous. A ton of clients, a really healthy income. A good reputation. A lot of respect. The last two still exist, I hope, but the first two are gone. “My hearing loss really killed me,” I said to my husband who was sitting in the old wooden swivel chair we’d bought at a sheriff’s sale 30 years ago. He nodded.
That’s why they call it a disability, I thought to myself. If a loss or an impairment or an illness didn’t damage your life, they wouldn’t call it a disability. I became disabled and I couldn’t be the person I was. I had to become a new person. But that doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years.
I kept thinking about it above the roar of the shredder. Did I do everything I could to stay able? Did I fight back? Did I fold too fast? Did I back my chair up against the far wall when I could have stayed at the table? I don’t know.
There’s the disability and then there’s a person’s reaction to the disability. In my case, that meant waves of depression and self-doubt that made me yearn for retreat. It would be hard to parse. What part of the shrinking of my business was a true function of hearing loss and what part a function of my sorrow at the loss of my prized self-image as a hard-charger. It is very difficult, you know, to pretend one is the smartest person in the room when one can’t reliably track the topic.
“Do you want a retirement party?” my husband asked. He is a nonprofit executive, the founder of a very successful organization, and when he retires, there will be a retirement party in a magnificent place and there will be speeches and plaques from all the best suits in town.
“No.” No, no retirement party. That makes sense when someone leaves, like one day they are on the job and the next they’re on a cruise. It doesn’t make sense when someone withdraws, paints the circle smaller every morning. Which is what I did. But if I didn’t look at my old tax returns this afternoon, I wouldn’t have thought this. My embarkation is on a new beautiful ship and I’ve been glad about it for months. I am finally becoming the new person I needed to be when I lost my hearing.
But that woman, that person whose name is on all those tax papers, the hard-charger, I miss her.