In the summer of 2016, it had been nearly a year since I’d moved to Toronto, a city into which I’d cast almost 150 job applications to no avail. Toronto was not interested. Toronto did not care. Around this time, I started reading my horoscope because I wanted to be reassured that things were going to happen for me. So I sat in the room that my friend’s parents very kindly rented to me for $100 a month, and in the Parkdale coffee shop where I would nurse a single Americano for hours while chef types flirtatiously poopooed the blonde barista’s quinoa lunches, waiting for someone to give me a job. For 10 months, it seemed like all I did was wait.
Once I decided to believe in astrology, I quickly began to glom onto a concept that is colloquially familiar to most people, even those who neither know nor are interested in what their sun signs are: Mercury in retrograde. I discovered that Mercury, the planet, “rules communication” and occasionally “speeds past Earth” (?). Susan Miller, my astrologer of choice (and evidently the astrologer to many human stars) says that whenever this happens about three or four times a year, a retrograde is in motion. It “affects everyone in a fairly uniform way,” Miller writes, “and the effects are fairly obvious.”
These effects, which include delays and objects malfunctioning (especially electronics), slow you down for the length of the retrograde, which is typically several weeks. Astrologers advise against using this time to finalize any decisions or sign any contracts. (Miller, perhaps with her specific audience in mind, rarely fails to issue a strong warning against getting plastic surgery during a retrograde.) They recommend that believers take the time to “reflect” instead.
The notion that the whole world simultaneously slows down greatly appealed to me at first: maybe Mercury had been in retrograde for the last 10 months, explaining why I was still unemployed. I tried to listen to Miller, and reflect on what I wanted out of life. But no amount of mental acrobatics could convince me that I wanted anything other than a job, and that everyone else seemed to be doing fine. Was it possible that I was experiencing a precisely targeted retrograde that no one else could feel? It briefly occurred to me that Mercury retrogrades were fake, and in the years since, I’ve only taken them semi-seriously.
Miller, perhaps with her specific audience in mind, rarely fails to issue a strong warning against getting plastic surgery during a retrograde
But then, during the last Mercury retrograde, I tried to file my taxes.
Last September, I moved to the U.S. My husband had been accepted to a PhD program in Los Angeles. Since then, I have been writing for LowestRates.ca full-time, but occasionally, I take on local freelance work.
Shortly after the start of the Mercury retrograde, on Mar. 5, I opened up my laptop at my kitchen table and googled “H&R Block online income tax software.” “We can go to the grocery store in an hour — I just need to file my taxes!” I told my husband, brightly, like a dumbass. I typed in the login information that I used last year, and took a nice sip of coffee.
Red text appeared on the screen. “We didn’t recognize your entries.” What?
I tried to log in again. And again. And again. Finally, I decide to change my password. The website said that it could not find any user connected to my email address. Slightly discomfited, but still determined to roll through my taxes as usual, I made a new account and suppressed the nagging suspicion that I already had an account. I had to move forward! The taxes must be done. I took another sip of coffee.
I just need to file my taxes! I told my husband, brightly, like a dumbass
Several questions popped up on the screen that quickly made it clear that I was on the U.S. H&R Block site. Ohh. That’s why they couldn’t find my account. Relieved, I find the Canadian site, log in successfully, and get down to business. Now we’re talking.
Did your marital status change in 2018? I check “yes.” Did your address change in 2018? Yes! Enter your new address. I type in my Los Angeles address. ERROR! Only Canadian addresses are accepted. Wait, what? But I live here. And I have to file Canadian taxes because I work full-time for a Canadian company. My husband suggests that I enter my parents’ address, in British Columbia. “I can’t lie,” I say, a little coldly. “And besides, I spent the past three years living and working in Ontario.” Wait — hang on. What does this say? What is my address “for tax purposes”? What is a “tax purpose”? “That’s what my mom’s accountant told me to do when I was living abroad,” my husband continues. “That was a completely different situation,” I reply, slightly hissing. I take another sip of coffee, to stop hissing, then drain an entire glass of water. If I live here, do I file as an Ontario resident? If I actually do use my parents’ address, do I pay B.C. taxes? Will the Ontario government come after me? Our roommate is in the next room, Skyping, and all I hear is laughter. I realize my head is pounding. I also realize I have become very, very angry.
My husband suggests we go for a walk. I abandon my taxes.
Two weeks later, my husband is in B.C., and I decide to try again. That morning, I text him my itinerary for the day.
The retrograde raged on. But I assured myself it would be different this time. Instead of diving right into the tax software like last time, I would do a little research first. Plus, I would not drink any coffee.
It would take an extremely talented hypnotist, or perhaps a lot of drugs, to get me to correctly sort out the chronology of the next five hours. I remember reading Reddit. I remember the Internal Revenue Service website. I remember logging into my Canada Revenue Agency account. I remember a friend’s recommendation that I hire an accountant in Toronto. I remember talking to a very bored man at H&R Block over the phone, who told me that it would cost $450 to file my U.S. taxes for the $800 I’d made in local freelance work. I remember the words “non-resident alien” and “permanent resident” and “W2.” I remember running to the local library to print out forms, Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips™, the vomit perched on the edge of my throat, crying, running back to the library, the California heat, my vibrating phone, pure hatred with no tangible target, whispering “I want to die,” clicking various points on a digital calendar and seeing the same message over and over: “no appointments available.”
At approximately 7:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, my federal U.S. tax forms were completed and sitting in a neat pile on my kitchen table. I’d just sent several thousand dollars to the CRA. I never did do the laundry, or attend to my home aromas. But I’d finished my taxes.
I told my husband over the phone that I was going to take a shower, and order takeout.
He was proud of me, he said. I’d done it. I’d filed my taxes!
“So you filed your federal and state taxes, right?” he asked.
“...pardon?” I asked, suddenly dizzy.
“In California, you have to file both.”