It’s tax time. TIme to talk to the accountant, a man who has been “in” my life for 8 years by now. We have email exchanges February through April and speak on the phone once a year. But we are fond of each other. We are professional and to the point, but he knows about us. Money, books, taxes all tell a story and this year our story is a sad one.
So, the time came: The email reminder in late-January to get things together to send off to him, the getting together of documents, the faxing, the attaching files, the calculating of mileage, the telling of our dead son and asking about the child tax credit, the one-time child tax credit we are extended for our only son. It was easier than I’d imagined. I think about the poor “guinea pigs” in my life who had to endure my first, awkward, clumsy, heart wrenching confessions. And here we are, at almost a year with each regular, professional person in our lives knowing, except our CPA. He gets the benefit of the email format and also the relative expertise I have gathered in 9 months and 3 weeks.
Picture an accountant and that is ours: Thick rimmed glasses, thin and lanky, socially awkward, straight to the point, kind and endearing. Part of my fear of telling him is my fear of him not knowing what or how to say, because of the strangeness that follows nose in computer day in and day out, the strangeness that often accompanies a “numbers guy”. No one knows really what to say and then we have this superficial intimacy in which he cares but doesn’t care, knows us but doesn’t know us. But, like so many others, never having been in our position, he answers my email perfectly. He answers quickly, certainly just after he receives the message and he answers by writing exactly what he would say:
“I’m so sorry…..I’m…..so sorry.
Um….did you get a social security number for Harvey?? How much in medical costs did you pay in 2013? Guess????
I’m so sorry you are such a wonderful person life is not fair sometimes…”
There is so much comfort for me in these ellipses, in the spaces between his words that are where the real truth is hidden in the spoken word. That are exactly what he is thinking. They fill in, more prfoundly than the space bar would, just exactly how there are no words. That he includes the pauses that in speech says more to a bereaved parent than any words. That he then wrote “Um…” like ‘I don’t even know how to proceed but I have to ask these questions’. Like there is no way to lead into the business questions after learning about this. Exactly what he would say if he was speaking me to me : “um…”. He tells me that I am a wonderful person and life is not fair. He knows me but he doesn’t know me and his telling me the truth, his truth, my truth, the truth of this moment. Life is not fair, bad things happen to good people and all the other cliches we tell each other and ourselves for some comfort or consolation. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and this time they do. My accountant of 8 years who has seen my business flounder and then succeed, seen us married, become parents, my eclectic education, cars and computers depreciate, move to a different state, start my business over again, and now lose our child, can just tell me the truth. Can just sit in his apartment in San Francisco, preparing for another year of endless late winter/early spring days, receive this email with this horrible news from someone he knows mostly on paper and simply tell the truth.
It’s all I need to hear. I realize it’s the words, the ellipses, the mimicking of speech that make this one of the most meaningful responses I have received and it is also none of these things. It’s the intention behind the words, it’s the time it took, it’s the documentation, it’s the saying even though there are no words, it’s the effort and desire to help, see all those question marks? The truth, the humanity, the helplessness, the floundering to be able to help in some way all of this is found not only in the words but in the punctuation, in the space between.
It’s also that he is the last person on the list. I will tell many, many more people about my son and I will not tell even more people when they ask me how many children I have and I lie. But I collect moments now, firsts and lasts, endings and dreaded, new beginnings. And I am grateful to this man that I know but don’t know for making this one count, not just to me. But mostly to me. Because he will forget what he wrote, probably already has, but I will remember. I will always remember.