Kids & Heartbreak

If there’s one thing Russell Baker knows in spades, it’s about the tragedy of American nuclear families. Why, when the American family unit is so small, do the members all seem to fly apart like random molecules in an atom collider? It doesn’t work. The American nuclear family doesn’t work.

The lawyer, Mitchell Stephens, has one child, Zoe. She’s a drug addict and a runaway. She’s broken his heart in so many ways. Then, suddenly, while he’s in the middle of filing this suit on behalf of the families whose kids were killed in the school bus accident, she calls him out of the blue.

“Daddy, it’s me!” she’d said. Her voice was full of the usual phony enthusiasm, but it was dead, dead as the kids in their caskets.

“Zoe! Jesus!” I’d been shaving, and I snapped off my electric razor and sat down on the bed. It was like getting a call from a ghost. Every time I think my period of mourning is over, she calls to remind me that I haven’t really started yet.

The Sweet Hereafter, p.140

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