When I first read Helen Coats’s “Our New Lives,” I recognized a version of myself twice over. The first recognition came because the young man in the story, Jeremy, has suffered the loss of a friend and doesn’t know how to grieve because he feels partly responsible for his friend’s demise. I experienced something similar when I was sixteen. Jeremy’s guilt is ill founded (as was mine), but he doesn’t have the means to grasp that, and he doesn’t reach out to anyone for help. He just stews and suffers. To paraphrase the author in our Q&A, his guilt actually gets in the way of his grieving. The manner in which this is handled in the story is impressive—all the more so because we’re seeing Jeremy through his sister’s eyes.
The second sense of recognition I had was in the depiction of Jeremy and Heather—younger brother and older sister. Heather wants very much to be there for Jeremy, but life (high school graduation, college) is pulling her away. The relationship they had when they were younger has to change in order to survive. That’s a perfectly normal thing, but knowing it doesn’t make it any easier. When my sister graduated from high school and left home for college, I felt one of my first pangs of looming adulthood. I felt like we were both becoming grownups—her because she was on the brink of being one, and me because, as the youngest, I was about to be the only kid left standing, so to speak, and who wants to be that? Time to grow up. It was no picnic for either one of us, suddenly being apart, but we did what people do: we evolved, and we found our new, adult relationship.
Jeremy and Heather are at the very early and painful stages of finding their new relationship in this story, and Helen Coats has written beautifully about it. I hope you enjoy “Our New Lives.” I think it’s a story that will resonate with many readers, and one that bespeaks a wonderful writing life for Helen.