Kate Maruyama on “Bloom”

Kate Maruyama delves into the complex dynamic between friends and examines how far these relationships can be tested before finding the breaking point that pulls them apart. Read “Bloom” in our [July/August issue, on sale now!]

In the past few years, I’ve heard so many stories from friends about friendships divided along binary lines; people deciding they can’t remain friends with those politically opposed to their viewpoints. Over the past five years or so friendships and family relationships have fallen out over ideological differences. As COVID spread in the country, more friendships were lost along lines of belief in science or in the virus itself. And, on a more distressing level, lines drawn between people who believed in and supported science and those who pushed against it. I have had friendships tested, ones I thought that would be there forever when, finally “seeing” the belief system by which those friends were living, I realized that these folks may not have other human’s best interests at heart.

But then there are the subtler differences, and testing, not completely binary. When I was going to college, I had come from a dyed in the wool liberal background into a money/profession focused school that had a lot of people, even friends who voted differently from me. We would argue, but the rift seemed more ideological than anything else. The same way, in college you’d argue about the existence of God or go up against an Ayn Rand fan about whether or not people have the capacity to care about and take care of each other. You’d wind up infuriated and amped up at three in the morning, but it didn’t feel personal. I’d rib friends who were fiscal conservatives for being self-serving, they’d call me a flaming liberal, but at the end of an argument or dispute, all was pretty much okay.

Then . . . well, the last twenty years, amped up over the last five years. Somewhere in there, the “if you believe this then you are that . . .” tribal affiliation came in. Less room for conversation, or for gentle ribbing and argument. Now the echo of, “you’re with me or agin’ me” is in the air.

These more subtle complicated belief differences in friendship came up more recently with a friend with whom I’ve raised my kids. I found her up the street when walking my active six-month-old baby in the rain to keep from going nuts, I was desperate for something to do. I had met her when she was out front with her slightly older son, and I knocked on her door. This led to ten years of playdates, mutual support, group trips to the Costco and to various kid-friendly venues. She helped me find a mommy and me group that had an educational factor. While the kids played, we sat in a circle with a child development expert and shared stories, supported each other and shared tools around raising our kids from tricks of potty training or sleep training, to handling sibling rivalry. This was all before the internet was at all helpful on these topics. My friend was the only mom I knew raising her kids more 20th century style. In our family ethos, grownups were in charge, the kids had to use manners and honorifics, and yes, we yelled sometimes. In the early 21st century, rife with attachment parenting and gentle voice parenting, our parenting style was vilified. We raised our six kids (my two, her four) in a hilarious bunch and the space we created was a safe place where we could be ourselves.

I can honestly say that without this friend, I don’t know how I would have gotten through my kids’ childhood.

As my stories tend to examine different aspects of love, parental or lifelong, I wanted to dive into that space where long term friendships lie. What holds them together, and what breaks them apart. And how closely we can hold people in our hearts, but when our paths diverge, sometimes we have to let them go.

Little by little opposing viewpoints came in. I found when we got together, if we kept the conversation to family, we were our old selves, shared history and stories, but if the conversation wandered, we got into that binary territory, and I felt my heart breaking, wondering if this each conversation would be the one where we would have to say goodbye. I know this person has an enormous heart, and takes care of all the people in her life. She is a ride or die type friend. Even today I could call her any time I was stuck for anything, and she’d come. But dangerous narratives started seeping into our conversations that made me worry.

As my stories tend to examine different aspects of love, parental or lifelong, I wanted to dive into that space where long term friendships lie. What holds them together, and what breaks them apart. And how closely we can hold people in our hearts, but when our paths diverge, sometimes we have to let them go.

I live in the Los Angeles area, close enough to JPL that it was a field trip destination for my kids. My kids’ class got to have a mini Mars Rover drive over their backs to demonstrate its balance on rough terrain. The kids got to visit the control room, and space was a big part of their childhood. I have had students take my writing classes who shyly admit they are rocket scientists or physicists with JPL. The scientific community in this all around us in this little city just north of Los Angeles, and I started to think about scientists and belief systems and where those lines would divide. If you are science-minded, where would your friendship part?

I decided it would likely be along money lines.

There’s always that question around Megacompanies with green initiatives, if the leadership is personally toxic, how good is the company for the planet?  We are always balancing, and rebalancing our ideas. A magnate creates an electric car for the masses that will significantly help reduce the human carbon footprint, but then creates a space journey that wastes resources and burns tons of fuel in a folly to entertain a wealthy few whose habits are already not good for the planet.

In my story, “Bloom” in the July/August issue, the protagonist Zaniyah finds herself at just such a crossroads with her college bestie Maura. During college they roomed together and built dreams together, visions of the future planet thriving under the benefit of their science. Zaniyah finds her friendship tested in small ways at first, then in larger ways. Because of their different ideologies, she gives up on Maura. But relationships built over years do not die easily, Maura swoops back into her life, and Zaniyah finds herself having to make some difficult decisions.

I have no answers for those friendships, hard tested by troubling times and a narrative that drives us further apart. I am just fascinated by these spaces in between. Where friendlove lingers when logic gets in the way. And the indelible imprint that humans can make on each other’s lives.

Kate Maruyama, who originally grew up in a small New England town, now lives and teaches in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s Magazine, Entropy, Arcadia, December Tales, and Winter Horror Days.

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