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On Window Screens and Other Things

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Average Everygirl #4: Average encounters the best friends | Panel 1: Average stands opposite a spiky-haired male stick figure. The narrator says, "Average's best friend is her next-door neighbor, Totally Everyguy." Average says, "Wait, what?" and Totally says, "Who, me?" | Panel 2: The narrator continues, "Every night, Totally climbs through Average's bedroom window to chat with her." Average says, "No he doesn't. My window has a screen on it," and Totally adds, "Plus that would be majorly weird." | Panel 3: The narrator, willfully oblivious, says, "They even walk to school together." Average says, "We've barely spoken to each other since the 3rd grade," and Totally says, "Bro, I carpool." | Panel 4: The narrator concludes, "According to literary statistics, one of them has a huge crush on the other." Totally, shocked, says to Average, "You do?!" Average replies, "No. The narrator's just making things up."

When I was somewhere in the range of 7-9 years old, I opened my bedroom window and pulled the tab on the screen, curious about how easy it might be to remove. The frame popped right off its track. In the event of a fire, I could escape. Hooray!

Problem was, there was no fire, and I couldn’t get the frame re-aligned. After several minutes of struggling with it, I finally gave up and reported my misdeed to my father.

He trekked outside, struggled with the frame some more, and set it back in place, probably grumbling under his breath all the while about daughters who caused him unnecessary extra work. (Lovingly, of course.)

That was the day the “best friend comes in through the window” mythos died in my heart. All of our windows had screens. Everyone else I knew had screens. Getting those screens on and off was too much of a hassle for some quirky entrance-other-than-a-door shenanigan, and that was that.

Window of opportunity…?

There are boundaries between real and fictional worlds, boundaries that we might not even recognize as boundaries because they’re so obvious. Screen-less windows through which people entered a room was one of those boundaries for me. This runs contrary to your reality, it said every time I encountered it.

So, too, did the “girl’s best friend is a boy” scenario. I know it happens, but I didn’t ever witness it firsthand. Perhaps I was raised alongside an odd set of peers, or perhaps I was simply oblivious to the friendships around me. According to my memories growing up, the girls were friends with girls and the boys were friends with boys, and when high school came along and they all started co-mingling, it was in groups except for those who were dating.

But then, I often had my nose buried in a book, so I likely missed a lot.

Behind the trope

Whenever I see a fictional scenario where a main character girl has a boy as a best friend, I immediately assume it’s there for one of two reasons: if the boy is cute, he’s going to factor into the story’s romance angle. If he’s not, he’s probably there as an extension of the girl’s character. (See what a tomboy she is? She has a boy for a best friend!) Either way, I instinctively feel like the scenario has an agenda instead of being a natural part of that character’s life. It sets a boundary between me and that fictional world.

(Oddly enough, I don’t think I feel the same way if the main character is a boy who has a girl for a best friend. But then, if the main character is a boy, he’s also probably either an outcast or a loner, which creates a different set of dynamics with his peers, and with the reader. But I digress.)

I think one of the reasons I gravitate toward the fantasy genre is because of these boundaries: for me, all fiction is fantasy. Some is merely more upfront about it. I prefer to have the boundaries marked from the beginning over having them pop up in details and bounce me out of the book. In that respect, to me, fantasy is more honest than other “more realistic” genres. This runs contrary to your reality becomes a strength rather than a weakness, and the boundaries become something to explore rather than something that excludes.

And that’s really as it should be. My bedroom window might have a screen, but my invisible fourth wall doesn’t need one.