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  • Writer's pictureSarah de Leon

Should I Renew This Zany Sitcom I Call My Life? - LA Times Essay

An essay I wrote for the LA Times column 'LA Affairs' was published on March 14th, 2020. Here is the link to the original article.

He was curled up against me in bed, his hair tangled between my fingers. I was dozing off when I heard him quietly say “Thank you.”

“For what?” I asked, barely awake.

“For coming back into my life.”

I sucked in my breath, suddenly aware of my rapidly beating heart. “Any time.”

Any time. I immediately felt how stupid that response was. I write dialogue for a living and yet, in one of the most intimate moments of my life, all I could think to offer up was a casual “Any time.” Like I had just passed the man some salt.

“Well, let’s make it this one ... last time,” he said.

His words held a truth and made my anxiety take the wheel.

He was trying to be cute, but I speak subtext. What he really meant was: “Please don’t leave again.”

Together we had woven a 10-year on-again-off-again story so obnoxious, the jokes we made about being like a couple straight out of a sitcom started feeling like a twisted reality.

The first lesson I learned about writing situational comedy is this: Humor is found in the moments funny to everyone except for the character(s) it’s happening to. The stronger the irony, conflict or embarrassment is for them, the funnier.

Well, the joke was on me, and my heart couldn’t take the punch line.

I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent watching sitcoms — studying them more than I ever did for the SAT. I yearned for the day when it would finally be my turn to lead a fun life as a 20-something Filipina writer discovering my place in this crazy world.

I should’ve known better than to think it’d be easy. The jobs I took to break into the industry felt like a joke, I was broke, and I was in a relationship with a man I’d had doubts about for years. I had no one to blame but myself.

Because the show “Friends” definitely warned me life was going to be this way.

We grew up in a San Diego suburb where we met in eighth grade. Even though I wasn’t interested in him when he asked me out, I figured “Why not?”

Because 13-year-olds are reckless with delicate things.

I broke up with him a month later but he didn’t give up on me as easily. The summer before freshman year we tried again.

Again I got cold feet, and we never did make it to homecoming dance that year. Or any year.

That didn’t stop us from dancing the will-they/won’t-they tango though.

We dated other people throughout high school, but the stronger our friendship became, the more undeniable our chemistry was.

The summer before college was a bittersweet one since we were going to school on opposite ends of the state. One evening, after a couple of beers and episodes of “Scrubs,” we made the mistake of sleeping together even though I was in another relationship. Soon after, I decided we had wasted enough drama on each other and it was best to end things for good.

As it turns out, we were just on a break.

When I called him after four years, I was feeling lost with my life in Encino and just wanted to reconnect with an old friend. I was surprised to learn he was back in Southern California and single.

I’d grown out my hair and he’d grown a goatee.

Other than that, it was like nothing had changed between us.

He started visiting me every weekend and suddenly we had tuned right back in to our crazy love story filled with disproving friends, melodramatic arguments and wacky stories.

There was this one Friday when we both reported breaking a mirror as we went about our respective days. Cue the bad luck: That same weekend both our cars got towed.

The first time I told him “I love you” was on a pull-out bed at a friend’s house. I suddenly panicked and pretended to get scared of a spider just to pause the conversation.

With all the anecdotes we have, we’d kill at a dinner party. We love making people laugh. But after a while, I stopped laughing.

So with his words hanging in the air that night, the doubts began to seep in and I felt like I was in high school all over again. Would we make it this time? Was the universe strengthening our relationship with obstacles or begging us to finally stop?

I saw his smile and thought back to when he had turned to me while we were driving on the 101 and said, “I never want to live a life that isn’t interesting enough to watch on TV.”

I realized that in a weird way, we were living our best lives. Insane sometimes? Annoyingly so.

Love found me when I was 13. I just had 10 seasons of growing up to do before I could accept it.

And so what if I became the joke of my own story? The best comedians learn to laugh at themselves.

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