This essay is a selected submission from Street's Love Issue personal narrative contest. Read some of our other favorite pieces here and look out for new pieces as we publish them throughout the week!

There was just something about us—about him.

Perhaps it was the way he could catch me from crumbling into the bedlam I had stitched around my own crust and bones. Perhaps it was the way he could see the water in my eyes, a consequence of my own impetuous mistakes. Perhaps it was the way he could hear the unsaid. Perhaps it was his patience for elucidating my mind, my personality, my fears, my pride, and everything that made me the person I am. Amid the madness of my struggles and inner demons, he was the one who kept me sane.

But together, we were mad–

First love. 

First relationship. 

First time blatantly going against the rules.

As city kids, our “date nights” were evenings when we stayed in school, thinking that we had the whole place to ourselves. I’d jump from bench to bench all throughout the walkways, tread on the walls with my arms stretched out as I put one foot in front of another, and climb onto the highest balconies and terraces to overlook the city, sinking into my thoughts as I took in the scenery. He was always chasing behind me, telling me to stop whenever I was about to take a risk, yelling at me when I climbed too high, and pulling me back onto the ground when I joked about jumping off, just to see if I could fly. It was during those nights when he became the first person to ever “see” me—through the lies that had became an essential part of me. It was in those moments when he saw the the spirit that yearned to be free behind the hard shell created by pain, stigma, and tradition. 

Our camping trips, though, were another story. We substituted our rooftop tête–à–têtes with post–twilight adventures—the nights when we went stargazing, our midnight bamboo forest expeditions when he told me he was scared of the dark as I laughed at him and quickened my footsteps, forcing him to walk alone, and the four instances when he had to corner me and force me to talk to him when he sensed something was wrong. He saw the rawest side of me: the restless chameleon that was always ready to run, choosing “flight” instead of “fight.”

I was the wild one in the relationship. Spontaneous. Independent. Needing my own space and freedom. He, on the other hand, was the grounded one. Reliant. Private. Wanting stability. Wishing for more time together.

But our relationship was twisted.

We were two con men and two master manipulators. It was the first time we had ever met another mind who shared the same twisted, calculating, manipulative thoughts—that was why it was so easy for us to open up and to admit those dirty truths we dared not tell another soul. But those shared traits also led to the buildup of our downfall. 

A lie here.

A twisted truth there.

What was supposed to be love turned into a long con, playing upon the simplest mortal frailties: greed and desperation. Jealousy and rage.

What was supposed to be companionship turned into one mind game after another: two twisted intellects battling out, holding on just to see who’s smarter and stronger—or perhaps to see who breaks first.

And at times I wonder,

Was that why I couldn’t bring myself to leave?

Emily Yao is a freshman from Taipei, Taiwan.