You understand what I mean by this. It's that break in the conversation when you don't know what to say and the person you're talking with doesn't know what to say, and so you've reached an impasse.
You mentioned something in passing that made the other person uncomfortable, something that struck a nerve. Now the person has asked you a question you're not willing to answer; and while you ponder how best to respond or whether to deftly change the subject, there it is: that awkward silence.
You used to take pride in being a great conversationalist, but you've done things you're not proud of and now you're guarded. Your usually tactful approach to interpersonal communication has briefly fallen by the wayside in the wake of a single careless comment. You quickly revert to self-preservation mode.
Someone must speak eventually, and you'd like to be the one to break the silence, but not at the risk of exposing who you truly are. There would be consequences; there are always consequences. So you wait.
The other person sighs deeply, equally hesitant to proceed but unwilling to let the conversation die out entirely. You sense what comes next.
The person poses a new question, much more direct than the last. The truth will set you free – free from the burden of living a lie perhaps, but freedom is relative. Reputation is priceless, and if you answer you'll lose it in a second.
You think the best answer might be to ask another question, turn the tables, put the ball back in their court. Yet you know you won't get off that easy. This is it, the moment you've been dreading, when the sound of the other shoe dropping sets off an avalanche of shame.
There will be consequences. There could even be jail time. You thought no one would ever find out, but someone is about to learn the awful truth. One someone at least.
Then it hits you: the secret doesn't ever have to leave this room. It may be revealed, certainly, but the power to make sure it isn't propagated lies solely in your hands. You can quell the maelstrom before it even begins.
Though in so doing, you would be responsible for yet another crime, another life, one more secret. This one would be worse than before, because this person – she impatiently awaits your reply – is your soulmate. The one who should be able to trust you the most. The one whose confidence in you ought to be absolute.
But you broke that trust long ago, and though she doesn't know for certain, she clearly suspects it. Any and everything you ever did or didn't do is now called into question. She waits for an answer.
You look into her eyes – you've always loved her eyes, so blue, like the ocean – and realize what you aren't capable of doing. The truth spills out in fragments. Sentences are too difficult, as tears choke every word. You confess everything, from the beginning.
You love her too much to persist in deceiving her. She has a right to know, and to deal with the consequences, with or without you beside her. When you have said all there is to say, burying your face in your hands as though it helps, she rests her soft fingertips on your shoulder. You look up to see her smiling face, her head nodding in naive approval at the end of your long-withheld silence.
You tell her that everything will be fine, no matter what happens, and she nods once more. This will be your final lie, because you know that nothing will ever be fine again.
Perhaps she will start a new life, in a new place, as though she never knew you at all. Maybe she will change her name. Or maybe she will visit you every week without fail wherever you end up going. But you won't hold your breath for that to happen.
She parts her lips as if to speak, but hesitates. You try to think of something to say that's worth anything at all, but come up empty. And there it is again: that awkward silence.
The next word spoken seals your fate, and hers.