HARTFORD, CT— Wednesday around 11 a.m., Carleton student Rashad Williams began to make a comment in a Zoom English class discussion, only to realize that his classmate Rachel Brown had also begun to speak.
“Oh—sorry—you go, Rachel,” said Rashad after a brief pause.
“Oh no no, go ahead,” said Rachel.
“Well, my thing isn’t very—“ Rashad started to say, realizing that Rachel had once again been making sounds at the same time as him. Again, the two took a collective beat of silence.
“Oh I was just saying my thing is kind of off-topic anyway,” said Rachel hurriedly.
“Oh, m-mine is too,” Rashad said, shaking his head, as if to say, “You go first, it’s fine.”
“Uh—ok,” said Rachel, smiling, as if to say “Ha, what a silly situation we’re in!”
“I guess I’ll just go. I was just gonna say that I think the mother in this story is kind of playing a complex role—she’s not only the caretaker, but she’s a child herself, in a way. So there’s a duality there, where her traditional ‘motherly’ duties are juxtaposed with her kind of desperate, hopeful desires as a young woman.” Rachel said that last part quickly, furrowing her brows and shrugging, as if to say “But what do I know?”
On the surface, the interaction seemed like a typical Zoom dynamic. The pair’s classmates report having no memory of this moment, and harbor no feelings of resentment. But post-incident interviews with both parties reveal a different picture: one of tension, fear, and betrayal.
“God, when I first realized there was sound coming out of my speakers—while I had just put myself out there to break the awkward silence—I was terrified,” said Rashad.
Rachel reported similar feelings of anxiety. “Honestly, adrenaline started coursing through my veins the second I realized I was talking over Rashad,” she said. “I thought: Oh Rachel, you’ve really done it this time, haven’t you. How are you going to get yourself out of this one?”
Rachel’s ultimate decision to speak first, after so much back-and-forth deflection by both parties, was one of expediency. “I just wanted the awkwardness to end. I sure as hell didn’t want to talk first, but even stronger was my desire for the torture to be over. I figured I’d take one for the team and spit it out.”
Rashad, on the other hand, had a different perspective. “Oh, she was trying to be helpful?” he asked skeptically. “I don’t know. To me it seemed like a bit of a power-grab. Like, yeah, I said she should go first, but I didn’t really mean it. I wanted to talk first. It’s just common courtesy to say the other person should go.”
“What made it worse is that I was gonna make the exact same comment about the mom,” Rashad continued. “About how she exists in this kind of liminal space between child and parent. And how it’s kind of a false dichotomy.”
“It was a really insightful comment, and really unique. I mean, people think you can be either one or the other. But I thought, perhaps both could coexist? Perhaps motherhood is more of a spectrum than a binary? Just a totally unique thought, basically. And then Rachel went and said the exact same thing before I could.”
“Rashad’s upset?” asked Rachel, surprised. “Ugh. That’s kind of awkward.”
At press time, two other students in the class unmuted at the same time, but quickly both retreated back to “mute” upon realizing that the other had unmuted. The class sat in silence.