Zoom classes have never been completely free of awkward moments, but nothing is more awkward than the first ten seconds of a Zoom breakout room. While the room loads, you privately steel yourself for what’s to come. You pull in deep breaths and slap the sides of your face to make yourself as alert as possible. Then, the room opens and you see the others. You wince; a little tear slides down your cheek. It’s the worst case scenario: Everyone else’s cameras are turned off, and they are determinedly muted. This time, it's your turn to sacrifice your pride. 

As you reach for the “unmute mic” button, your hand shakes. You crack an uneasy smile at the camera, but you are not even sure if the others are watching. Perhaps they’re asleep. Perhaps they are just a figment of your imagination. Perhaps they are a dream and you are still asleep. Your world seems to crack and crinkle at the edges. 

A clicking sound snaps you back to reality. You’re unmuted. The silence of the others is expectant and terrifying. Every fiber of your being is laser-focused on one goal: don’t let your voice crack. There are no wire-rimmed glasses for you to push up your nose, but you still feel like a nerd. For a moment, you are back on the playground in fourth grade, and Arnold is teasing you for doing your math homework. Then, you’re back in the present.

What do you say? What can you say? You are ever-aware of the seconds that tick by. With each minute that passes, it becomes more likely that your Professor will join your breakout room and inquire about your progress. You cannot let that happen. You must sacrifice yourself. 

“Hey guys.” You begin, then pause, hopeful for a reply. There is none. That was wishful thinking. “So… What did you guys think of the reading?”

In reply, there is a brief rustle, then nothing. The black squares that represent your classmates seem to grow larger in front of you. 

You chuckle weakly. “I guess… I’ll start. I really liked the bit where…” Your voice fades away. You are still talking, but all you can hear is a buzzing in your ears. Faintly, you hear Arnold’s voice mocking you, as if from a hundred miles away.

Suddenly, the professor is there. She looks expectant, and a bit annoyed that your classmates’ cameras are off. She zeroes in on you. She says your name.

“What has this group been talking about?” She asks. 

You say nothing. Your professor’s head has transformed. 

“Hello? What have you been discussing?” It’s no longer the Professor’s face, looking at you—It’s Arnold’s. You whimper, and then you clear your throat.

“We were just talking about, uh, how the chapter is representative of a time in the author’s life where…”

The professor/Arnold is nodding along. You’re doing it. You’re succeeding. At the end of the day, it doesn’t even matter if you talk to your classmates, you tell yourself. You know the answers all on your own. You are a genius.

The professor leaves, telling you and your classmates to continue your discussion. What discussion? You laugh to yourself. You lean back in your chair and kick your feet up on the desk. You have lived to fight another day.

 

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