Rachelle stopped coming to class.
The last we spoke was two weeks ago. She mentioned her modeling job. I told her about my trips to Europe while stationed at the UK. She was genuinely interested about my Air Force career, but most people are. I don't think I fit the conceived notion of a military man. When a person says "former military" the first thing that usually pops into peoples' minds is an image of a tall, buzzed white man with bulging muscles and a bad-ass attitude. I'm not that man. Instead, I'm short, skinny, boyish looking asian guy, quick to smile and laugh. People tell me that I put them at ease, which I suppose accounts for why I sometimes almost feel social when at parties or group situations.
I never thought of myself as a confident person. In fact, I've always struggled with my shyness. Whenever I spent too much time with people I became very stressed and needed to be alone. I could only handle so much socializing, and almost became a shut-in. In high-school, I never really had a tight circle of friends. Instead, I flit around from one group to another, leaving whenever I felt uncomfortable. I had two best friends who I saw every so often, but I never really hung out with their group either.
In the Air Force, I recognized that I had a new chance to be a more social person, so I took steps to being more outgoing. I understood that my weakness was building a relationship, so I did my best to be around my new dorm mates. In fact, this was easily the best place to put myself. We worked together, lived together, even worked-out and played team sports together. When the week was over, we'd finish by drinking and partying together. It was very satisfying to be a part of a group rather than being by myself all the time.
Over the two years, though, people slowly left. Deploying or simply changing stations, each of us went our separate ways across continents. I left for the desert one day, and when I returned there were all new faces. My circle of friends seemingly dissipated overnight.
Since then, in the last three years, I've worked very hard on my confidence and social skills. I didn't want to be that guy in the corner by himself at parties anymore. I kept repeating my new strategy, "Fake it til you make it." I figured out that most people were nervous as well. They didn't know how to meet strangers either. I used this to my advantage by offering a lifeline at parties. I could approach someone, introduce myself, and for the rest of the night they have someone to stop by and chat with. This way someone was always talking to me, and I could pretend I was the life of the party. Ultimately, this mantra would slowly be forgotten and I would become uncomfortable over the night. I'd finally end up in the corner, as usual, but I felt like I had accomplished something.
Today, I was sitting in class when Rachelle sat down next to me and smiled, "Hello." In a few moments we were back on track talking about ourselves. It was just simple conversation, but I knew I didn't need to feel shy. Whether or not this went somewhere, I could just enjoy the company during another boring class. I didn't have to fake it anymore.