Among the Stars: Part II

We are getting to,
Where I am,
Right now.

But first,

I had to tell you,
About meeting Jud,
And how it changed everything.

Now,

I am going to tell you,
About Blastoff,
How it was,
Back then.

<>

“He wondered whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.” -Neil Gaiman

Jud was a safe place for me.
Blastoff was my home.
And in my home, I met my family.

20190713_2024033814311204285129534.jpg
Other people who didn’t necessarily think like me, but who also didn’t need me to think like them either. People I’ve gone to cons with, gone to dinner with, shared birthdays with, swapped intimate life details with, had questionable adventures with… I’ve built extremely sturdy friendships with people I’ve met at Blastoff- they truly are some of the closest friends I have. We would often joke about it.
“Blastoff bringing people together again!”
I remember one evening I was hanging out in the shop, intermittently speaking to Jud and perusing the new comics of the week. Jud engaged with some customers who walked in (honestly sometimes I got jealous, lol, how DARE you love this man as much as me??), and they were having a good conversation. About ten minutes in, or so, more customers walked in and I could immediately tell they had never been there before.

There is a sense of wonder, of the purest awe, that lights the eyes of every Blastoff newcomer. A sheen to their gaze that I’d become extraordinarily familiar with, one that I had come to anticipate with great delight. It’s that moment where their prior expectations and sensibilities fall away, and they step into the collective telepathic space of all Blastoff initiates.

This doesn’t look like a regular comicbook store!
The floor is so shiny!

Jud cut his eyes at me, never missing a beat in his own conversation, the daily conflict writ large in his keen, grey eyes. Which conversations to end? When to end them? When to cater to whatever guests accompanied the door’s cheerful jingle?

However, I was already on it.
I coasted up to them, a greeting floating off my lips, inquiring if they needed any help. Their starstruck gaze met my knowing ones, and I named the sensation coursing through their veins.

“You’ve never seen a comicbook store like this before right?”
“Right!”

I smiled and welcomed them into my home, quickly pointing out the highlights of everything they needed to know. I watched their eyes, noted the semi loose grip on the leash restraining their dog, happily informing them their pet was more than welcome inside. Then I asked if they were looking for something in particular?

They were in search of one of the latest onslaughts in a long series of newly released DC titles. I felt my eyes brighten as I led the way over the twinkling wood panel floor, past the robot sentries perched atop the shelving, peering down at all us mortal denizens residing on the ground level. From the corner of my eye, I caught Jud- still in earnest conversation- noting the whole exchange and, though I never stopped speaking, internally I waited with baited breath. This was the moment.

Would he intervene?
Or let it ride?

Without even catching my eye, he turned away and dove the remaining distance into his own exchange. My heart bloomed. Something was sealed for me in that moment. Something more than just his approval. As I guided these new friends, pointing out all the different comics and where they were, I realized I had never been trained. Ever. I knew what I knew from the simple virtue of having spent so much time in that place. And Jud was obviously comfortable with me taking the lead in that situation, which is significant because I wasn’t even an employee.

And I didn’t have to be.
That was just as much my space as anybody on payroll.
Perhaps even moreso.
I belonged there.

Blastoff had provided me something I was in sore need of.
Belonging.

There was another time I cruised by the shop just to hang out there, only to discover Jud had to leave early. However, on his way out, he introduced me to this tall guy casually winding his way around the racks named Jared. I accepted it out of respect for Jud, but I was less than enthused. I wasn’t really there for new people that day… I came because I needed reliable conversation. Which was the crux of mine and Jud’s whole friendship.

So Jared and I got to talking…
And talking…
And talking…

And basically we never stopped.
I was in a bind last summer on my flight back from Brasil, because the planes had delayed me by almost 24 hours and messed up my ride. Jared said if I could make it to a flyaway stop, he could pick me up and take me home. He had work that day!

Recently, Keys (another friend from the shop) and I met up with him at his home, and we were in friendly discussion/banter/argument for something like 7-9 hours. I met both of these incredible men at Blastoff.

A different time I was lurking in that wonderful place talking to Harley (yet another friend who was also shop manager at the time) and somehow ended up in conversation with this guy named Dre. We discovered a point of mutual love for quality storytelling, and an unyielding instinct to tell the truth… we now make it a point to check with each other.

Keys is another. A remarkably buff, bald, sexy black guy with a passion for anime (I’m crying laughing right now picturing his face, reading this) who is just so much like a brother. We also connected over stories, and original writing, and make it a point to keep in touch with each other.

Just, so many stories.
And the centerpoint?
Blastoff.

This beautiful wasn’t just for us big people either.
Not just for us so called adults.

Dynamic pastor and speaker Dharius Daniels has an amazing quote that lit up my insides the instant I read it.

“Every kid needs someone who doesn’t see them as an interruption, but as an appointment.”

The Dynamic Verdant Duo presided over the children’s section. Divine design on Jud’s part, that took me a minute to understand. But if you ever had the pleasure of watching kids inhabit their native habitat in the shop, suddenly you see how it all comes together. You get it. They have a home there. Not on accident. Not by happenstance or circumstance.

But by intent.
Jud wanted children there.
And children always know when they are wanted.
Blastoff was a place where all were welcome, all could learn, all could be children, all could be family, all could be safe, all could beĀ free.

La casa de gloria.

And now, my home-

the place where Jud and I became inseparable
the place where I met the people closest to my heart
the first place I went after my divorce
the place I would go to think
the birthplace of my life’s mission statement
the place I was proud to introduce my sister to
the place I took my kids (students) on a field trip (twice)
the safest place I’ve ever known
more sacred than any church I’ve ever stepped foot in

-that place is gone.

Moved on.
Launched out of my orbit in keeping with its name.

Blastoff.

And even though I carry the DNA of the shop in every fiber of my being, I still know I shall equally miss it with each one of those fibers.

Blastoff was more than a comicbook shop.
It was a living, breathing entity.

And now,
its watch,
has ended.

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