Earlier today a rag-tag group of people gathered in Northridge Park in Coralville, Iowa. I walked over to a table and saw some little children drawing on pennants with puffy paint. They were creating dedications to my son. One looked up at me and asked, as she would have any nearby grown-up, “How do you spell Charlie?” I spelled it out carefully and she looked at me skeptically.
Are you sure about that, ma’am?
I told her, as gently as I could, that I was pretty sure I spelled it right because I was the one who gave him that name. She went right back to puffy painting Charlie’s name on a blue pennant.
Charlie’s father was there. I hadn’t quite gotten over my hurt at his recent comment that our marriage broke down because of my misunderstanding of what a “no hitter means”. I’m still salty at finding myself the butt of jokes, but I went and I was cordial. His wife and her parents, who are warm and kind people were there, and Strange and TD, and I was thankful that I had the sense to call our priest to come.
And we planted a tree for Charlie that was sponsored by the youth theater group. They planted the tree overlooking a spot where they had performed an outdoor play in the middle of a pandemic. I sat nearby with my friend and hairdresser and her son, watching my kids play on stage. He was really brilliant.
Charlie’s mom is a painful introvert and he was the glue that would have made it possible for me to do something like this today. But, my glue was getting a tree.
Before the ceremony when his tree was planted, the theater director Evan said some words. He admitted, he didn’t really have a plan, but told a story about what it means when you say “The show must go on” even when you’ve lost someone. It doesn’t mean you didn’t love that person or that they weren’t important. It’s because, once upon a time, the theater was a place for outcasts. People who didn’t feel loved by society. There were rules about who theater people could marry and the type of society they could engage in. The theater became peoples’ family and that is what must go on. Charlie was a little weirdo who found his people there and, indeed, it must go on. You can keep the show going on by donating to Charlie’s endowment here, selecting Charlie Bates from the pull-down menu. Our family has committed to providing >100 scholarships this year as we build the endowment.
Charlie’s father had, of course, written a few words. Our priest blessed the tree and his stepfather poured out a Coke Zero on the spot, Charlie’s favorite drink. Then we got shovels and dug and buried, and that was it.
I am told that we planted some sort of oak. It will grow 40 feet tall and live for more than 100 years. It has a beautiful marker that people can see from the path and it’s near a creek with newborn tadpoles. It seems idyllic.
I only wish I had him back. He would’ve held my hand through this. I would have held his.