Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dusty

The past week has been rough. I said goodbye to a friend. If you asked him his name, he'd tell you Leonard Dustin James Atterbery. But he went by Dusty.

My friend Dusty had a phenomenal personality. You felt good being around Dusty, and he made the world better. He was a winning kid -- small but mighty.

The first time I saw Dusty he was throwing a fit. It was 10 years ago and I was working at a kids' camp. Don't remember what the fit was about. I guessed this boy with blondish red hair and freckles was about 8-years-old, but I could tell mentally he was about 4. Later I asked him how old he was.

"Fifteen," he said.

Somebody told me he had been a fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) baby. When child protective services found him at four months old, he was lying in a dresser with whisky and Coke mixed in his baby bottle. The dangerous early exposure to alcohol limited his intellectual and physical growth.

Dusty was adopted by Phil and Kay Atterbery. The couple adopted several kids with special needs such as autism, but Dusty had the most severe condition of their eight kids.

I got to know Dusty and his parents through my job. I would pick Dusty up from Levy Special Education School and we would go to places like the YMCA near West Central in Wichita or West Acres Bowling Alley. We put the bumpers up for Dusty when he bowled and he was always happy when he got a strike.

Dusty and I also went out on Saturday morning walks around places like Riverside Park, WSU and Friends University. We'd go to the Wichita Art Museum where he liked to draw in the childrens' section, the library where he liked to play games on the computers and Old Cowtown Museum where he liked to watch people dressed like 1870s characters.

When I picked up Dusty at his home, he was always showing me Nerf guns he had bought with his allowance and costumes he wore -- Superman, Batman, Darth Vader... Dusty loved to dress up. One time he showed me a toy sword he'd gotten. He wanted to take it with him on our outing, but his dad told him to leave it at home and he could play with it when he got back. Dusty threw a loud fit and it was tough to get him out the door.

Later, after we'd been playing at the Y for a while, I said, "How 'bout we call your dad and tell him you're sorry for throwing a fit earlier?" He was up for that so I called Phil, told him Dusty had something to tell him. Long since cooled down, Dusty apologized for throwing a fit earlier.

"I accept your apology," I could hear Phil say over the phone.

Dusty was feisty. One time he got into some kind of argument with a kid around the pool table at the Y and said, "Do you want a bloody nose?" I had him apologize. Another time a kid didn't believe Dusty when he told him he was 18. I later took the boy aside and said, "Actually, he really is 18." The boy told Dusty he was sorry.

"I accept your apology," Dusty answered.

He loved to push the buttons in my car and activate the seat warmers. He loved Elvis, just as he loved superheros, Star Wars, Star Trek, Walker Texas Ranger and playing cowboys and Indians. Once we were listening to the Elvis station in my car on Sirius radio. One of Elvis's more forgettable songs came on and I committed the disrespectful, sacrilegious act of changing the station.

"Hey turn it back," Dusty said. "I like that song."

Well okay.

Accident

The accident happened Friday afternoon May 7 at the intersection of side streets, Young and Newell. A van from Starkey, a non-profit based group that cares for people who are mentally challenged -- was transporting Dusty and two other residents from a day program. An Escalade SUV reportedly sped through a stop sign and crashed into the van.Dusty and another Starkey resident, Dirk MacMillian, were killed.

It has not been established whether the driver of the SUV, Bret Blevins, was drunk. Authorities are waiting for toxicology reports to come back. What is established is that Blevins was a repeat DUI offender, had been convicted of possession of meth and of stealing a bronze Eagle statue from the Boy Scout Quivera Council. His driver's license has been suspended numerous times.

"I hope he lives a long, long life in prison," Kay Atterbery told the KWCH news.

Yeah, prison. Where he can't hurt the community any more.

Four days after the wreck, a candle light vigil was held at the scene of the accident. I had to drive an hour and a half to get there, but I was going to make my stand for Dusty and the other victims.

I would implore you, if you're impaired, please don't drive. If someone around you plans to drive while drunk, give them a ride, call them a cab, take their keys away, call the cops if you have to, but do anything you can to stop them.
                         Dusty taking his niece, Jasmine, to prom.

Goodbye, my friend

My beautiful wife, Maria, and handsome son, Max, went with me to Dusty's funeral. He had a beautiful memorial service officiated by Pastor Cecil Brown of the West Side Church of the Nazarene. He talked about how Dusty was now in Heaven where there are no more problems, no more sadness. The mortuary was packed with family, friends and people who had been caregivers for Dusty.

Most of them had Dusty stories. Along with the sadness, there was a celebration of Dusty's life.

His aunt Nancy sang, "Amazing Grace." Elvis's beautiful gospel recording of "In the Garden was played. Dusty's niece, Jasmine, and Anna, a neighbor to the Atterberys sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children." The songs were appropriate -- children's songs you learn in Sunday school and those lyrics -- when the girls, one black, one white sang "red and yellow, black and white, they're all precious in his sight," I thought about how those words really meant something.

Phil and Kay Atterbery are white but several of Dusty's adopted siblings are African American. Dusty never knew racial divisions.

Kay stroked Dusty's hair one last time and sang to him as she had so many times.

Hair of gold, eyes of blue
skin so fair, freckles too...
How I love my little boy,
how I love my pride and joy.
Close your eyes, 
now go to sleep...
my precious child.

I worry about how Kay is going to do without her boy. I wish the man who caused this accident could see all the damage -- all the sadness he's created.

Nobody knows what happens after we die, but I'd like to think we go on somehow, that there's more than just this life.

I remember one day. Dusty and I were at the Donut Whole in east Wichita. There was a picture in the window of a man with a guitar.

"That's God," Dusty said.

"No Dusty, that's a picture of a man who's going to be performing here," I said.

"No, it's God."

I get a good feeling knowing Dusty, my friend, may have looked into the the face of God. No more pain or sorrow. Just joy and love forevermore. I hope he met Elvis too.

My beautiful wife, Maria, has been a blessing to me through all my sadness and bereavement. She knew Dusty was special.

"You'll see him again," she told me.

The family has set a gofundme page to help pay for Dusty's funeral.