The following essay, a work in progress, was written for English 404, Creative Nonfiction. I often wish the essay was fiction.
“Folly is a child of power.” ― Historian Barbara W. Tuchman
I first saw the two pairs of shoes. They’d seen better days. When I looked up, two white men were in my office doorway in downtown Washington, D.C. I immediately knew they were the messengers of death. The one with the tan raincoat flashed an identification wallet—a badge and a picture id card. Drug Enforcement Administration. Wearing a crumpled-up brown suit, the other man handed me the subpoena, an off-white 3 ½ x 8 ½ sized folded paper. At the top, in large letters, was printed “United States of America vs.” Below it, in caps, SUBPOENA FOR THE GRAND JURY. “You’ve been served,” the man said, and then, they were gone.
My memory of what happened next in October of 1983 is faded now. However, the emotions of that moment jump up now and then. I remember fear, panic, resignation, confusion. I looked around to see if my Commission staff had seen the men arrive and leave. Probably asked myself, “How did I let this happen?” What a dumb question, I would have thought in response.
Looking out my large, paneled windows at the Martin Luther King Jr. library across the plaza, I sat down at my desk. The federal subpoena, still folded, lay in my hand. I looked down and unfolded it.
There were those words again: THE UNITED STATES vs. Below it on a separate line: In RE: Possible Violations of 21 USC 841, 844, 846. I had no idea at the time what those numbers meant. My lawyer would later tell me. The federal government was investigating me for conspiracy, distribution, and possession of drugs. Then, he ticked off potential prison sentences if convicted. I stopped counting at thirty years.
I couldn’t think of any words to console me. All I kept hearing rattling in my head were cliches. It was time to pay the piper. The chickens had come home to roost. Don’t commit the crime if you can’t do the time. I knew life was a maze of choices and that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. At thirty-four years old, I was stuck in a corner with no way out. There was no going backward. All that was behind me was the previous four years of being reckless in Sodom and Gomorrah. A time of endless sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. I looked down at the subpoena and suddenly felt the rush from that past life come to a screeching crash.
It’s no secret that ingesting copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol can lead to desperate paranoia. But damn, Drug Enforcement Administration was surveilling me. The Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia did seek a subpoena against me. And the Chief Judge of the District Court approved it. All of them were demanding a reckoning. They wanted to know why a mildly successful mid-level government official allegedly facilitated selling drugs to the alleged mistress of the Mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry.
To be continued.
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