Like the city where he lived, Marshall had changed hands many times.
Pensacola flew five flags–one for each nation that desired its deep water port: Spain, Britain, France, Confederate, and USA. After his only parent died, Marshall lived in about that many foster homes before his father’s brother surfaced. Uncle Albert took Marshall in when he was ten years old.
His uncle lived in a shotgun house in an historic black neighborhood. The house was so straight and narrow–unlike his Uncle–you could shoot an arrow from the front door right on through the back door. The old structure sat with hunched shoulders and faded yellow paint on a spotty yard of weeds and sand. It had been in the family for generations. Under Albert’s watch, it was in serious need of care.
Albert worked as a solid waste engineer with the county. He had never married. He was a nighttime alcoholic who somehow managed to sober up and go to work the next morning. He rarely kept food in the refrigerator except when the social worker stopped by to check on Marshall. The boy had learned to fend for himself. Getting out of the foster care system was the only good thing about living with Uncle Albert, and learning bits and pieces about the father Marshall never knew.
After landing in Albert’s sorry shack, Marshall consoled himself at night by gazing at the golden moon through the long tresses of Spanish moss on the big oak outside his bedroom window. On summer nights legions of frogs bleated and croaked an odd symphony. The first year he cried himself to sleep each night, scared, and feeling even more alone with Uncle Albert than after his mother had died.
Alcohol was his uncle’s only companion. Even so, Marshall covered up Albert’s inebriation and violent outbursts because the alternative foster system was, for him, far worse. Consistent neglect seemed better than inconsistent residence.
Thus, Marshall led a quiet life in the shadows of Pensacola, staying below the radar, keeping his sights on independence at age 18. As he grew, Marsh brokered a tenuous coexistence with his mercurial relative.