'Right now I could be acting'
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He treats inquiries carefully and is gifted at ignoring them. If a question piques his interest, he might not answer but almost always asks why it was posed.
By Saturday morning — my last day — I had spent three full days with Marshall. I ate a late-night dinner of eggs and orange juice with him at a Waffle House. I learned how to play dominoes (poorly) and lost what seemed like a hundred games of pool. We talked for hours on topics ranging from the obscure (why he never tried cigarettes) to the generic, such as his favorite movie ("Life," starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence).
Marshall has been a gracious host. He loaned me the keys to his car. His wife cooked for me. I lost count of how many times I used his Keurig coffee maker.
But when I have asked about his family's past, he repeatedly has deflected those questions. I decide to try again.
It is past 11 a.m. when Marshall finally pushes through the doors to his bedroom. He traipses into his theater, flops down into a seat and yawns loudly. He says he and Michi were up late talking. If he didn't have a stranger in his house, he'd still be sleeping.
I ask why he got married. " 'Cause I'm in love. And I found my wife." When did you know marriage was the next step? He's not comfortable answering.
What did your dad teach you about marriage? "This isn't no Q-and-A."
I sigh. Marshall turns on the TV. He says he is still skeptical of my story. I try to explain that his family's past is just one piece, not the only one. He cuts me off midsentence, uninterested. "If you're going to go writing about John Kennedy right now, you're not going to look at his father's police reports. You're not going to talk to his ex-wife."
A few minutes later Marshall reads me a quote attributed to the poet Maya Angelou he found on Twitter: "People will forget what you say, people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Why did he read that?
"I keep saying 'observe.' You're going to walk away here with a feeling of a positive experience or a negative experience. You're going to feel like something. ... I can sit here and tell you anything and you can forget it. Or I can tell you anything and it really doesn't matter. Right now I could be acting. I could be doing things I never do before, acting like I never act before. And you'd either forget it or it really means nothing because it's a show."
Is this another attempt by Marshall to dismiss a question about his past by focusing on the present?
Marshall criticizes me for interviewing relatives who don't know him well, such as Shelly Howard, who married an uncle and told me Marshall and his dad both have bad tempers. "She's not even relevant," he says, telling me I should speak to people like his Aunt Ronnie.
It goes like this for a while, lobbing words back and forth in the darkness as Marshall flips aimlessly through channels while dodging questions.
"My upbringing, it definitely contributes to who I am today," he concedes eventually. But answering questions about that topic, he says, lends credibility to the perception people have of him as a volatile person.
But I still have questions about his dad.
When I relay a description of his father from Pittsburgh that he was a strict man, Marshall unexpectedly bristles. He says his dad provided structure and passed along a strong work ethic. Marshall calls him a role model, his only role model.