He graduated in May 1985, and they married in July.
Almost in passing, one day Dominic told his wife what his mother had done, but said he didn’t see it as a central fact about his life. “We were sitting and watching TV, and he just blurted it out,” Marilyn remembers. “I was really in shock, because I couldn’t imagine that a mother could do such a horrendous act to her child. So I just put it in the back of my head and never revisited it. He never spoke about it, and I never brought it up again.”
Dominic’s education and career eventually became the Carters’ shared passion. He had set his sights on being famous long before deciding to be a journalist. He credits a thrilling childhood appearance on the popular children’s program Wonderama. In college, he acted in some plays before falling under the spell of the campus radio station. As an undergraduate, he landed an internship in the newsroom of Percy Sutton’s WBLS. But no real offers materialized after graduation, so for a number of years he joined Marilyn at college after college, working as a dorm resident adviser as she pursued a Ph.D. After repeated rejections, he was finally accepted to Syracuse, but when WBLS called him with a job offer, the Carters headed back to the city before either collected their degrees.
They moved in with Marilyn’s mother on 119th Street and Morningside Avenue. “Marilyn comes from a family of tremendous love,” Dominic says. “Her mother ended up being like my mother: She took on that role in my life.”
“I truly believe he wasn’t striking out at me,” says Marilyn Carter. “He was striking out at his mother all these years.”
Two children arrived, Courtney and Dominic Jr. But these weren’t entirely happy times. Laverne Carter, seldom seen since his adolescence, was back in Dominic’s life. She had ingratiated herself into his new family. “She had the nerve,” he once said, “to become a doting grandmother.” Even after Dominic begged Marilyn and her mother to keep Laverne away, they frequently invited her to Harlem for dinner. “When we saw Laverne, she was just like you and me,” Marilyn tells me. “She was always put together very nicely, not a hair out of place. Talk, talk, talk—very funny, very comical. So in your mind you say, ‘This didn’t happen,’ but he says, ‘This did happen, I don’t want her here, I don’t want her around my children.’ ”
“Marilyn was determined to bring us together, and that was going to happen over my dead body,” Dominic says. “I felt a little betrayed. I felt that Marilyn and her mother just didn’t understand.”
In her defense, Marilyn says she simply didn’t want to be rude. “She would call my mother or she would call me, and my mother and I are not the type of people that want to hurt another person’s feelings,” she says.
So Dominic stayed away. Soon, he was barely coming home at all. He more than doubled his salary with overtime, then he would drink the night away with old friends from the Bronx. And there were women, about which he says little.
“I’ve made mistakes, and I have a very good wife who stood by me,” he admits.
I look over at Marilyn as he says this. Her face is unreadable, her eyes are flat. She admits that the subject is part of the “baggage” that has animated ferocious battles over the years. “That’s where we need a lot of work on—to stick with the issue at hand. As opposed to letting all the old stuff resurface. I think we’re both guilty of that.”
But nothing he did or said kept his mother out of the apartment. He was left with no choice but to confront her one evening. “Laverne,” he said calmly, “why did you do that to me?”
She thought for a moment, then cleared her throat. “Boy, leave me alone with that,” came her reply.
A college professor once advised Dominic to “act and sound white” in order to succeed, and when he was younger he made an effort to “whiten” his voice, which didn’t work out exactly as planned. On air, Dominic is unmistakable. He sounds eager and Bronxy, like a raspy Cuba Gooding Jr. with a slightly tied tongue (“political” comes out “politico”). But that parochialism is ideally suited to NY1, the hyperlocal start-up that began in 1992 to assemble a roster of born-and-bred New Yorkers with the kinds of distinctive voices you would find on the subway platform but typically not on TV. Dominic was one of the first recruits. Soon Dominic was breaking important political stories and nursing a growing celebrity. Marilyn, meanwhile, was thriving as a college administrator. Their combined salaries were enough for them to buy a three-bedroom house in Rockland County, making them the first members of either family to become homeowners. But suburban bliss eluded them. When they were together, they fought viciously. When they were apart, which was most of the time, they continued battling over the phone. “It was like we were both locked in the same room with no exit,” she once told me. She feared his temper and responded to it with sarcasm.