First Step: Say Yes
By Mickalene Thomas and Carmen McLeod
Photograph by Martien Mulder
I was in London for the Frieze Art Fair when I saw Carmen walking down the street. I thought, She’s pretty cute. That’s probably some Londoner, and I’ll never see her again. Five hours later at a party, in walks Carmen. I told her I couldn’t find my way to my hotel, so she walked me back. We enjoyed each other’s company that night, and then I returned home to Brooklyn.
A few days later, she called me from JFK and said her flight back to Virginia was overbooked and could she come visit. After we spent those four days together, we saw each other every other weekend. She was planning to move to Germany after graduate school, and I convinced her to move to New York. I told her I wanted to get married and have kids. I’m going on 40, and I’m looking for a serious relationship. I wasn’t pushing that on her; I just knew that I wanted children.
We considered using one of our male friends as a donor but decided we wanted anonymous sperm. We didn’t want to look at our child and see our friend’s genetics. I thought, Why don’t we have an Asian baby? But Carmen wanted our child to have some resemblance to us, so we chose a black donor.
I have this picture of Carmen from our wedding. She’s getting ready, putting on her earrings. Her mother’s standing slightly in front, and I’m standing behind in the shadow, looking at her. She has this look on her face that reminded me of when I first met her in London. The photographer captured what I felt and saw when I first met her.
After I met Mickey, I called my mother and sister. They were excited for me. She’s actually the first woman I dated. I had just started the second year of my M.F.A. in painting in Virginia. I think maybe a week and a half after we first spent time together, she called and said, “How about I come down to see you this weekend?” like she was just coming the next city over, not hopping on a plane. That’s how it went. It was a series of questions, and I kept saying, “Yes.”
We were lying on my couch in Richmond when she asked me if I wanted to get married. It was another one of those moments where my heart was hammering in my chest. And I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” From there it became a discussion between the two of us. I feel like our lives are a joint decision. When I first met Mickalene, a lot of my not-so-close friends said her career was going to eat me up. But it hasn’t been like that. She’s such a giving and generous person. Her career has helped mine. I appreciate that we can share those things. I gained so much.
As told to Jerry Portwood