Updated: Sep 1
Hello! My name is Kelly McDonald, and I am so incredibly humbled to be the Vice President of The Cennea Thorla Giudry Scholarship Foundation. Shelbra and I have been friends for 21 years. We met in 2002, after Cennea was killed. I remember when Shelbra and I were getting to know each other, and she had told me what happened to her dear sister that I was impressed by her strength and courage to tell her sister’s story. For years and years, she searched for a way to honor Cennea and I can say with certainty that she has found it!
During those years of us getting to know each other I got married, had my son, and worked as a clinical mental health counselor. At the same time, Shelbra was doing the same! She had her son 9 months after I had mine and they are still friends to this day. Our families did a lot of things together. We had dinner at each other's houses, celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, went to parties, etc. Our husbands were friends. Life seemed great. But I was carrying a secret. A secret I could tell NO ONE! A secret that I felt I could never tell her because of what happened to Cennea. I was being abused. I was terrified every day. I had to keep it all a secret because my abuser threatened to harm everyone I loved, and that included Shelbra and her family.
When you are in an abusive relationship, sometimes you do not even know that you are being “abused”. You know something is “off”. Things that occur in your home do not occur in your friends’ homes or marriages. You notice that suddenly your friendships that you had for years and years are slipping away. People try to talk to you about the abuser's behavior and you start to make excuses. Then comes the shame and guilt. Then comes the slow realization that something is not right in your home. If I gave details and examples of everything I went through, it would take days to write. I guess the biggest example that I can give that comes to mind is when my friends would want to do a girl's night out, or an overnight at a hotel or even a girl's trip together I could never go. There were several reasons. First, he spent all our money. I was embarrassed to say that we did not have money. Second, he was an addict, and I could not leave my son with someone that might not be awake! I would have been worried that my baby was being neglected. Thirdly and the most important reason was I DID NOT FEEL SAFE LEAVING MY SON WITH HIS OWN DAD! He had a horrible temper. If he was using drugs, it was even worse. I could not leave my son with his own father, even for a few hours sometimes, because I was afraid, he would harm him. Like really harm him. His temper was unpredictable and cruel and there was no way I was taking the chance that it was a “good day” or a “bad day”.
You may be reading this and saying to yourself “Why did she not leave this man”? Well, it is not that easy. I will say this. For me, supporting my son and myself was not going to be an obstacle. That is WHY education is SO important to have!! Education leads to freedom for some women. That is our mission at TCTGSF! I could not leave because it was not safe to leave. This is what I had in common with Cennea and something I could never tell anyone. I was threatened countless times that if I tried to leave him, he would kill me, take our son, and hide. Having lived with his temper for 8 years I knew he was capable of it. You want to know what the strange thing about all of that is? He never laid a hand on me. He was cruel, divisive, calculating, an expert at gaslighting and lies, destructive with property, cruel to our animals and could make me feel like there was a gun to my head every day. He would randomly buy firearms and let me know often that he had them. I walked on eggshells every day. He never left me alone. I worked at a psychiatric hospital for most of our marriage and it was my haven. Can you imagine that? But he would call me ALL day, page me ALL day, text me ALL day. I was away but never free. I would get off work, and when I would get to our neighborhood, I would drive around the block for about 20 minutes just to prepare myself for whatever waited for me inside.
SO, how did my son and I break free? It is a story for sure. Along with all the other qualities I mentioned above that he had, he also was a serial cheater. He posed as a single dad on one of the online dating sites. I found out from one of the women he was cheating with!! After I found out about the first one, I did try to leave. He in turn broke down my front door and said, “you're not going anywhere”. Well, in the spring of 2015 he met a woman who he fell in love with. She had 2 boys close to my son’s age and my son loved them. Oh, I forgot to mention he used my son as bait to get these women and then bribe him not to tell mommy. Anyway... He came to me one night and said that he wanted a divorce ASAP and that he was in love with this woman and well that was it. I thought I was finally free. We had the quickest divorce in history, had worked out a parenting plan for our son which gave me full custody of him legally and physically, but he had visitation. I was starting to relax a tiny bit. I was going out with friends again. I even had started dating. No, I was not ready at all and yes it was totally for revenge. I will admit that. Well, he found out I was dating and then things got VERY real.
He began to show up at my house unannounced at all times of the evening. One time I went to let my dogs out around 4am and he was just standing there in the living room. I had not changed the locks yet and was afraid to because it would have set him off. One night he showed up after our son was asleep and started destroying things, breaking glass etc. I told him to leave, or I was going to call the police. I told him that I was going to be filing a restraining order as well. Well, I thought he had left, and my senses kicked in and he had not left. He was sitting in his jeep in my driveway. I went out there and asked him what he was doing, and he said “I am trying to decide which one of us to kill” as he held his gun which he now had been carrying everywhere with no permit of course. I started to dial 911 and he finally left. From that day on my friends had been given a code word. If I texted this code word, then they were to send police to my house.
August 20th, 2015, just 2 weeks after this incident he ended up planning a murder suicide scenario which I did not take the bait for. He died that day from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. For some reason he was at my house even though he had no reason to be. He had wanted me to leave our son somewhere after school so we could talk. I refused to do so. He wanted to get back together and I said NO. I told him things were better the way they are. He did not like that. He was informed he needed to leave my residence and I was coming with the police. He left and within the hour he killed himself. Domestic Violence is no joke. Its lethal. It destroys lives. His son will never be the same. I will never be the same. In the words of Taylor Swift…
“ I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace. And so the battleships will sink beneath the waves. You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same. Cursing my name wishing I stayed. You turned into your worst fears. And you’re tossing’ out blame, drunk on this pain, crossing out the good years. And your cursing my name, wishing I stayed, Look at how my tears ricochet.”
I am so honored that I can at least be part of this incredible foundation which is a work of love from one sister to another.
This is my way to honor Cennea and to help anyone who is able to get out of their violent situation and enhance their lives in order to support their family.
Thank you for reading.. Kelly McDonald.