From Victim to Survivor
Melissa McDade spent many years hiding her secret from the world, but those days are no more. She’s ready to talk and hopeful her message can save someone’s life.
Twenty-five years ago, Melissa became a statistic. She, like countless numbers of spouses around the world was a victim of domestic violence.
“I was eight months pregnant when he pushed me into the fireplace,” recalled McDade. “That was when the physical abuse began, and I realized the man I thought I married was not that person anymore.”
That day began a 13-year rollercoaster of never-ending mental, physical, and verbal abuse for McDade.
McDade, who now works at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and Clinics as an administrative officer in social work said the hardest part about telling her story is being associated with the term battered wife.
“That doesn’t define who I am and not how I want others to see me,” said a confident McDade. “I want people so see me as a survivor.”
McDade remembers first time she tried to leave. At a woman’s shelter, she spoke with a counselor who didn’t pull punches.
“She told me, ‘You’re going to go back,’” recalled McDade. “When I asked her why she would say that she told me, ‘The lightbulb hasn’t gone off in your head yet, and when it does, you’ll know. You won’t have any doubt.’”
True to the counselor’s prediction, McDade went back.
“I was homeless, lost my job because he sold my car, and had no access to the bank account,” continued McDade. “I told myself I didn’t have any other option but to go back.”
When she returned, he refused to change his ways.
“I could tell by the way his feet hit the ground when we woke up each morning if I was going to be beaten that day,” said McDade who admitted to being stabbed, bitten, and choked. “There were times where he played Russian roulette by holding a gun to my head; it was a never-ending cycle.”
McDade remembers seeing a change in her oldest son who would try to help and console his mother. “At first he would try to be right by my side, then he began hiding under the kitchen table,” remembered McDade. “Then, he just sat in front of the TV, almost numb to what was going on.”
The second time she returned to the women’s shelter McDade had a fractured skull and nerve damage in her ears from repeatedly being hit in the head. But, just like before, she returned home.
McDade wants to encourage people who see someone hurting to do something. “It may be the last opportunity for them to get help,” she said.
She urges others to act because someone did this for her, and she has no doubt that the actions of a bystander saved her life.
“He took me by knife or gun-point and beat me everywhere we went for nearly seven days,” recalled McDade who referred to this time as hell week. “The last day we were taking the boys to school, and he told me to say goodbye because I wouldn’t see them anymore.”
McDade remembers thinking if she could get him to a public place, she might be able to escape.
“I convinced him to take me to the Walmart in Zephyrhills to get something for the boy,” said McDade. “Just as we passed the greeter, I said, ‘If you’re going to kill me, you’re going to have to do it here, because I am not leaving.’”
McDade recalls the greeter immediately grabbing her after hearing her words and seeing the knife. McDade was ushered into a secured area where management called the police.
“She was my angel,” said McDade. “I thank God every day for that amazing woman.”
However, just like all the times before, he was arrested, but the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
McDade said she struggled to understand how he could talk his way out of things, get charges reduced, and after 24 hours in jail, be a free man.
“If he had done any of these things to anyone on the street he’d been in prison,” said McDade.” It was attempted murder.”
In December 2009, the family attended the ACC Football Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium along with parents and kids from their son’s football team – which her husband coached. In her arms, McDade swaddled their five-week-old son and became concerned about the 50-degree temperatures.
“I told him I couldn’t stay outside much longer, and he kicked me as a way to tell me to be quiet,” said McDade. “Then, in front of my children, their friends, and parents, he spit in my face.”
McDade said no one said a word to him or her, and in that instant, she was done.
“I told myself, never again,” remembered McDade.
She decided to leave for good and set her date for Easter 2010. A family member offered her and the children a place to stay, and over the next four months she strategically moved items to the new location by saying she was spring cleaning, and a friend of the family co-signed for her to get a different vehicle.
On Sunday, April 4, 2010, she left and vowed to never return.
“When he used to beat me, I would cry out for Jesus, and he used to say, ‘he can’t help you,’” said McDade. “Well, he must have heard me because I’m still here. I had been brought to my knees for so long, and I realized that life was important – mine and my children’s.”
As she began her new life, an old acquaintance, Noah McDade resurfaced.
“I knew Noah from high school, and he reached out to me on Facebook,” said McDade with a smile. “I was so cautious at first, but the more we talked and spent time together, I began to feel safe because he removed every flag I had for the past 13 years.”
As the months unfolded Noah earned her trust in the way he interacted with his family, their friends and most of all – her boys. “I remember thinking this is what a family really feels like.”
The couple celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary this past April.
In addition to the safety, security and love, Noah, who serves as supervisor for Vocational Rehab and CWT, provides, he encouraged her to apply to work at Tampa VA with him.
Over the course of the past few years, McDade has earned promotions and advanced in responsibility in multiple sections throughout the hospital.
“I worked hard, proved myself and went from a secretary program support assistant to patient advocate and now administrative officer with social work,” said McDade. “There is so much joy in my heart, and I am happy to be alive.”
McDade said working at Tampa VA has allowed her to help others. Through her experiences, she can see when people are hurting, and she relies on the lessons she learned to guide her in being a resource who employees and Veterans can speak with comfortably.
Her two oldest boys, Dylan, who is 24, and Josiah, 21, serve in the U.S. Navy, and she says they have turned into the “finest young men who respect women and others.” Her youngest, Zeniche, is 14 years old, and fills her heart and Noah’s with joy every day.
“I am a firm believer that the years I was in the valley was a test of my survival skills where I learned a lot about who I was,” said McDade. “Most importantly I learned that I am worth it, and that realization gave me all the reassurance I needed to climb the mountain.”
If you are experiencing Intimate Partner Violence or know someone who is, Tampa VA and the Veterans Healthcare Administration can assist. Other options include the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Florida Department of Children and Families.