By Donna Andersen
Not long after we met in person, James Montgomery proposed to me — he was smitten with me, and proclaimed we’d make a great team. But it felt like he was taking over my existence. What was I getting myself into?
Life became a spinning tornado, with James at the center of it. He was working at full speed on all his projects, yet called me many times a day, keeping me apprised of his progress. He told me about his meetings, forwarding reports and faxes. He also asked for my help. James wrote newsletters for the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans Association and his new Lions Club. He wanted me to use my vendors to get them printed and mailed.
I was busy as well. My business, Donna Andersen Copywriting, Inc., handled three casino newsletters. The Caesars Premium Player was published five times a year for the casino’s customers; I had the account since 1984. The Showboat Crew’s News was published monthly for that casino’s employees, which I’d done since 1989. Showboat had expanded to three different properties and wanted a newsletter for all its employees, so in 1994 I won a contract to produce a semimonthly newsletter called the Learning Network. It was a lot of work.
Still, James and I wanted to spend as much time together as we could. He suggested that each week we get out our calendars—“diaries,” he called them—to plan our evenings. “We’ll call your house our ‘bay’ house, and my house our ‘woods’ house,” he said. “We’ll mark which nights we’ll be where.”
James kept an early schedule—he was up and at his computer at 4 a.m., and went to bed at 8 p.m. When we were at our bay house, James wanted to use his laptop to go on the Internet. So I set up an office for him in the spare bedroom, and had a phone jack installed. The back room was soon filled with piles of papers.
The political season was in full swing, and James was working on the campaign of Joe Nickles, a Republican from Hamilton Township (which included Mays Landing), who was running for Atlantic County freeholder. James wanted me to accompany him to campaign appearances and fundraisers. With him, I attended my very first VFW picnic. It was on a bright, sunny afternoon, so we drove there in James’ 1977 MGB convertible, with the top down.
Then James wanted me to go with him to a meeting at Suburban Cable in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was going to talk to them about the Jersey Shore Channel and other possible television ventures. I was pleased to be included in his business plans, and made time for the meeting in my schedule.
A few days before the meeting, I asked James if I should wear a business suit. He seemed surprised by my question. “You’re not going into the meeting,” he said.
I was confused. “Then why did you ask me to go?”
“It’s an important meeting, and I want you to drive so I can get prepared mentally for it and not be distracted by traffic,” he said. “And I want to practice my pitch with you on the way up. Then I’ll go into the meeting, and you’ll wait in the car.”
West Chester was an hour and 45 minutes away. James wanted me to leave early in the morning, drive him there, sit in the car for an hour or two while he had his meeting, and drive another hour and 45 minutes to get home. My day would be shot. I was annoyed.
But, I thought, if it would help my fiancé get his TV network going, I guess I should do it. So I agreed to the trip, and brought work with me to do in the car, although without my computer, I accomplished little.
We got back from West Chester in the afternoon. I dropped James off in Mays Landing and continued on to Atlantic City, hoping to salvage something of the day. Later, James would be coming by—it was a night for our bay house.
Late in the afternoon James called me. “I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “It would be better if you came here tonight.”
I did not respond immediately. In fact, I was floored.
I had blown most of the day to drive him to a meeting that he certainly could have driven to himself. I, too, had a lot of work to do. And now he wanted me to drop everything and drive to Mays Landing again?
“You know, James, I’m pretty busy myself,” I said. “Tonight was supposed to be a night here, and I’d like to stick with that plan.”
“Donna, I have to pull information together based on today’s meeting. I have more calls to make and more faxes to send. I’m working very hard to build our future. I don’t think it’s too much to ask you to come here this evening.”
By this point I was angry. “Well, James, I, too, have a business to run, and quite frankly, I lost a lot of time today. So I think I’ll just stay home.”
“Is that your decision?” he asked, with an accusatory edge in his voice.
“Yes, it is.”
“All right, then. Goodbye, Donna.”
I hung up the phone with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was overworked, and I felt James did not respect my time. My anger was justified. On the other hand, I wanted to be supportive of my fiancé. At least I thought I did. But what was I getting myself into?
The next morning we spoke on the phone. I explained to James that I was angry. “I feel like you expect me to give up my life and become one of your appendages,” I said.
James suggested that he take me out to breakfast so we could talk. When he picked me up, the first thing I did was give him his ring back. “Maybe it would be best for you to hold on to this,” I said. He put the ring in his pocket and we drove to a small local restaurant.
The place was busy with a summer Saturday breakfast crowd. We were seated in a red vinyl booth along the wall. I ordered scrambled eggs. James ordered scrambled eggs as well—with scrapple.
It was time to talk. I wasn’t sure of my feelings, and I wasn’t sure where to start. So I just started.
“You know, James, I have to send the Showboat job to the printer next week, and the Caesars job goes out the week after that. Driving you to Westchester yesterday really set me back.”
“Then you shouldn’t have done it.”
“You asked me to go with you, and I want to help you. That’s why I went with you. I was okay with that. But I needed to get back and get some work done. When you wanted me to drop everything again and come out to Mays Landing, well, that wasn’t in the plan.”
“My plans change all the time. I’m working on six businesses. I have to deal with multiple, shifting priorities. If we’re going to be together, you’re going to have to be flexible.”
“James, I know how to juggle. I do it all the time. But I need you to understand that I have responsibilities as well.”
The waitress arrived with our breakfast. We ate in silence for a few minutes. I started again. “I feel like things are moving too quickly, James. It hasn’t even been a month since we met.”
“Donna, I’ve learned that life is short, and can change drastically in an instant. I was with Gale, and then she was gone. Men who were with me in Vietnam were alive one minute, and dead the next. I am accustomed to making quick decisions and taking action. When I asked you to marry me, I committed to putting everything I’ve got into our future together. I committed to us, boots and all. It’s going to be a lot of work, and that doesn’t bother me. Things are going to be difficult for another month or so. But I need to know you’re with me 100 percent.”
I was quiet, trying to sort out how I felt. Was the relationship moving too fast, or was I just afraid? This man was a dynamo. He accomplished much in the past, and he would accomplish even more in the future. He invited me to join him, to be his partner in what was sure to be an exciting journey.
James told me, over and over, how much he loved me. I was the woman he always wanted. I was the woman who completed him. No man had ever said that to me before—and I’d known a lot of men. Wasn’t this what I was waiting for all my life?
“Look, Donna, this is a deal-breaker,” James said. “If we’re going to be together, it must be completely. To me, that’s what a marriage is—two people completely supporting each other. If that’s not what you want, then we should stop.”
I held my coffee mug with two hands, studying it carefully. I agreed with James—a marriage should be two people totally committed to each other. It’s what I wanted for so long, and what James promised.
“What do you want to do?” James asked.
I looked up at him. “I want to get married.”
“Boots and all?” he asked.
“I’m glad,” he said softly. “That’s what I want.”
Since I’d given James the ring back, he said he’d take it to his jeweler and get it sized.
Next week’s Love Fraud book excerpt: If my family knew what was really going on: