My mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 2010, less than a month before my wedding. After that, weird things started happening to me.
I began to dream about Jack White.
Back when they were a huge deal, I knew nothing of the White Stripes. I remember seeing pictures of Jack White and thinking, hmm, he looks like a long-lost Addam’s Family member. And Meg? She just seemed depressed. So, it came as quite a shock when shortly after my wedding, I began to dream of Jack White.
The scene was always similar. I was at a concert of his. He would be singing, and all of a sudden I would have this sudden urge to run on stage and kiss him. I was super excited in the dream, super sexually charged. I would wait patiently at the stage door and long to see him. Ihad to see him. And then he would appear and smile a little impish smile and I would almost pee my pants with glee. At first, in the dreams, Jack would pretty much ignore me. Except for those little smiles, he would go about the business of being a rock star while I would be left there, pining after him.
I would wake up from these dreams feeling confused, but also really guilty. There would be my decent, cute husband sleeping soundly next to me while I was living out a rock-and-roll fantasy right there next to him. It would take me a little while to shake off the dream. And then I would go about the business of taking care of my sick mom and working my menial job. And that would be that. Until the next time Jack White would stalk me in the middle of the night.
As my mother got sicker, so did I. The dreams became more vivid and began to spill over into my real life. One day, I found myself at Best Buy buying a White Stripes CD. Just one I told myself—just one. I felt excited as I put it into my car’s CD player. And then I began to rock out. While I listened to it I felt more connected to Jack. I also felt sneaky and weird. Was I going to be one of those people who got arrested for showing up at a celebrity’s house with black roses and a handgun? Was that me? No, surely not. I was normal. Wasn’t I?
The next week I bought every White Stripes album they had at Best Buy, including their live CDs. I loved the spontaneity that Jack seemed to have onstage during these live performances. I loved the bizarre banter he had with his audiences. I only listened to the CDs in my car. How could I betray my husband by playing Jack’s music in our bedroom on his CD player? Not cool. So I blasted White’s music as I drove to my crap-ass job and before and after I took my mom to her chemo and countless other doctors’ appointments.
In the winter of 2010, my mom’s cancer spread to her brain. There were tests and treatments. I cried a lot and was angry. At Christmas, I found myself once again at the Best Buy. By now I was feeling so shameful that I went to a Best Buy that was not near my house. I bought a CD by the Raconteurs, another band fronted by Jack White.
Now, I think I know what some of you may be thinking at this point. You may be thinking that the way I was dealing with my mom’s cancer was to create a fantasy life with a celebrity in order to not deal with what was going on. And you would be right. But the thing about cancer is that it is so darn all-encompassing that at the time you just can’t really see anything but cancer in the real world. My days were so filled with IVs and radiation and talk of home care help that there had to be SOMETHING that was mine. Something that was fun and exciting. And Jack White was my thing.
By this time my dreams were just straight-up sexual. Jack and I would make out in my dreams. I loved his pasty skin and stringy black hair. I loved the way he lost it on stage. The way he masterfully played Claudette, his beloved guitar. I loved the fact that it seemed like every band wanted to play with him, that he was the best, and that he was mine. At least while I was sleeping. I would embrace him with wild abandon and, basically, rip off his clothes. I would wake up bummed out that my dream was just that. I still felt badly about cheating on my husband, but I couldn’t stop. I just had to keep going.
In the spring of 2011, my mom’s cancer had spread to her bones. She began to fall and had to use a cane. My days were focused on worrying about my mom. And secretly watching Jack White on YouTube. Riskily, I had taken to indulging in my fantasy during the day. While my husband was in the shower, I was watching concert footage of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs at Bonaroo or The Roxy. I would study Jack’s moves and facial expressions. I would soak up his coolness.
My car was my den of sin. I would keep the windows rolled up and play Jack’s music so loudly that one time I didn’t hear an ambulance and was nearly killed. Oh well. I had now moved on to The Dead Weather, a band Jack started with Alison Mossheart. Although she was beautiful, I wasn’t jealous. I knew they were just friends. I could tell. CDs were strewn about my passenger seat and I had to chuck them in the backseat whenever I had someone in my car. I was also careful to turn off the CD player in the car when someone else was there. I just couldn’t bear talking about my obsession with anyone, but I also didn’t want to share my fantasy. I needed something all my own.
In the summer of 2011, Jack White announced his divorce from supermodel Karen Elson. This was both horrific and wonderful for me. Wonderful for my fantasy life and scary for my real life. Was this a sign? Should I leave my husband? Should I move to Nashville where Jack lived? Should I be the stepmother to his children, Scarlett and Henry? I could totally see us thrift store shopping and visiting Loretta Lynn on the weekends. I would get to meet all of the cool people that Jack hung out with, and Karen and I would be friends because I am such a nice person; she just had to love me.
Yes, I was losing it.
My mother and I began to talk about her death. Her cancer had spread to her skin. She had these subcutaneous lumps that she called her cancer puffs. I spent my waking hours with her. I took time off from work and hung out with my dying mother. I took little drives during the day to get my Jack fix. At night I was free to roam the backyard of our Nashville farmhouse and feed the goats. I didn’t have to do anything. I was just happy. I was totally at peace. Then I would wake up and feel the weight of cancer and trudge through the day on high alert wondering when my mom would die.
My marriage was suffering. I felt distant from my husband. My mom and Jack White were now my life. I knew my beautiful husband was being horribly neglected and yet I couldn’t bring myself to care too much. I felt guilty for not caring. I knew I was having an affair of sorts, but it felt so freeing that at that point the benefits of the affair outweighed my need to stop it. Plus, how do you stop something that happens in your dreams? It’s really hard unless, maybe, you go to a hypnotist or something. Plus I just didn’t want to stop. I was a train on a track, barreling towards a crash in so many ways, but sometimes you just have to see it through. Sometimes the choice you make is to stay on the train rather than jump off knowing that, at least, there is a chance you will survive the crash, but the jump will surely kill you.
In September I was still rocking out with Jack White. I was in love. I was deeply and madly in love. I was also suffering. I felt insane. A friend of mine, who had a similar thing with Eminem, told me that my obsession would stop when it was time to stop, that I shouldn’t try to force myself back to reality; that reality would come soon enough.
One day, I parked my car outside of a building in the lovely Ravenswood area. It was a bright and sunny day. I had a rehearsal for a show. I was barely functioning with what was going on with my mom, but I thought I would perform anyway. My therapist said I should. So I did. I do what she tells me, it’s just better that way. I parked my car and ran into the building. I did not lock my crappy car.
I returned later that day to find that someone had stolen my stereo. The radio consul was dangling and the CD player was gone. Not only was the CD player gone. All of my Jack White CDs were gone as well. EVERY SINGLE ONE. I was stunned. I broke into tears. And then I began to wail. My rock-and-roll ride was over. I knew what had happened. I knew in my soul. God had put an end to my affair. My fantasy was ruined. Times had changed. I knew what God was saying. He was saying, “Jen. That’s it. Enough. Your mom is dying. She will in fact be gone very soon. Face it. That sucks. Really bad. But Jack White is not the answer. He may seem like the answer, but he is not. He is a man who plays a damn good guitar, but let me tell you, he is just a man. He blows his nose, goes to the bathroom, and can be a real jerk just like everybody else. And, up close, he is really not attractive. I promise. Go now and pay attention to your life. I promise, it gets better.” That’s what God was saying. And as I sat there in my violated car, ripped of my fantastical safety net, I realized that God was right. My mother was going to die very soon. And I hated that. I hated it so much that I created a dream life where I felt free. Free from cancer and all the crap that comes with it. I created a life where I could just relax and breathe and feel pleasure and excitement. As wonderful as that all felt, it wasn’t real. I realized that it was time to stop—that I needed to come home. And while home wasn’t necessarily where the heart is, it was as good a place as any to start.
Last month my mother died. I was holding her had when she went. It wasn’t peaceful. It was gross and messy and scary. And it happened. She died. It was real. And I was there. Since her death, I dream of her almost every night. Sometimes she is sick in my dreams and sometimes not. Sometimes I wake up sad and other times I am grateful that I had the time with her that I had. Jack White and I appear to have broken up. He has left me to go back to the cover of magazines and the land of YouTube downloads. I miss him some, but I think it’s for the best. I think that living in the now is probably better. Even if it hurts like hell.
An Evanston, Illinois native, Jen Bosworth is an alumnus of Evanston Township High School and The Theatre School at DePaul University. Her numerous acting credits include the popular 90’s television series ER and Early Edition and a starring role in a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The House on Mango Street.
Jen’s solo show, “Why Not Me…Love, Cancer and Jack White” recently made its East Coast debut at The 2013 New York International Fringe Festival and garnered stellar reviews from Time Out New York and Curtain Up, among others. The show opened in Chicago in 2012 and is set to tour this great country of ours in 2014.
Bosworth is a mainstay on Chicago’s thriving live lit scene and can be seen performing all over town. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband, who is a skateboarding lawyer.