Everly Syndrome

by James Sullivan

Studying it is difficult because to get within two meters of me is to dream. This poses problems for experimental replication. A stethoscope becomes an elephant’s trunk and blares my heartbeat into my doctor’s ears: “DOCTOR, I’M AFRAID.” Next, the stethoscope is a two-headed snake constricting both doctor and patient as it whispers hateful slurs and nuzzles our chests, promising to swallow and digest my heart.

The transcription of these incidents led the Freudians on deck to start poking around with my sex life. The elephant trunks and serpents gave them ample fodder to annoy the hell out of me. But what made me blush more than the thousand phallic psychoanalytic pillars was the truth: Roger had pulled away as my dream expanded. A younger analyst is reading over a document compiled by doctors and therapists and dentists and hypnotists. His colleagues have written me off as malignantly repressed.

“I wonder, is this talk of digesting your heart a threat,” the younger analyst says, “or desire?”


“Is this really the worst thing?” Mona asks, arms coiled around my torso. I’m like a child in a parent’s embrace. Inside my dream sphere together, we watch the distortions: a fly buzzes within range and then flaps wings of crystalline snow before melting against my palm; beams of light from the TV separate into swimming eels of color; a cell phone vibrating against the table is a world-rumbling earthquake. “It’s terrible, I know,” Mona purrs against me, “but I kinda love it.”


“Whatever he sees when he’s close to me,” I say when I see the young analyst again, “it’s too awful to stick around. That’s why he left me.”

After Roger, we discuss my parents, who try to comfort me all they can. But at their ages, the dream bubble just provokes confusion. My age fluctuates in their eyes. I’m a girl with a backpack popping with books. I’m a toddler spinning on the floor as I tell them that Roger can’t stand to be near me, even if he loves me. I’m grown to their age and unhappy, still, which stings them like their own failure. When we discuss this and they step inside the bubble, I see them young as I knew them when a girl. Or else decaying, dead, yet speaking to me as their bumbling child, eyes tearing up from a scrape: “Now now, you can walk it off.”


On my analyst’s advice that I connect with more people, I try church. I sit in a back pew and feel calmed by the music, the rhythmic rising and sitting. I file out with the congregation and march forward for communion. But when I arrive for my wafer, tongue outstretched awaiting an infusion of grace, the priest fumbles the discs to the floor and crosses himself. Tears stream down his face and form a glittering river in which the congregants bathe and baptize. “On Eagle’s Wings” plays on, and the priest’s sash lifts off his shoulders into a gleaming golden bird. But instead of a spirit of clarity fluttering down over me, the bird’s eyes silently stalk me, as if it can sense my thundering heartbeat, as if soon to prey on my organs.

At synagogue, people run to the offices and bar the doors: never again. The Buddhists feign nonreaction but, eagerly squatting around me in a meditation circle, can’t suppress their grinning lust at what they think is instant enlightenment. At Alcoholics Anonymous, a man beside me stares with watery eyes. My face crinkles into a mess, and, comprehendingly, he reaches into his coat pocket, and I swallow the contents of his flask.

Against my analyst’s advice and fearless with whiskey, I visit Roger, who stumbles backward into his apartment when he sees me—and whatever else he sees. We stand on opposite sides of his living room, backs to the wall, so he’s safe from me.

“It’s not just that the images frighten me,” he says. We each hold a mug of coffee. He’d wanted to sober me up. The care, the condescension. “I can’t shake the feeling that you don’t really like me. That you just don’t want to be alone.”

I say why the hell would I be here if I didn’t like him and didn’t want him, and he walks forward into my dream sphere and begins decaying before me. His skin peels and flakes off and one of his ears slides down to his chin. He tells me he’s sorry, but I’d better face what’s inside me.


“What a prick,” Mona says.

“He’s right, though,” I say. I’d never been sure about him and had only clung as if he were a piece of driftwood in my sea.

“Hey, you don’t secretly resent me, too?” She pulls back, startled at an unforeseen possibility. “Do you?”

I have to think for a second, which fills Mona’s eyes with suspicion.

“No,” I say, and it’s true. “But I’m afraid you like the dreams before me.”

“That’s not—”

“Not your fault. I’m not sure I’ve been open enough. With anyone. With myself.” Mona leans into me.

“Not like I’m not listening. And watching. And feeling.”

“I know, but—hey, I’m ticklish there. I don’t know what will happen if I really just let it all out.”

“Try me.”

Mona looks me in the eyes, and I know she means it. We sit, and I unfasten something inside myself. The two-headed snake rises from the floor, slides around our bodies, and begins to constrict. We cannot escape, and its tongues flick at our ears. “I will digest your hearts,” it says in a voice I feel in my organs.

And for the first time, I am frightened by my own waking dreams. Mona’s cheek presses against mine, slick with sweat.


“What else,” she says, breath hot against my ear, embrace tightening. “What else?”

%d bloggers like this: