Cover Photo: The author and his son in Teshima / photo by Ayako Miki Gilkeson
The author and his son in Teshima / photo by Ayako Miki Gilkeson

Teshima: On Hearing Loss, My Son, and the Sea

There’s the lingering fear that I’ll no longer be able to hear my son’s voice.

The dark room was lined with mirrors and lit by the beating of my son’s heart. He’d fallen asleep, so I held him in my arms as my wife Ayako and I stood quietly. We watched his heartbeat illuminate, in flashes, the single light bulb that hung suspended from the center of the ceiling, and listened to its rhythm pulse through the speakers. It was so loud even my deaf right ear could hear it.

Les Archives du Coeur

Les Archives du Coeur, Teshima

Having a long needle stuck into your inner ear and then having the cavity flushed with steroids is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds. After a few months of injections and audiology tests, the doctor told me the steroids hadn’t worked: I would have single-sided deafness for the rest of my life.

Watazumi Shrine, Tsushima

Ayako found a tiny shrine to Toyotama tucked away in one of Teshima’s villages, where we stopped and paid our respects. On Tsushima, where I’d once lived, Princess Toyotama and Yamasachihiko are venerated at Watazumi Shrine, an ancient waterside site with three torii gates leading to the shrine buildings (where the gods are embodied, typically, by a sacred mirror) and two more out in the sea, where they seem to float at high tide.

I used to visit the shrine frequently on weekends; there weren’t many other places to go in town, and the beautiful grounds provided a favorite spot to sit and read. I’d often find my students fishing there, or see families having picnics when the cherry trees were blooming. Once, I saw a crimson Nomura’s jellyfish the size of a washing machine floating just offshore.

Watazumi Shrine

Sesame Street

Watazumi Shrine


I write middle-grade witch and octopus fiction, and live with my wife and son outside Chicago.