The Tower by Hiro Kanagawa
An essay from the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award winner for drama
Kanagawa's play Indian Arm won the drama category.
Warning: This story contains strong language.
When my son, Kai, was six or seven, he stayed home from school one day with a bad fever. My wife was out so I was home with him, and we took a nap together in the afternoon. After what was probably 40 minutes, I woke to find Kai sitting hunched at the foot of the bed. I called his name but he did not respond and, when I moved beside him, I was unnerved to see that his eyes and face were blank. His expression was not the endearing, cherubic pout of drowsy children. It was lifeless, not present, a mask with no one behind it. "Kai," I said again. "Are you okay?"
I will never forget what came next. When people struck by catastrophe speak of their "blood running cold" or of "seeing their lives flash before their eyes" I know with visceral certainty what they are talking about. My son, my beautiful, angelic boy began repeating over and over again this obscene and abominable phrase: Tower of Fuck... Tower of Fuck... Tower of Fuck... Tower of Fuck...
His voice was quiet but full of coiled venom and vile intent. I did not move; I doubt I took a breath. I would not be surprised to learn my heart stopped beating. If I was devoutly religious, perhaps I would have feared demonic possession. I did fear possession, but of a different kind.
Clinical terms I only vaguely knew the meaning of thrummed in my brain: bipolar, manic-depressive, grand-mal seizure, dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, drop attack. In those few seconds, I felt paralyzed. I was convinced my beloved shining prince had been taken from me and possessed by the scourge of some mental or degenerative illness.
I saw my entire life as I knew it — my happy, idyllic, life of blessed normalcy — disintegrate into suffering and chaos. In its place I saw a life spent in hospitals, care homes and therapist's offices.
I saw my son grow older. I saw myself having to administer him a cocktail of antipsychotic and anticonvulsant medications until, inevitably, I saw him go off his meds, self-medicate with alcohol and illicit drugs, and careen into self-harm, homelessness and arrests.
I saw my wife and I searching Skid Row streets and alleyways for our boy, pleading with him to come home, trying to save him with love, both tough and unconditional, trying to help him in any way that we could. I saw us ultimately fail. I saw him scream at us, lash out, throw a fist or a piece of garbage.
Finally, I saw him disappear into the night.
As soon as this vision of an alternate future flashed across my consciousness, I mustered the courage to speak. "Kai," I whispered. "Kai. Look at me." At last, he blinked a few times. He recognized me. And immediately his face twisted with shame and confusion and his eyes brimmed over. "Dad," he said, his little chin and voice trembling. "I built you a tower. But the voices told me to tear it down."
Five years later, I know that on that day my son was simply suffering what is called a "delirium fever." It is a fairly common occurrence in young children. The auditory hallucinations he suffered, while frightening and disturbing, are also common and entirely harmless. There is no relationship between them and future mental health issues. My son, today, is a perfectly happy and healthy boy.
Regardless, I still fear the tower. As a writer, I am well-acquainted with the feeling that some things are not so much written by me as they are channeled fully formed from the ether. I know my young son did not make something so monumentally profane as the Tower of Fuck out of a swear word he barely understood. He channeled it. It is out there. It stands as a reminder to me that as he grows up to be a man, he is not the incorruptible innocent we all want our children to be. He never was. Like me, like all men, like all humanity, the struggle between chaos and order is waged in him, and the line between is sometimes as ephemeral as a child's passing fever.
About Hiro Kanagawa
Hiro Kanagawa's play Indian Arm won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for drama. Through the Allmers family, consisting of couple Rita and Fred and their adopted Indigenous son Wolfie, the play explores the tension between Indigenous communities and the dominant white culture in Canada.
Kanagawa is a B.C.-based actor and playwright. His acting credits include roles on the TV series Smallville, iZombie and Man in the High Castle. Indian Arm was adapted from the obscure Henrik Ibsen play Little Eyolf.
About the series Chaos & Control
Each year, CBC Books partners with the Canada Council for the Arts to present a special series of new original writing by the winners of the Governor General's Literary Awards. This year, the award-winning writers were asked to reflect on the theme of Chaos & Control. Read the rest of the series:
- If you do come to stay... by Joel Thomas Hynes (fiction prize winner)
- After 'While by Cherie Dimaline (young people's literature — text winner)
- It is to that beside I go by Richard Harrison (poetry prize winner)
- Okay by David A. Robertson (young people's literature — illustration winner)
- Chaotics by Oana Avasilichioaei (translation winner)
Several authors also contributed to an episode of CBC Radio's Ideas, discussing the concept of balancing chaos and control. Listen to the episode in the player below: