Stitches: A Memoir – David Small

7 vortex“When you have no voice, you don’t exist.”

This is a book you could probably finish reading in an hour, but its content is raw, impactful and incisive in a way only true stories can be. Few of us have had what we’d consider a perfect childhood. Some childhoods contain more demons than others, the slaying of which either kills you, or makes you struggle each day to live a life you can call your own with no shackles of your traumatic past binding you. This poignant narrative is an account of the latter.

Stitches is the pictorial autobiography of David Small that tracks his turbulent life from age six through young adulthood as he grows up in the American Midwest in the 1950s. He is born on the wrong side of life into a loveless family, their silences where affection should be. The emptiness is peppered with reprimands and a constant reminder that the good things in life would always remain inaccessible as they cost money, and that maybe life itself would remain inaccessible. He takes pleasure in simple things like skating in his socks across a shiny floor. Tight purse-strings and tightly-clenched hearts force Small to seek solace in art, which he creates with his crayons, and books, which are later burned in a garbage can by his mother.

He uses his art to escape into a fantasy world where the creatures he draws climb off the paper and become his playmates. This mask of make-believe blurs the jagged lines of cruelty that separate him from his existential turmoil. He develops a fascination for Alice in Wonderland, seeking faraway lands in his quest for meaning. Small has violent nightmares of everything he has repressed whilst conscious – vivid, bizarre images that are real only to him, like an unassuming fetus in a jar of formaldehyde that comes to life when he stares at it.

One day, a medical tragedy befalls the boy. Small’s parents are hesitant to part with the money that is required to cure him. The outcome of his illness is an irreversible, horrific condition that is explained in three gray panels, “And I saw… for the first time… what they had done.” He is afraid to sleep, for his dreams attack him. He observes, “The odd thing about recurring dreams is that, no matter how many times you dream the same thing, it always takes you by surprise.” He is afraid to stay awake because the screaming in his head is so loud.