When the Past Caught Up to Her

Nana’s hiding from me in her closet. My great-grandmother’s dementia has let revolutionaries from her past loose in her mind, and she thinks I’m one of them. She sees them in my silhouette when I find her holding her closet door closed. She weeps and pleads with me: please, please leave me be. I try to tell her I’m made of her blood and out of her bones, but her memories aren’t of me: the closet’s air is humid, suffocating, like the air on nights during her childhood when Pancho Villa’s men stole into homes and broke daughters and wives during the Mexican Revolution. From those dark times, over years and across borders, those men would invade her dreams. They’d run the ridges of her brain on their horses with their ropes and guns, chasing her past the bodies they’d hung from trees and into the high desert, promising to find her. Her dementia doesn’t care that she survived the revolution. It only offers the same unending threat; and soon, she won’t return from this nightmare. Nana doesn’t let me enter until her resolve fades, only then does she open the door. When she comes into view, the closet’s single light bulb hangs above her skeletal body, illuminating every single loss, each now visible to me—some of which I will never know, and some I’ll inherit so deeply I won’t know what was hers and what is mine. I lead her out of the closet. A silence passes between us, and I catch a glimpse of Mexico moving across her face. I can’t unsee it, and Nana can’t escape it. Its hills have settled into her cheekbones, its dust clouds her eyes, its roots reach through her tongue. She prays in Spanish. 

Nicole Montana is a recipient of a Ricardo Salinas Scholarship for her participation in Aspen Words Summer Words 2022 Program. She received a Minnesota State Arts Board 2020 Artist Initiative Grant for her work-in-progress “Stay Where I Can See You.” Her creative nonfiction appears in The Spectacle. Montana serves on the Board of Directors for Green Card Voices, a multimedia storytelling organization dedicated to immigrant voices. She currently teaches writing at the University of Minnesota. She received her MFA in nonfiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College.