Lucille Adams was born at the twilight of McCarthyism, in August 1955, in a small eastern Oregon town. She never cried as a baby, and would instead stare into the face of her fear and laugh, mockingly. She was had an intense and innate distrust of those who tried to make her scared, an effect of being born in the shadow of nationalist zeal and anti-communist paranoia. As a child she would only play with “fellow proletarians,” and she was never a bully. Despite being in Oregon in the 1960’s, her best friends were always of different races, genders and sexualities.
It’s no surprise that her first word was “jingo!,” which she shouted at TV commercial for Chrysler. Too young to protest the Korean War, by the age of 7 she was organizing sit-ins and die-ins against the ramp-up of troops in Vietnam and the stupidity of the Cuban Missile Crisis. By the age of 18 she had completed training for a secretive progressive international society of peace workers, taking on the codename, “Rushio.” Some say that she was like a female James Bond, but in actuality James Bond was more like a male Barbarella, and she never appreciated the comparison, anyway.
She helped end the Vietnam war by the age of 20, but allowed the media to portray it as a decision by the US government. In the late 70’s she helped avert multiple nuclear accidents in (now formerly) communist nations, but by the early 1980’s her priorities in the agency had shifted and Rushio was detailed to assist worker movements around the world agitating for a peaceful end to puppet states and authoritarian regimes. Despite having two young children and a spouse, she still committed herself to peaceful but subversive world-making.
At a state dinner held in her honor in the fall of 1987 for her work on the Montreal Protocol she almost punched Reagan in the face, but decided he wasn’t worth it. It was her one regret. She was in Tienanmen Square as well as West Berlin in 1989; if you squint hard enough you can see her in the background of the video of young people, triumphant, on the wall as it is being torn down. She let Reagan take the credit, because that’s just the person she was.
In the early 1990’s she helped establish scientific consensus on global warming; privatized the internet and introduced AOL; single-handedly wrote and launched Windows 95; counted chads in the 2000 Gore-Bush election fiasco; and in 2003 almost wrote a tell-all book about finding George W. Bush coked out of his mind in the back of the Texas Rangers stadium in 1985.
By the late 2000s, disgusted with right-wing cryptofascist politics in the United States, Rushio moved to Japan to continue with her peculiar line of work. After a lifetime of world-making, she disappeared in the summer of 2015 to work on organizing a permanent, lasting peace and prosperity for workers of the world. The current whereabouts of Rushio are unknown.
Almost none of this is true, of course, and my mom certainly didn’t disappear for a global peace-building project. She never came close to punching Reagan. Her first word was not “jingo” (probably). She was never part of a spy agency and given the codename Rushio.
My mom died of cancer in August, in the small Japanese town she lived in with my father. Most of “Rushio” was a story invented my mom and I during the last weeks of her life, as her kidneys slowly failed and before she disappeared in a sea of pain medications and sedatives. “Ru-shi-o” was how the hospital had spelled her first name, as a close approximation of the pronunciation of “Lucille” in Japanese. I saw this on her hospital bracelet and asked, “who is this ‘Rushio’ person listed here? Is that your secret agent name?” and a flood of stories and paths and lives of the “mom-that-wasn’t” started pouring out.
It seems stupid, now, to think that we spent even the little time we did constructing such a ridiculous narrative, but that’s the thing about dying: it exists at the place where rationality fails, where the idea that the person you’re talking to will shortly disappear and never return – to cross a chasm forever inaccessible to you – is beyond what a rational mind can comprehend. So, Rushio.
Unlike Rushio, my mom was not a woman to have ever thought she would make history. She was more meek than megalomaniac, and much more interested in reading about the lives of others than exploring the possibilities of her own. She lived for others and died for others, and gave me more than I could ever return to her.
Lucille Adams was born in small-town Oregon, to a family constantly moving as her father completed his degree and found employment as a social worker all over the Northwest and Great Basin. Being incredibly poor and living in the rural west as a child gave her a sense of loneliness and isolation that I think never really left her; being incredibly poor and realizing how often adults lie to you as a child gave her a witty, sarcastic, sardonic sense of humor, one not tempered in the slightest by something so deadly as fast-acting cancer.
Mom was astute and perspicacious, and instead of applying those abilities to manipulate people she became one of the most caring, non-judgmental and easy-going adults the world has ever seen.
I’m convinced that all we know of hospitality consists of footnotes to my mother’s life.
When I played sick to avoid being bullied at school, she would invite me down from my room in the late morning and we’d watch Perry Mason and new episodes of soap operas while we lunched. She was a great cook, loved cooking for others, and always gave away her secrets: her spaghetti sauce contained just a dash of fish sauce, her meatloaf was from a recipe on the back of the Lipton onion soup mix package, and her Japanese cooking took a fraction of the time it traditionally took because (in her words), “it tastes just as good after 20 minutes of marinating as it does in 4 hours.”
Mom’s cooking defined her honesty, pragmatism, and hospitality, which defined how she approached life. She pulled no punches in being honest with my brother and I when we were children; she treated people fairly because it made the most sense; she detested neoliberalism and political conservatism for how poorly it treated everyone. She raised us with no religion, no holiday celebrations, and no big birthdays, probably a combination of an impoverished upbringing in a world filled with religious hypocrisy, and also because those are mostly extravagant and self-centered activities, and hers was a life lived avoiding recognition.
Growing up, mom was the only adult I can remember that never made a disparaging comment or joke about anyone gay. We watched “The Wedding Banquet” when I was just a kid, “The Birdcage” shortly after it came out, and she was so excited to see “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” back when it first came out in 1995 that she made my brother and I watch it with her on TV. I was 11 years old, and came to understand camp and kitsch through her laugh. She was my first fag hag, in a lot of ways, not because she loved gay people (although she did) but because she appreciated folks who lived their lives creatively and authentically, and really isn’t that a defining feature of being a swish dish or fruit fly?
She loved drag shows. She was excited to see pictures of me in drag, and even watched me perform once. I think she liked all sorts of performances. She described herself as a “proto-goth” during her high school years – wearing neckties and button-ups, bringing a suitcase to school, wearing dark makeup. In the 70’s she kept her hair short and wore wigs when she went out, sometimes.
She knew about Devine and RuPaul and Darcelle XV way before I did. She went to the Roxy late at night when she was a young adult, probably high or drunk and having fun, and even told me about going out to gay bars in Portland in the 70’s – a fact my brother and I only learned in the last few weeks of her life.
She loved jazz, she listened to 70’s rock, she had a deep and real love of the blues. She gave me Billie Holiday and Heart. She gave me Pink Floyd and Nat King Cole. In the last week before she disappeared, I downloaded a bunch of Black Sabbath for her, brought it to the hospital, and she put on some headphones, cranked up the volume, and rocked the fuck out in her hospital bed.
Mom had a thing for archeology, and loved learning about how other people lived. The more they departed from typical Western culture, the more she was enthralled by them. My childhood was filled with stories of the Anasazi, pygmy peoples, the San, the Indus civilization. Anytime my inquiry lead to a dead-end in what we knew she’d say, “no one knows!” and the mystery would remain.
She was comfortable with unfinished history, messy stories, and not knowing.
Mom gave me the stars, via her love of science fiction. She subscribed to Analog (a science-fiction magazine) for many, many years, even in Saipan when the magazine took months to cross the ocean and get to her, and growing up we always had lots of science fiction books lying around. Science fiction is about future potentials firmly grounded in the cultural milieu of the present, and mom knew that the best science fiction wasn’t really about the future at all.
My mother liked just about anything I ever posted on Facebook. Yes, even (and perhaps especially) the embarrassing stuff.
She told me, toward the end, that she wanted nothing more than for her kids to be happy and functional adults. Her health started declining once my brother and I started living on our own and found stable employment, and I cannot but help think that the two are related.
End-of-life care being what it is, my mom needed me to bring her something flowy and comfortable to wear – think caftans and muumuus! – since Japanese sizes run small and my mom was a very (self-described) rubenesque kind of a woman. I finally found a gorgeous, vibrant green flower-print muumuu from a completely random Hawaiian store in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, and packed it with me. She loved it. She looked beautiful in it. The muumuu was outrageous and absurd and every nurse loved it, too… I think they were glad that she was happy. Mom loved wearing beautifully patterned and bright clothes, despite the cultural prohibition on fat women wearing anything not designed to make them feel ugly and worthless.
Inside her coffin we placed hundreds of paper cranes made over the past few months – far short of a thousand, but that’s because I figured we would have more time. The color of the cranes with her muumuu was overwhelming. It looked like my mom was in a casket with a rainbow.
She didn’t like the idea of having cut, dead flowers at her funeral, because mom shit-canned convention at every opportunity, aware that convention didn’t much care for her. Everyone who attended received a container with some dirt and live flowers in it. If they planted it and took care of it, then occasionally they would get a burst of color in their lives. A fitting and ephemeral reminder, I think, of mom.
Lucille wasn’t Rushio, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t change the world. She just shrunk the world down to what was immediate, and enriched the lives of everyone she met.
My mother was a hero. Her presence was important to me, and her life mattered.