The true story of a woman
1992 – Paris, France
“No, Mother. You’re not a role model for women.”
Giselle nearly dropped the steaming cup of espresso she was sipping. How could those words come from her daughter’s lips—a young woman normally so sweet and supportive?
“How can you say that?” she finally managed to stammer. “I’ve spent my entire life championing the causes of women. You, of all people, know that.” The thought that her own daughter would say such a thing was more bitter than the thick black coffee she was drinking. Suddenly, the noisy Parisian café inside the train station became icy silent in Giselle’s mind. She could hear nothing but her daughter’s stinging words.
“That’s just it, Mother. You’ve spent your entire life doing for other women.”
“May I remind you, Rachel, that I have lived and worked in a man’s world since before you were born? In case you’ve forgotten, I was the first woman in all of Switzerland to receive a degree in Computer Science. Not to mention the fact that I’ve spent the last twenty-five years helping you achieve your dreams of becoming a world-class prima ballerina. And this is what you say to me—I’m not a role model for women?”
“I’m not saying that you haven’t done amazing things. You have—and all while raising Ivan and me. I’m only saying that you haven’t done them for yourself. On June 1st you’ll be forty-six years old and you’re no closer to achieving your own dreams than you were when you were twenty.”
“Well, my beautiful young ballet star, there have been a few things, such as you and your brother’s careers, that have taken precedence!”
“It’s true, Mother, but we’re grown up now.” Rachel’s model-like poise, bright blue eyes, and perfect features displayed a soft but firm expression.
Giselle did not respond. Instead, she motioned for the waiter to bring their check. Standing up, she handed her daughter a twenty-franc note. “Please, pay the bill. My train is leaving in a couple minutes.” She kissed her daughter goodbye, adding, “Have wonderful performances this week. I know you will.” Taking her coat and the small red roller bag she always took on weekend trips to visit Rachel, Giselle rushed to board the train to Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, a small city of 52,000 people, considered to be the heart of Swiss watchmaking.
Puzzled and disappointed, her ride home was troubled. I’ve given that girl everything, she thought. Opportunities my mother never allowed me. How spoiled can a daughter be? I’ve supported and mentored women all my life. What does she mean ‘I’m not a role model?’ She has no idea how hard I’ve worked…
Rachel’s words reverberated over and over again, like tiny daggers piercing her heart. “You’re not a role model for women, Mother.” The pain grew deeper as the phrase echoed in her mind.
Normally, Giselle looked forward to the five-and-a-half-hour train ride from Paris to her home in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. It gave her much needed time to catch up on paperwork and write articles for the women’s political activist group she belonged to. But on this trip, the yellow notepaper that lay on the dining car table in front of her remained blank. She was just too shocked and puzzled to concentrate on writing. By the time she arrived, she was even more upset. Why did her daughter’s comments bother her so much?
From the balcony of her mountaintop home, Giselle looked down at the city below. As was frequently the case, it was completely shrouded in a thick white fog. Only the highest peaks of the nearly 4,000-meter-high Swiss Alps rose above the dense blanket of billowing clouds.
Wind swept through the tall pine trees that framed her house. The late afternoon air was beginning to turn cold. Giselle pulled her coat tightly around her body. The chill she felt, however, penetrated far deeper than the evening breeze.
Could there be some truth in her daughter’s words? Rachel was normally so supportive of her efforts. Giselle began to think about her life. Even as a little girl I fought for feminine equality, she thought, stepping inside and closing the sliding glass door behind her. She took off her coat and black leather gloves then set a teakettle to boil, warming her hands over the steam.
Her thoughts drifted back to the early days of her childhood…Butterfly in a Storm