Christmas memories of a high school dream girl who dreamed beyond her reach
There were always rumors about Anna Falzi.
Some students said she was a Gypsy and slept in her car in the school parking lot. Others said she didn't wear anything under her holey jeans or flowing earth-tone skirts, to make it easier to slip away between classes for a quickie with her 23-year-old boyfriend. A senior on the football team insisted she was a pothead and wandered the quadrangle every morning with a fresh buzz on, the real reason for her sweet nature and strangely languid cheerfulness.
One thing, at least, was certain: Anna Falzi simply didn't belong at Redwood High – at least not in 1983, when I was a freshman. At a time when the preppy look was de rigueur in our school, Anna wore her hair long and wild, with dark tangles rolling off her head like plumes of smoke. She dressed as a neo-hippie, fancying strange poncho-style tops and smart-looking boots that she probably bought at a secondhand store in San Francisco. She didn't seem to own a bra.
The author, age 17.
As Anna walked the halls, boys stared at her as if she had stepped out of a movie screen – right out of a steamy love scene. And the truly odd thing was that Anna always met their eyes, open-faced and understanding, a gentle smile offered like a benediction. More than once I saw a gawky freshman swivel around when she made eye contact, no doubt to see if Anna's cooler-than-cool, Raybans-wearing boyfriend – surely she had to have such a boyfriend – was standing behind him and was the true intended for the look.
I met Anna in Italian class, on my first day at Redwood, a large, barracks-style school in the San Francisco suburbs. She was sitting alone in the back and I slipped into the seat beside her. Already a realist, I was hoping for nothing more than the chance to surreptitiously peer down at her when she leaned forward to write, but she immediately turned and introduced herself – not a typical thing for a gorgeous 17-year-old junior to do when a freshman sits next to her.
I was immediately in love.
Of course, it didn't take Anna long to figure that out. Eventually, after I had obsessively quizzed her on what movies she liked, what her favorite food was and where she liked to go, she sat me down and explained that I was very sweet, but I was a freshman and she a junior, so it was simply impossible. And of course I understood – it was simply impossible. After all, would she pick me up for a date? Or would she consent to us being ferried to the movies by my mom? Impossible.
But instead of that being the end of that, the soft landing she provided for my delicate 14-year-old ego cemented our friendship, even if I did seem to be kind of a pet to her. We chatted in class every day and on the way to our lockers. Once, we studied Italian grammar together in the library, where she showed me a postcard of one of her father's works at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her father, it seemed, was a well-known artist. Anna told me she had wanted to be an artist, too, but when she was 12 her father had decided she didn't have the talent. After that, she was no longer allowed to use his paints and materials.
Anna's expression turned dark at the memory, and she changed the subject. We talked instead about running – I was on the cross country team, she ran three miles every day after school, "to clear my head, get rid of toxins," she said.
About mid-November, Anna began excitedly planning a Christmas party she was going to host while her parents were out of town. Everyone would sit around and talk until late into the night, and they'd have eggnog and do Secret Santa. She said that of course Easter was the more important holiday, but she just loved Christmas most.
It was mainly going to be her college pals – most of her friends, Anna said, were older. She said one friend of a friend used to be in the Black Panthers, and he might show up. When Anna invited me to be there, too, one of the very select few of her fellow Redwood High students to be tapped, I felt a sense of accomplishment and inclusion that I'm not sure I've ever felt since.
Anna Falzi was so beautiful, so admired and so talked about by so many boys, that it seemed appropriate to me that her activities and attitudes weren't "normal" for our school. She certainly wasn't your typical high school goddess. She never showed up at pep rallies or football games. It's highly unlikely she ever made an appearance at prom.
Instead, Anna canvassed door to door for Greenpeace and animal-rights groups. She made the front page of the local paper one Sunday, marching front and center at a nuclear-freeze rally with a sign that read, "Give Peace a Chance." She was taking Italian and French classes because she planned on going to college in Europe, where, she said, "they took human rights, human dignity, seriously." Only in retrospect did I realize that she was almost always alone.
She didn't hang with anybody at school. Every day at lunch break, she could be seen striding purposefully to the parking lot, disappearing inside her car and quickly driving off.
This detachment from her classmates was what fueled so much speculation – and resentment – about her. Where did she go? What was she doing? Who was she with? Does she think she's too good for us?
The general assumption was that Anna was racing off every lunch hour to see a boyfriend. But I didn't want to accept the majority opinion. I pictured her in that dark coffee house on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, warming herself over her umpteenth cup of black, smoking violently with a clutch of beret-wearing college students, discussing Heidegger and love and the nature of justice. Or I thought she might be going to the YMCA in San Rafael to work out. I had seen her out on the track there once, going full out in a tie-dyed shirt and cutoff jeans. She'd had a darkly determined look on her face, her legs turning over like wheels – and I was sure, almost, that she was running with her eyes closed.
I was impressed by the pace she set for herself, and as a fledgling member of the school's cross country team, I suggested to the coach the next day that he might want to recruit her. As it turned out, I was not the first to think that would be a good idea.
"She's not interested in being on the team," the coach snapped. "She's just a health nut."
But whatever Anna was doing at lunchtime every day, she did have a boyfriend. He was a student at Berkeley, of course, and they'd met at some anti-apartheid thing. He was a political science student, she told me. And he was from Los Angeles, though he said he'd never go back there. Like Anna, he wanted to change the world through committed action.
One Monday in early December Anna told me about how she and Joe had been organizing a fair-housing protest in Oakland on Saturday, and she proceeded to give me almost moment-by-moment details of the day. The reason, it soon became clear, was that she and Joe had made love that night, her first time, and she had to tell someone. Walking to her car from the library, she and Joe had kissed, right there on the path, and Anna knew from the way he did it that this was it. Joe rushed her along, past her car to his apartment, and locked the door.
Afterward, Anna pushed her face down into his pillow, and she began to panic. "I can stay the night, right?" she asked, looking into his face. And he was saying, "No, I have to go out later."
"Please," she insisted.
"No," he said, quite calm. "No."
The week before her party brought daily updates. The house had been decorated with tinsel and Christmasy baubles. Appropriate LPs had been culled and set by the record player with care. Games had been chosen. Chairs and a beanbag had been brought up from the den. She was going shopping for Secret Santa.
On Friday, her face lit with excitement, she told me about Alice, whom I would be meeting at the party. Alice was a San Francisco State student, she was beautiful, and she had a sister who was a sophomore in high school. Anna repeated the information so that I understood the significance. That afternoon, I got my hair cut after practice.
The party was on Saturday. I arrived at her house at about 9, figuring I wouldn't be the first, but I was. Anna was wearing a turtleneck top, capri pants, and a Santa cap with a bell on it. She gave me a tour, excepting her parents' room, where even she was forbidden to enter.
It was a beautiful house, not especially large but put together with excellent taste. Anna showed me the paintings on the walls that were her father's – mostly abstracts with swirls of brilliant color intersecting black orbs. She said her first real boyfriend, when she was 14, noticed the art books on the shelves and decided it was all very "gay."
As we waited, Anna told me about some of her friends that I'd soon be meeting. One guy, David, spent the summer chasing whalers off the coast of Japan and Siberia. A girl, Penelope, was from London, and Anna admitted she was absolutely in love with her accent. You'll really like Penelope, she told me seriously - she could speak four languages, including Hindi.
By 10, people began to show up - though not the right ones. Word had gotten around school about the party, and our Redwood classmates were arriving in twos and threes and fours. Anna was hesitant to let them in, saying that it was a small gathering, that that was all her parents would allow, but she quickly relented. When the trickle became a rush, she just left the door open.
It seemed to be a successful party, as far as I could tell. Nothing was being broken. Tunes blared from the stereo. People were laughing, and there was some making out going on. Someone had brought beer.
Everyone was aggressively in a good mood and complimented Anna on her house, though always in a needlessly loud voice. More than a few asked her why they hadn't been invited, and it was clear that this had been planned, to punish her, to make her feel bad.
I soon lost track of Anna, as the room filled to capacity and then some.
Around midnight I was offered a ride home, so I looked around for her.
I found her on the porch, alone. She had discarded the Santa cap and had pulled the collar of her turtleneck up over her chin. The college kids who'd actually been invited, I realized, had never showed, not even her boyfriend.
Anna gave me a little wave when I stepped outside, and we stood there for a minute staring at the garden. Wanna go for a run? she asked.
Sure, I told her, confused. When?
Anna stepped off the porch and started down the driveway. By the time she reached the street she was at a comfortable stride. I hustled to catch up. We listed with the bend in the road, looking out at the sky and the house lights flickering on the hill.
Anna took a deep breath and smiled at me, expelling air in a long, soft whoosh.
"I love this time of year," she said, picking up the pace.
– By Douglas Perry, published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 2001