The Slipstream of Amanda Knox

I hadn’t followed the Amanda Knox case much until yesterday when my Twitter feed lit up with the news that the judgment on the appeal of her murder charge would soon be read.

Compelled by the Tweet stampede, I turned on CNN and watched as the 24-year-old Knox, who had already served four years in an Italian prison for a murder she says she didn’t commit (and for which someone else was convicted), stepped into the courtroom and was nearly swallowed by the crowd.

Her eyes were wide and her breath was labored. Within a few minutes, she would be handed one of two fates: decades, possibly a lifetime, of imprisonment, including time spent in solitary confinement, or freedom to return to Seattle. She was visibly shaking.

Her story is so riveting in large part because of the way it shows how a series of small moves can catapult us from the gentle slipstream of an otherwise normal life. What if she hadn’t gone to Italy in the first place? What if she’d never met Meredith Kercher, her 21-year-old British roommate who was murdered? What if she had gone straight home to her family after Kercher was killed, as her British friends had done? What if the prosecutor hadn’t pegged her as a “she-devil”?

As the cameras focused in on her pretty, smooth-skinned face, her tousled hair, and loosely draped black coat, I felt the urge to lift the collar of her coat, cinch it at the neck and, in that universal gesture of mothers, smooth her hair down straight. I realized that I didn’t see myself in Amanda Knox. Watching her, I didn’t think: That could be me. I suppose it’s a sign of where I am in my life right now — not a place I always appreciate as much as I should — that what I did think was this: That could be my daughter.

The moment reminded me of the Nathaniel Fujita arrest for the murder of Lauren Astley and how moved I was contemplating what both sets of parents were going through. Here you pour yourself into your children, raising them to be good and do well, and then some switch gets flipped. Without warning, life as you know it shatters.

When the verdict was returned — not guilty of murder — and Knox was freed to go, she fell forward and sobbed. The camera cut to her mother, Edda Mellas, who was seated away from her, and I could feel her urge to envelope her child in her arms and never let her go. How helpless she must have felt these past four years.

The guards hastily ushered Knox, who could barely walk, out of the courtroom and back to prison to gather her belongings. According to an Italian member of Parliament who was there, “Everyone was shouting ‘Libera, libera.’ It was like being in a football stadium and was something I will never forget.”

Amanda Knox is headed home now, and her family is preparing a barbeque dinner to welcome her back. She’ll no doubt appreciate the small things in a way the rest of us could take a lesson from. In a Rolling Stone article about her in June, it was said that if she ever got out of prison, she’d want to join the Innocence Project, work as a translator, and become a mom.

But the first thing she wanted to do was simply to lie down in a big green field.