Ten years ago tonight, my friend was raped and murdered by a burglar when she was home alone in the apartment we shared while studying abroad in Perugia, Italy.
When I look back on my memories of Meredith, what I find are beautiful, banal moments we shared in the weeks we lived side-by-side. I remember when we trudged home from the grocery store together, taking turns lugging those heavy four-packs of two-liter water bottles uphill, dodging cars speeding around the tight street corners. I remember sunbathing on the terrace, her reading a mystery novel while I practiced “Hey Ya” on the guitar. I remember sipping espresso together after class while Laura and Filomena, our Italian roommates, watched soap operas. Meredith complimented me for showing restraint, eating no more than two cookies with my coffee. She said she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from eating the whole bag. Once, while out on a walk, I discovered a hole-in-the-wall vintage store, and ran home to tell Meredith about it. We went back together and she bought a sparkly silver dress from the 60s and said she wanted to wear it for New Years back home. I remember when she handed me her camera and asked me to take a picture of her by her bedroom window because she wanted to show her family the incredible view of the valley below. I remember that I loved her accent. I remember the time I wanted to get dressed up and she happily loaned me a pair of her tights, like a big sister. And I remember the last time I saw her, ten years ago today, slinging her purse over her shoulder and waving goodbye to me on her way out to meet up with her British friends.
All these memories feel both very close and very distant. Distant, because I have to dig through a decade of suffering just to reach them. My memories of Meredith are buried beneath the horrific autopsy photos and crime scene footage I saw, the slurs I was called, the death threats I received (and still receive), the false accusations I fought, the years of wrongful imprisonment I endured, the multiple trials and slanderous headlines that juxtaposed our names and faces, unfairly interlocking her death with my identity.
But despite all this, these memories still feel very close, in part because Meredith was my closest friend in a new and exciting time in our lives. But I think it’s also because I’ve never been allowed to mourn her.
There are some people who believe I have no right to mourn Meredith. They believe that I had something to do with her murder—I didn’t—or that Meredith has been forgotten in the wake of my own struggle for justice—she hasn’t. Either way, they feel that Meredith and I are inextricably linked, so it’s simply not fair that I haven’t lost everything, as she has. They are wrong.
This day of mourning belongs to everyone whose lives Meredith touched. And certainly, there are many people who loved and knew Meredith far better than I did. But something Meredith’s friends, family, supporters, and I all have in common is that Meredith’s death changed our lives. It opened our eyes to the terrible fact that, sometimes, innocent people suffer, that their lives can be taken away from them in an instant. We are all driven to do something about it—to speak out against unrepentant killers or incompetent and cruel prosecutors—even though no one can ever give Meredith back her life, or me the years of life I lost to wrongful imprisonment.
I hate it that my memories of her are buried beneath the years of suffering Raffaele and I endured in the wake of her murder. And it’s depressing to know that mourning her comes at the price of being criticized for anything I say or don’t say today. But most depressing of all is that Meredith isn’t here, when she deserves to be. She is painfully missed by everyone who loved her. I miss her, and I’m grateful for the memories of our time together.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 11/01/2017.