In college I finally found my footing off the field. I stayed in touch with Brett and met a small group of intelligent and offbeat students at the university's climbing wall and in my dorm. I dated a Mohawked, kilt-wearing, outdoorsy student named DJ. My next-door neighbor was a girl from Colorado named Madison. She and I grew close and looked up to each other. She wasn't like most of the students. She didn't play sports, drink, smoke, or go to parties. She was a conflicted Mormon and a musician, majoring in women's studies and photography. I kept her company at night in the campus dark room. She encouraged me to be myself.
Most of my other friends were male. We played football, jammed on the guitar, talked about life. After we smoked pot we would choose a food category -- burgers, pizza, gyros, whatever -- and wander around the neighborhood until we found what we considered the best in its class.
As I got ready to leave for Perugia, I knew I hadn't become my own person yet, and I didn't quite know how to get myself there. I was well-meaning and thoughtful, but I put a ton of pressure on myself to do what I thought was right, and I felt that I always fell short. That's why the challenge of being on my own meant so much to me. I wanted to come back from Italy to my senior year at UW stronger and surer of myself -- a better sister, daughter, friend.
While I was figuring out what I would need in Italy -- my climbing gear, hiking boots, and a teapot were among the essentials -- old friends from high school and new friends from college dropped by with well-wishes, little presents, and gag gifts.
I received a blank journal and a fanny pack and tins of tea. Funny, irreverent Brett brought me a small, pink, bunny-shaped vibrator. I was incredulous; I had never used one.
"Until you meet your Italian stallion," Brett said, handing it to me. She winked.
I laughed. The bunny was typical Brett. She liked to tease that I was regrettably behind everyone else. In high school she tried to coax me into straightening my hair and wearing makeup. I tried the first and thought it was okay. I tried the second and felt like an imposter. Her newest cause was to convince me to give casual sex a chance. I'd heard the same thing from other friends. It seemed to make some sense. I yearned to break down all the barriers that stood between me and adulthood. Sex was a big one -- and the one that scared me the most. I'd bloomed late and didn't kiss a guy until I was seventeen. I lost my virginity after I started college. Before Italy, I'd had sex with four guys, each in a relationship I considered meaningful, even though they had turned out to be short-lived.
I left for Italy having decided I needed to change that. For me, sex was emotional, and I didn't want it to be anymore -- I hated feeling dependent on anyone else. I wanted sex to be about empowerment and pleasure, not about Does this person like me? Will he still like me tomorrow? I was young enough to think that insecurity disappeared with maturity. And I thought Italy would provide me the chance to see that happen.
On the day I was leaving -- in a rush to get to the airport and without a single thought -- I tossed Brett's pink bunny vibrator into my clear plastic toiletry bag.
This turned out to be a very bad idea.
From the book "Waiting to Be Heard" by Amanda Knox. Copyright © 2013 by Amanda Knox. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.