the road to change leads through grace


Philly Voice Staff
The following poem by Natalie Cribari, titled “Heroin,” was included in the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association’s 2014 Report on Overdose Statistics.
It was written by the young Harrisburg-area woman on Christmas Day 2005 – three months before she died of a heroin overdose at the age of 20 – to warn others about the dangers of abusing drugs. Natalie wrote the poem from Dauphin County Prison. She died 19 days after she was released.
Natalie’s mother shared the poem with Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick and asked that it be shared to help prevent others from having to experience the loss of a child.
“She was a good student, a good kid that most likely went down this path of first abusing prescription drugs and then finally using heroin,” Hetrick said in testimony before the House Human Services Committee on Jan. 31, 2014.

By Natalie Cribari
Through poison-tainted veins, I feel
A warmth that soothes, but is surreal
It’s funny how we became acquainted
He made me quiver, I almost fainted.
He seemed so cool, so calm, and sweet
He swept me off my virgin feet.
We fell in love, or so I thought
My soul, Almighty love, is what he sought.
He hid his identity with a comforting mask,
Only to disguise his horrid task.
With every kiss, he sucked me dry.
His soft caress was all a lie.
He came inside me: just a little prick
It made me lightheaded, and a little bit sick
He abused me raw, “til my arms were sore
My cheekbones were visible
But I craved him more.
He made me chase him
And steal, lie and cheat
He wore down my body
Until I fell in defeat.
He cackled at my pain
His full destruction of me
But I am too dope sick
That this I can’t see.
Still, I begged and I pleaded
For him to return
An ongoing cycle
Why didn’t I learn?
So at night I fell asleep
With him by my side
But woke up with no one
“He promised!” [He lied)
So today, again, I make it
My priority, my chore,
To find him in vain
And again be his whore.
His passion I want
I crave, and I need
The rush that I get
Fill that indeed
I may never make it
But to you, I dare say
If he should strut by, look the other way
He’ll charm you and flirt
With his deadly advances
He’ll shower you with false promises
And convincing romances
He could come upon you, any old day
With a twinkle in his eye,
And his look that could sway.
This is your warnin’, so dalin’ take heed
What he does offer you, you surely don’t
A handful of problems, a life that is dark
In no time he’ll have you,
And your gravestone he’ll mark.


My Angel

My Angel
She comes to me in darkness
She comes to me when I’m alone
Often when I’m crying or hurt
She appears when I’m on my own
By my side she stands and stares
Without a hallo or wings
No shimmer light follows her
She saves me from desperate things
She comes to everyone else as well
Yet her eyes are heavenly blue
She seem to have an unearthly glow
As if she was covered with dew
When others call She dresses in white
And never turns to look back
When she comes to visit me
She’s always dressed in black
I know she’s standing in my room
Though, we never actually meet
What she whispers in my ear
Helps me to my feet
I don’t know what to call her
An enemy or friend
But when I begin to feel depressed
She’s right by my side again.
I can’t explain why she appears this way
It’s hard for others to see
Although it’s apparent that I need her
I also think she needs me
The tears I shed fall to her lap
And my frustrations to her hands
My angry words go to her ears
Yet she completely understands
You might not thing she beautiful
You see things differently
So I’ll keep this angel to myself
For she could be no more perfect to me.


Recently someone asked me, “If you could choose three people (alive or no longer) to have a chance to meet and talk to for just one hour who would that be?” My first choose would be Mother Teresa. The quote below says it all. This version was found written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Enemy at the Gate

Enemy at the Gate
Addiction is like the “Enemy at the Gate.” It’s always there and the struggle is to not worry but be prepared for the time it pulls off a surprise attack. This enemy disguises itself as isolation, depression, boredom, a dysfunctional relationship, a place, a thing, one weak moment- a relapse.
A promise is made to beat this enemy. More meetings to attend, a sponsor, a different sponsor, removal from people, places and things, a halfway house, a sober house. It works, it doesn’t. A sorrowful end or new beginning.
Always opened to thoughts, comments and ideas. G

The Cost

I don’t like to write, I’d rather type. But I want to write to feel the pain on my fingertips.

A lost diamond ring is of little cost compared to the day when little boys stopped asking for their mommy because it costs them too much pain to have her come and leave again.

The sadness of sweet memories that could have been made is the heavy cost you made when you chose evil over love.

A sister, a brother- concerns turn to fear and then disgust, waiting to love you again.

Sobbing out of control, when a father holds a picture of his little girl, hands folded in prayer. A promise of a future of laughter not tears.

A large cost has been made. The little girl has stolen the happiness, peace and sweet memories away.

A mother knowing, giving her life would be a small cost to bring her little girl back, right now- Today.

Mom 12-11

A Note Of Encouragement

My general tendency in life is to do my best to avoid difficulties. I imagine that many people can relate to this. When bad things happen to me I worry about them, and what is even more unfortunate is when good things are happening to me a part of me worries about the possibility of bad things undoing all of the good. The problem with this perspective, I have discovered, is that bad things happen to everyone and there is simply no avoiding it. Hardships can be profitable for us. I’m not saying they will be easy to endure, but in the long-run we will be grateful for them if we used them properly. I offer you this perspective as an encouragement to endure the difficult situation in which you now rest. It is the perspective I use personally when I suffer hardships in my own life.

So my humble encouragement is that you would seize this opportunity as a chance. Know that you are up for the challenge. Know that you have inside of you what it takes to overcome such an obstacle, even if you don’t quite believe that yourself. This is your time to show yourself and everyone else the great courage you have. Use this difficulty as an opportunity to shine!


The habit

The habit keeps.

It’s a shadow in its deliberate follow, a clock in its relentless crawl. The seed of every habit is a well worn need whose birth is an amendment written in a long ago language but whose bill is clear as day.

The habit can be a mean and unforgiving place. It can weigh and it can crush. It can be a thief of hope and a murderer of faith. It can scavenge the best laid plans of a life and dress them in all the colors of Dante.

The equal opportunistic ways of its clutch allow for no safe havens. It doesn’t matter if you come from an amazing family, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of making one with the love of your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re Joe from Joliet or Josh Hamilton from the California Angels. The habit will take your youth, it will take your looks, and if you let it stick around long enough, it will get busy taking everything else.

So the thing becomes to change the habit you depend on. And I realize I am simplifying the math here. Forward your complaints to brevity. But really, you probably already know what I’m talking about, because it’s probably where you go every time you come back from the depths of that habit’s call.

All I’m saying is that changing up the habit is a very real thing. It happens, every day. The unfortunate of sad and tragic tales has a flip side that is really beautiful. There are millions of stories out there right now, finding that same kind of wonderful, and living out better endings whose underpinnings were ankle deep in land mines once upon a time.

Building a better habit is all about patience and humility. It’s about reversing the momentary collapse created by a ravenous impulse in favor of a payoff that has years and decades worth of better days.

It’s a chance.


Life sucks, and then you try

She always ran to him. Any time of the day or night, didn’t matter.

He was her little brother; the only sibling she could bring herself to maintain communication with in a family whose tight knit history had died with the patriarch of the family years before. Little brother was her link to those better times, and she wasn’t about to let go of the boy who still made her believe in family. She understood the implicit danger in such a hold; the idea that she might get caught in the undertow. And she kept at it just the same, because she wasn’t willing to let go even though he had become really good at doing just that.

As far as little brother was concerned, I was resentful as shit. To put it another way, I hated the sonofabitch. Didn’t matter that I’d never met him, not in the least. All that mattered was that he was bringing my girl down, every time he called her in the middle of his latest dead end place.

I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand how she was able to possess that kind of loyalty to someone who was the source of so much pain for her, even if he was her blood. The way I saw it, my love for her was unconditional, it was selfless. Shit, I knew was never going to call her in the middle of the night to come rescue me from a hellish proposition I’d constructed. I was all about being a good thing in her life. I was everything he wasn’t, and yet, she ran to him. And I knew the reason had everything to do with the life that had gone away. It’s why I never gave her shit about it. That, and the fact that she would’ve told me to go fuck myself if I had.

She was always going to put out his fires, because in her mind, if there was one chance in a million, she was going to stand up to the countless odds and she was going to lay it all on that one chance. Even if she lost a piece of herself inside all the times her heart was broken. Even if it meant she was going to have to take time away from me or her kids or the rest of her life. Even if each phone call carried the very real chance that she was just going to lose it, and never get it back the same way.

We lived in different places, me and her. So it was by chance that he called one morning when I was there, and we ran to him, together. It was an awkward, silent trip to his place; full of a painful hope and horrible questions whose answers were lost inside the mess of a life undone. When we got there, he wasn’t in his apartment, so she called his cell. No answer. She hung up the phone and she cursed. 

“Fucking Brendan! Goddamit!”

She cursed all the way back to the car, and I just let her go. I realized that anger was the only thing keeping her from falling to the ground in a heap of tears. It was excruciating, watching someone you love fall apart before your very eyes while having no choice but to keep it together. I’ll never forget that, long as I live.

We went looking for him, and after a time we found him. Wandering along the sidewalks of a street several blocks from home in an aimless march to nowhere at all. She pulled over and retrieved him, as I moved to the back seat.

Our exchange was brief, but long enough for me to catch his eyes. He was so fucking high, it was frightening. He looked nothing like the pictures she’d shown me. Gone was the handsome ladies man with the million dollar smile, replaced with this ghastly old impostor . .  who was barely pushing forty. I let them talk, during which time he told us how he’d gotten high and after which the details went blurry. All I knew was that it was a miracle we found him.

It took the rest of the day for Brendan to figure out enough of his old self, and then we were hanging out in the living room. Me and my girl, Brendan and the kids. When lucid, his words were big and strong and his stories, they were beautiful and hilarious places to lose yourself inside of. The definition of melancholy happened in her living room that night. There I was, laughing my ass off at the stories while crying inwardly on the boy gone lost.

So it was, I discovered that Brendan was everything I really hoped he wouldn’t be. He was kind and thoughtful and giving. He was insightful and creative and fucking brilliant, and worst of all, he was genuinely happy to meet the guy who was making his sister smile on a daily basis. It really would’ve been so much easier if he’d been a scumbag, but the sonofabitch went and fucked that up too. And that’s when I knew exactly what she was talking about, and why.

He was worth fighting for. And not for one reason, but for all the reasons she’d given me over all the time before I got to know him. As ready as I was to tell him to leave her the hell alone, I just couldn’t. Because man, he could make her laugh in a way that showed me what those best of times must have felt like, and he introduced me to her in a way I’d never known.

Life is never going to come simple, of course. Me and her, we didn’t last. No fault of Brendan’s, or the kids, or even the distance. It was all about the damage that had been incurred in our respective lives before we got to know each other, and sometimes there is no way to repair such a thing as that.

Thing is, all this time later I still appreciate the moments I shared with a woman whose life was falling apart in every possible way. Because I know I was that good thing, and even more than that, I know she was that good thing too. When the timing sucks? Well, it’s called life. Welcome.

So the choice becomes, lessons or bitterness, and I went with the former.

So it is that she taught me how to write. This way. It was equal parts Midwest upbringing, and humility and faith and perseverance and a whole lot of well placed swearing. And so it is that I hope she got little brother to that place she always saw coming, despite the locomotive that was telling her the tracks only ran one way.

And so it is that I ask the girls of Grace House, quite humbly.


Write a poem. Write a haiku. Write anything that has meaning inside the moment that is screaming to be written. Borrow from that crunched up piece of paper that you threw away and then dug out of the trash. That piece of paper you crunched up and unraveled a million times over because you knew how much that moment you wrote it inside of, meant.

The million ways of a story is all about the one chance. A girl I once knew taught me that.

This Is How It Ends

To you, Amanda. For the soulful presence you always shared so very well.

To the goats, who are pleading mercy to the frozen grass you warmed with your whispering trudge. And to the amazing old lady you would have made. And to the stories you should be telling from the right here of the now. And to your smile. The one that held, and mustered and moved a day into being.

The angels, how they profit from such a loss as we have come to know.

You give those stars all hell, sister.


Hippie Girl

When you met Amanda Blakney, you came away the better for it. She didn’t just come to the Grace House, she rocked it off its feet. In her time there, she was a strong presence and support to others. When she moved on, her love remained. She always left you wanting more, but that was okay, because she was always there to provide it.

Amanda left this life without our permission. We can no longer give her hugs, share selfies, laugh together. We can no longer be captured by that amazing smile. The world is a whole lot colder as we face the reality of her passing. Her loss is a theft of times and places that will never be experienced, of stories that will never be told. We’re left to remember her smile, and to wrap our arms around the love she never stopped giving us.

Dear Miss Amanda Blakney, I hope you can check your FB page from wherever you are. You have new posts . . .

“Amanda I don’t think you’re beautiful, I think you’re beyond that.”

“Rest high babydoll.”

“Those who love you must face being without you.”

“Bbygrl. Waddup doe? You deserve peace and happiness, and finally you aren’t suffering from this terrible disease anymore. I’m glad you’re reunited with your mom, too, finally.” 

“The long hard road is over but your heart and your caring soul will never be forgotten.”

“I know what you longed for
To hold your mom once more
I understand Your reasons
But your timing has me grieving (Mick Kandi Royer).”

“I wish you could read just one of these comments and know what youmeant to people.”


Amanda Blakney

                                  October 29, 1993- February 12, 2015

Miss Amanda, you really did rock our world. You will always be my little hippie girl . . . I love you more.