Who Am I, now?

Good morning faithful reader – 11/11/2021 – This is a public audience Speaker Talk

My name is Bob Cristello and my son Anthony took his own life in August of 2017 at the age of 35. I say this to claim my seat and to renew my membership in a club that no one wishes to be a member of.

Who am I, now?

My name is Michael, Michael Morrison Staffier.

I have wanted to say that out loud for years, to one other person besides my mother whom I love with all of my heart. My mother told me that she had intended to name me Michael after the angel because she felt music when I was inside of her womb. It was the single most beautiful thing my mother ever said to me in her entire wonderful life. She said when she saw me performing, moving people and having them not be able to explain it, she knew that she might have made a mistake by trying to protect me from her past which somehow became my life. She wanted to name me Morrison after my Grandmother’s family. Finally, Staffier which is the name of my biological Father Frank who I did not have the opportunity to meet until much later in my life.

I didn’t live Michael’s life, I lived mine and the inherent focus here should be on “I lived” because my life is ultimately no one’s responsibility but my own. Yes, people made choices for me when I was young and really bad things happened to me. Because of that, really bad things happened to other people and one of those people is my son Anthony. Now, he was Anthony James Cristello in the womb up until the minute he was born, and every single minute after that. His Dad was a successful teacher, artist and father loved by his community, respected by many and had friends like Cher and Joe and Malcolm and all of the other people who have loved me in spite of my being, Bob Cristello.

My friend called me last night and I won’t use his name but he is the reason I am writing this today because I want the world to understand something. He wept, literally like a child sobbing and I felt such sorrow for him. He was crying “Bobby, I had no idea, what did they do to you”? For one moment, one single moment I felt shame but I cannot allow myself to feel that. I feel I must tell you why or I have to stop, and I am incapable of stopping now and I will not apologize.

I am the most selfish person on the face of the planet, just ask anyone who knows me. Well, this is one time that this quality might actually be of some use to other people. There are thousands of people in the groups I now attend as if it were my church and perhaps it is now. There are millions across the world and they suffer from grief, depression, anxiety, shame and no one knows what to do. When a child dies before the parent, it is almost as if there is no word in the Human Lexicon to describe it. Doctor’s treat it with medicine, Mental Health experts treat it with intellectual discussion that I couldn’t read in a downloaded pdf to save my life. Clearly, it didn’t save my son’s life and that is the serious issue at hand we face. Children are killing themselves, our children and at more alarming numbers than ever before.

Yes, I am in pain but I have a message of hope. Yes, I found it and I have no idea how I did. I do know that I spent four years asking “why?” and that question got me no answers. It never will, it never will for any of us. It won’t because, like me, my son lived his own life and made his own decisions and he is ultimately responsible for his life. So because I answered my “Why?” questions, I no longer felt the emptiness of him not being able to answer his. So yes, eight weeks ago I made a decision. If you are still reading this then you are either extremely entertained, convinced I am off my nut or you might actually think I am on to something here. I couldn’t answer the question, why did my kid kill himself? So I answered the only question I could which is, what part did I play in the death of my son?

That led me down a path of reverse discovery, because life is always clearer when viewed backwards. Yes, I did really bad things and I hurt a lot of people. People I don’t want to hurt again because I need to open my mouth. There is a fire in a building and everyone is eating lunch, but I see the fire and I am not trying to put it out. I am just trying to get people to realize they need to get out of the building.

My Brand Is Death, My Niche Is Suicide, My Name Is Parent.

That is who I am, it is who we all are and I will fight all sides to help one person. I know you love me and I know you care, but I have to go to these meetings. I have to open my mouth. I have to post everywhere I can and entreat every friend I have ever known to hear my voice, know the truth and ignore the messenger. Don’t help me, help the people I stand here speaking for because most of them have no voice, they don’t even have hope.

I am a clean glass of water. I was filled with mud, sludge, slime and all the filth of the world – that I willingly ran face first into of my own volition. But do not weep for me, my God please just stop. I found the reasons “Why?” in my own life, and I am at peace with them. You kept pouring clean water into me until that mud was clear and I need to do this for other people now. Please hear this again, I am at peace. I am at peace because I answered all the unanswered “Whys” that led me astray. I am at peace because after answering all of my “Why?” questions, I didn’t need to answer his. I don’t need to talk about him, I need to talk about me. I need to share my experiences so others might find strength. I need to share my strength so others might find hope. Once I find this hope, I have to raise my voice and make a difference.

That is what I have to do. I have not lost it, I have a great wife, a beautiful child and my life has finally hit a point of stasis in the battle of constantly feeling set apart from the rest of society because of my shame. I speak my shame, because others cannot. I speak my failures, because others cannot. I share my cautionary tale in the hope that I will find one more strategy to get through one more day and hopefully help one other person.

I am truly sorry for dragging you all through this 8 week exercise. I am sorry for any of you I might have hurt in this quest for truth, self-truth and I entreat you to engage in your own. This 8 week exercise is done for me now and I am sorry, truly, but this is who I am, now. I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to feel this but I do want to share one last thing with you before I finish this morning. I can’t do this alone. I don’t necessarily need you to walk the rest of this path with me, but if you choose to do so I will gladly welcome you.

So, let me give you some perspective from my side. 8 weeks ago, most of you felt uncomfortable talking to me about Anthony and you know that is true. You don’t feel that way anymore, I know that because my phone is blowing up. My wife is saying “Seriously, like you talked more on the phone in the past 8 weeks then since we got married 10 years ago”. I know this because my messenger is blowing up. You are talking to me, not about me, not with others, but to me and you are doing it in a way that hasn’t been there since before Anthony died.

So, that is one miracle. I am back to work, after four years I am working and not just getting up, going in and doing my work. I am into it. I may even finally face a final hurdle and that is to pick up an instrument and to play live on stage again, but I do not want to throw out any spoilers. I know it because my website is blowing up, but not because of you. It is blowing up because of the message, and that is what I am asking you to understand. I am sorry if I upset you, but while this is all brand new breaking news for you most of this stuff is old, really really old, but it needed to be said.

Today I am calling Joe, and I know most of you don’t know who that is. I called his son yesterday to say I just wanted to call his Dad to tell him that I love him and that wanted to thank him for the part he played in my life. Now, that may seem like a very tiny thing to some of you that I get to call a guy named Joe. But for those of us in that community, who know and love each other from our common history together, they will understand how grateful I feel to be able to hear the voice for a little while of one of the most important men in my life. A voice I felt I did not have to right to hear for almost thirty years, and I am at peace – truly at peace – for the first time since 1994. Cher once told me a really beautiful thing. “Bobby, you are who you are because Joe was your Svengali, and I am who I am because Sonny Bono was mine.”

I decided to get my shit together, and I did it in front of you. All of you. You who watched me work with dancers, singers, musicians and put together something of beauty out of chaos. I did it so others could see that it could be done. The mother who just lost her 12 year old daughter to a drug overdose, the cheerleader in Texas’s mom who drove her car into a tree, the man who’s son put a gun into his mouth and blew his brains out and my son, who climbed up onto a chair and put a rope around his neck and hung until he was lifeless, they can’t talk. Their parent’s can barely talk. I have found a voice, please don’t ask me to be silent. If you love me, please don’t ask me to stop. If you know me, please help me because I need to do this.

Who am I, now? My name is Bob Cristello and my son Anthony Cristello killed himself four years ago. He was 35 years old and left behind a daughter, a family, friends and one small, tiny broken man named Bob. Now, I am on my feet, follow me or get out of my way. But please, do not ask me to stop.

My name is Bob, thank you for letting me share.