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Chris Graham: Bully

Not me. The other guys. I was the bullied, if that’s an apt description.

Skinny as a rail, my head always stuck in a book, I grew up, you might say, in a rough neighborhood in about the worst way that one could.

I knew from an early age that I wasn’t like the other guys. I didn’t go hunting with my dad. (My dad didn’t hunt, for one thing. He wasn’t around much, for another.)

I wasn’t into cars. I played sports every waking minute that I wasn’t reading a book, but not football. (I preferred basketball. Shot literally tens of thousands of jump shots out on the backyard hoop, usually by myself.)

I had the face of a pepperoni pizza, and was shy even for a kid among the acne-riddled set. I desperately wanted to get the attention of the pretty girl on the school bus, but it was seriously not meant to be, times ten.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the etching on the seat toward the back of the school bus.

“Chris Graham is a fag.”

What was I supposed to do? Not that it should have mattered if it had been true, but I was in no position to debate the matter and win.

(I was a champion high-school debater. Another strike against me on bus #227.)

I was 6’1″, 125 pounds dripping wet, couldn’t do a pullup, had never even tried a pushup.

“Fag.” “Queer.”


I was different, no question about it. A teacher had figured out that I possessed some talent in writing and encouraged me to develop it further. Which was a good thing, because I found out in eighth-grade shop class that shop class wasn’t my destiny.

My response to the taunts is uncharacteristic of how I deal with criticism today, which is head on. I seethed and otherwise kept it in.

I did go out and get a summer job so that I could save up money for a weightlifting set. From the skinny tenth-grader who had a hard time with a backpack, I could benchpress 300 pounds by the time I was a senior, and I’ve kept it up over the years, maxing out a couple of months ago at 395 on the bench and 650 on the squat.

I’d be lying if I didn’t concede that I’ve puffed myself up as a sort of lifelong response to being picked on as a teen, and that when I’m working in my upstairs home gym on the punching bag I’m thinking of some of the tormentors and their sophomoric gibes.

My head is shaved, I have a goatee, a big tattoo on my shoulder. Basically my goal is for people to just leave me the hell alone, and I’ll be happy.

You think that kids picking on other kids is just kids being kids? The kids getting picked on carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

I know from personal experience.

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