Seventh grade was, for me at least, quite possibly THE watershed year in a boy's/young man's life. The tipping point, as it were, of many things. Puberty and the physical and mental changes that came with it . Gym Class- and the exposure to enforced sadism, collective nudity (and potential homosexuality) and the need to be subservient to the "the big kids" who had already gone through "the changes". And, of course, gangs. Whether they were benign, evil or a combination of the two, seventh grade saw the clustering of boys around potential leaders.
Big Mike was a bad child. When he developed a man's body, he became horrific. When he felt the need for a scapegoat, it was certain that some poor soul would get special attention from Big Mike.
Richard was different. In the statistical inverted "bell curve" of gender, Richard was somewhere in the middle, in no-man's land- but not really a girl either. Gym class and the shower afterward were hell for the girlish-figured lad, and his bare minimum of equipment gave his tormentors an additional target.
Big Mike selected him for his next victim. But the way it worked, you see, is that
Big Mike needed an audience or else there was no point in it. Being a top dog, he needed a pack.
The Pack was rest of us. Including me. We trailed after Mike, and when Mike found his quarry on the way home from school, we followed. Mike did his worst, we watched. Richard broke down, sobbing, terrified. We watched.
In the eighth grade, I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies.
In the eighth grade, Big Mike got a girl pregnant, and we never saw him again.
In the eighth grade, Richard got some hormone therapy which helped him a little.
There were other gangs later, real gangs with turf and colors and gang fights. But somehow that all passed us by. We didn't have an alpha male.