Prologue: Character Development. (Duluth, Minnesota)
They say happy families are all alike. At least, Tolstoy said it, and we'd hope he knew what he was talking about.
This family isn't like anyone else's. Not like anyone else's in the entire world. Hoff has been living with this ever since he could remember, and didn't need to read Anna Karenina to know that differences meant unhappiness, as night follows the day.
It's four a.m. when his grandmother wakes the house for prayer. This is nothing new; everyone is up anyway, keeping hours fit for either the army or for God. When Grandmum passes the upstairs room next to his, Cousin Janet sets up a howl to her own, darker Gods. There's no sleeping when Janet starts gibbering, even if Grandmum didn't rap on his door until she heard the sounds of him stirring inside. Jan used to be all right, that's the most disturbing thing. Hoff sometimes thinks (don't think about her, don't think about how she was) he could deal with Janet talking to another dimension if he couldn't remember the times when she only lived on this plane.
His father is already in Grandmum's chapel when Hoff makes it downstairs; his head is bowed and he's kneeling on the bare wood floor. Once, Hoff muttered a joke (don't think don't even joke about it) under his breath after the morning prayers that his father should go straight from the kneeling to his push-ups, or perhaps combine the two, as they were so similar. He still had that scar that resulted from the jibe, (don't remember don't) among others; it's scratched into his right shoulderblade, and it looks like a cross gouged into his flesh.
Today is different. Today Hoff is silent, and for the first time in years, since the age of ten when his father (don't think about it) destroyed his piano (don't think about it don't think about it don't think)
Hoff is on his knees without hesitation, and he is praying, and for once, every bit of him means it, even the locked-down parts. If his grandmother would sing in praise, and not just read about songs of praise from her great black bible, he would join in with every voice he possesses, because they are sending him away. It doesn't matter if it's military academy at this point (but it isn't, sing hallelujah) and it doesn't matter if it's a religious school (but Gran was thwarted, ha-ha and PRAISE God), it doesn't matter if it's a fucking girl's school and he has to go all the way to the other side to qualify; it is the first blessing he can remember, possibly ever.
Eupheme, Eupheme, Eupheme: that's the prayer.
It's not that school has been bad to him before this. Hoff knows about pretending, and while he's never been the kind of guy who ever fits in -- moved around too much for that, and a little too quiet -- he's always had a place. He remembers the times he didn't pretend (don't think about tears and don't think about hospitals). They were learning experiences. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven," his grandmother reads.
Hoff gets it, he does; doesn't need the Bible to tell him that you have to put everything in its place. There's a time for his music and his art, and a time when he's going to march in line and shout and learn to shoot not just deer but human beings, and Hoff's OK with that. Ernst's time, the time of that quiet guy who got suspended for fighting, for not just beating the kid who tried to steal his art supplies but fucking gleefully HITTING HIM until he STOPPED until THEY STARTED SHOUTING OH GOD HE'S NOT MOVING -- (don't think stop thinking just stop)
Well, Ernst's time is different from Ted's time, Ted the charmer who used his underground comic book to part the lips and legs of more than one pretty girl at his too-large high school. God, Duluth was easy. Nothing to do in this cold but get laid and pray. And they're both different from Hoff, which is what everyone calls him except his family, the general face. And none of these are Amadeus. That's his name on the inside, what he tries so hard to be. Sometimes it seems like a laugh, beloved-of-God (and another thing not to think about, don't think too hard about it). But it was good enough for Mozart, so it's good enough for him.
It's really very simple when you get used to it. You just put on a different mask when you need it. (and don't think, don't think, whatever you do -- )
At eight a.m., he's on the Greyhound that will put him in the Twin Cities (of sin, says his grandmother, and looks as if she's preparing to exorcise him right then and there). That will carry him to a plane to Massachusetts, which is so damn far away (give me AMEN, brothers and sisters).
He looks out the window at flat fields and power lines, and thinks of nothing much.