During the last couple years we were in Joe LaQuiere’s cult, doubts were slowly crystallizing in my dad’s mind, no doubt increased by Joe’s inability to accept any criticism or challenge to his opinions. I remember my dad being one of the only people willing to disagree with Joe on anything. The other person who had no problem voicing open doubt was my uncle H, father of the S family. In fact, a very heated argument between Joe and my Uncle H was the precursor to both their family and our family leaving for good. I believe it was regarding his oldest son, my cousin J, who was around 16 at the time.
My Uncle H decided it would be a good experience for J to take a job with a landscaping company, mowing lawns. Joe LaQuiere was vehemently against children being employed in the outside world, away from the direct supervision of their parents. He was also very angry that my Uncle H would make this decision without consulting him first, and getting his permission. My Uncle H got very upset in return, saying that it was HIS child, and he had the right to make what he considered the best decision for J, regardless of what anyone else thought. This argument went on long into the night, and involved many raised voices, and the other families ranged themselves in support of Joe…I don’t remember if my dad even supported my Uncle H in this. The end result was, the S family left the group.
It was very sobering to all of us who were left, and Joe LaQuiere made it clear to his followers that the S’s desertion was their first step on the road to inevitable spiritual disaster. He would tell us horror stories of other families who had been obstinate and left the group, spurning his advice and counsel. All of them came to horrible ends. He told us that these families self-destructed, ending with the older children rebelling against God and parents, reporting their parents to CPS for child abuse, who took the other children away and ripped the family apart. This was what we had to look forward to if we left the fold. His phrase for this was “crash and burn”. That is what happened to everyone who left: they all “crashed and burned”, and he gave the most dire warnings to us so that we wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
Then, about 3 weeks after the S family left, my dad called a family meeting and informed us that we were not going back. We were leaving. This was met with tearful protests and disbelief by most of us. I initially agreed with my dad on principle, because I idolized him and therefore took his side on everything, but eventually I caved, and wrote him a letter saying that I agreed with my mom and sister R, and wanted to stay. The only person who was happy about leaving was my brother B. He was so happy it was heart-breaking. He told me later that he was afraid to believe it was true, and lived for weeks in constant fear that it would turn out to be a mistake, leaving him trapped again in his personal hell.
At first it was unclear to us as children whether this was permanent or temporary. Joe LaQuiere came by that first week looking stern, and dropped off a yellow manila envelope at our front door. He refused to come in. He treated the visit rather like the proverbial “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”. He apparently didn’t want to be be polluted by the act of crossing our threshold. The manila envelope contained a letter that we were never allowed to read. I caught a glimpse of it once, and sure enough, it contained the dreaded words “crash and burn”. When my parents read it, my mom cried. My dad looked very grim. I was told later that the letter contained warnings and dark predictions for the spiritual future of our family. Joe made it clear over and over again throughout the letter that my dad was a failure. A failure as a spiritual leader, a failure as a father, a failure as a husband…a failure as a man. In Joe’s mind, we had sealed our fate when we chose to leave. We were on the path to destruction, and no one could help us.
This began one of the darkest periods of my entire life. As difficult as it had often been to live as a part of “the group”, leaving felt a thousand times worse.