Marie was a Waffle-House waitress with two kids. She smoked like a fish, worked like a trail horse, and was self-conscious about her teeth.
Several of us fellas used to visit her every weekday morning for breakfast.
Once she showed me a bronze token.
“I’ve been in recovery for nine years,” she said. “My boyfriend got me into meth, it almost killed me. I’ve learned that sharing my embarrassing secrets is what sets me free. …”
Like the man I know whose mother lived with him. She died in his living room. I’ve known this man a while — he lived four houses down. He borrowed my lawnmower once. I thought he lived alone.
I asked him why he never talked about his mother.
He said, “Aw, everybody’s got problems, nobody wants to hear about mine.”
Then, there’s the secret I learned at my friend’s second wedding. The same fella I’ve known for years — since his long-haired days.
“My ex-wife used to beat me,” he admitted. “She’d throw things, hit me, kick me… Once, she punched me so hard, I had to have eye surgery. I was too humiliated to talk about it.”
Or: Deidra — which isn’t her name. She’s wife to the pastor of one of those Six-Flags-Over-Jesus churches that have Chick-Fil-A’s in the lobbies. Her husband has been cheating on her and stealing church funds.
She finally left him, but his sins never surfaced. Instead, he told his congregation that Deidra had robbed the church blind.
She’s been in therapy two years, battling ideas of suicide.
That brings me to my daddy, a man I write about often — probably too often. And I won’t beat around the bush, he was a tortured soul.
But he was also a good man, trapped in a vicious brain. His self-inflicted death came as a shock to anyone who knew him, even close friends. But then, few knew the hell he suffered in secret.
How could they? He never said a damn word about it.
So listen, I don’t know where you live or who your friends are. I don’t know if your husband hits you, if you drink too much, or if you’re going bankrupt.
Maybe you’re pretending to be someone you aren’t. Maybe you’re a single mama, faking happiness. Or an average boy who’d like to be noticed by the girl in fourth-period math.
I’m sorry, I have no answers, I’m a fella who doesn’t even have qualifications to make a Labrador sit and stay. But I do know how you can feel better.
Do it until your voice hurts. Then talk more. Tell every secret. Talk to your mama, your neighbor, your garbage man, a therapist, the stranger pushing a broom or the red-haired stranger writing you now.
And if you have nothing painful that needs talking about … visit Waffle House sometime, and ask for Marie.
Because she does.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist and stand-up storyteller known for his commentary on life in the American South. His column appears in newspapers throughout the U.S. He has authored 15 books, he is the creator of the Sean of the South Podcast and he makes appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.