People Next Door

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.

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.


  1. Tara - February 15, 2017 2:37 pm

    This essay was beautiful. As a single mother of four with a difficult full-time job and one who keeps her mouth shut and puts on the happy face every day, I can completely relate. In fact, the “keeping it all in” caused a massive heart attack two weeks ago. The stress will come out somewhere, so it is good to talk. Great message!

  2. Sandra Marrar - February 15, 2017 2:38 pm

    I honestly look forward to seeing your writings pop up in my email everyday. You really touch me daily with your stories of every day life.
    Do you remember that teacher who told you you’d never amount to much? She was wrong…very wrong! God bless!

  3. Susie Munz - February 15, 2017 3:21 pm

    So true, Sean. I faked it for a lot of years…smiling ’till it finally felt natural, but I had 10 stomach ulcers, and constant headaches. I finally found a counselor I felt I could trust. That saved me when I could finally unload that I had lost so many people close to me, that I was more comfortable with grief than happiness, and was faking it. Deep depression, no matter what the cause, is hell. Unload, it helps.

  4. DrotunNandry - February 15, 2017 5:15 pm

    I didn’t know fish smoke. Chimneys, yeah, but fish? I’m sorry about your Dad. I’ve squawked to everyone I know about how my car-insurance premium just skyrocketed overnight, up from $1,200.00/yr. to $1,500.00/yr., with no accidents, tickets or claims, just like that. Thanks for listening.

  5. Carol DeLater - February 16, 2017 3:34 am

    Interesting. But I can’t do it. Can’t even think about doing it. And it causes you to do things you can’t even imagine is related to the secret(s). But if you’re not too screwed up having secrets can bring you insight into why other people do some of the things THEY do. Sometimes you can be someone THEY can talk to.

  6. Michael Hawke - February 16, 2017 4:08 am

    You help people. Thank you.

  7. Judy - February 16, 2017 1:18 pm

    It’s just so much easier to ignore the elephant in the room than it is too talk about it. Life is all about pretense. Too bad, but it is.

  8. Jerenell Gorbutt - February 16, 2017 3:42 pm

    almost everysingleday…. you write about one of my lives. I am so proud of you. Please continue to write and I will continue to read and share you with every one I meet. I wish that there were more hearts like yours in this world young man. This would be a much better place. Hug Jamie real big and tell her that you are a keeper!

  9. Lorry Guffey - February 16, 2017 5:01 pm

    ex-preacher’s wife here. haven’t told much. cuz he said I left him cuz I was just an ungrateful wife who didn’t know how good I had it. and that I left him (and my home and my boys) for some guy I (never) met on the Internet. and the Christian community of an entire county in North Alabama believed it. well, not all. the 1st Baptist Church ladies believed me. but the ones who said ‘I love you’ all those years? they never even stopped to question the tale. I don’t go to church much anymore. and talking about it just labels me as bitter. thanks for your light tho! nice to know I’m not alone.

  10. Debbie Galladora - February 21, 2017 12:26 am

    I don’t know how I discovered your writings, but I’m sure glad I did…

  11. Nick DeAngelo - March 2, 2017 5:56 pm

    Just discovered you today – holy crap – can’t believe on all I’ve missed!

    • Gerald - March 11, 2017 12:36 pm

      You haven’t missed it all. Just go to his page and start reading.

  12. Wayne - March 2, 2017 7:11 pm

    I am so thankful I found your stories today. I would say that my heart hearts from smiling and holding back tears at the same time. I have only read a couple of handfuls of stories (so far), and not sure why I decided to comment on this one. I guess it hit home as I am addicted to porn and (with God’s help) getting set free from it. I have found that talking about it helps with the healing process. Thank you for sharing your heart and unique insight with us. Please keep up the great work.


  13. Pat - March 11, 2017 12:03 pm

    I wish I were the type of person who could do this. Or could have done it. I have lived too long, and kept it inside too much. It would kill me to talk about it.
    Just waiting.

  14. Debra Gamble - March 11, 2017 1:17 pm

    You are an incredible writer, truly blessed. Thank you for sharing your gift with all of us.

  15. Beverly - March 11, 2017 1:17 pm

    Look forward to your stories….they always touch me….this one touches all of us because we all have secrets…..something comforting about knowing you aren’t alone with your secret. Wish I could hug everyone that commented…..but don’t need to…Sean, you did with your words.

  16. Byron Audler - March 11, 2017 1:26 pm

    You’re an amazing writer and I expect you touch the souls of many who read your articles. I’m a man of Southern birth and I’ve been to a lot of places you write about…your words resonated something within me. Thank you, sir, Thank you.

  17. Melody Ann Dreading - March 11, 2017 4:17 pm

    You are a bright and shining beacon of common sense wisdom. God has blessed you greatly. Thank you for the words I look forward to reading at the start of each day after my devotion. God Bless you!

  18. Karen Bethea - March 11, 2017 4:29 pm

    What I DO know is this…everyone, whether they know it or not…has a story and many folks have absolutely no one to tell their story to. I do not care whether I am in line at a grocery store, a Doctor’s office, saying hello to the meter reader or any other circumstance, I want to know their story and it usually only takes the SLIGHTEST bit of interest in that particular person at that particular time to hear what it is. Last week an elderly lady (hopefully older than myself) asked if she could get in line in front of me in Aldi. Sure she could. Then she proceeded, hurriedly, to explain her grandson was at a local Emergency Room. That prompted me to ask his age….and then I learned he was 21, was “her baby” because she had taken care of him as an infant, had an obstructed bowel and she wanted to get to him as soon as possible….and a little more because I could not hear her – I just smiled. All I could say, several times, was “drive safely…”. Ask…be prepared for the answer…you never know….

  19. Starla - March 11, 2017 8:47 pm

    Your writings touch people and evoke emotions in a way reminiscent of the writings of Lewis Grizzard. My parents eagerly anticipated the days his column appeared in our local newpaper and read it before even reading the headlines. And I find myself eagerly awaiting your next writing. Thank you for what you do. You have a real gift.

    • Maxine - April 19, 2017 7:46 pm

      Lewis Grizzard… I have thought the same exact thing.

  20. Debbie DuBose - April 16, 2017 11:54 am

    I don’t tell anybody anything. Everyone’s too busy. NOBODY CARES. I can try to start a conversation with someone and they talk for 30 minutes about their lives, their families, their problems, while I smile, nod my head, and give the appropriate 2-word answers that fuels their fire. I say goodbye feeling sad and empty. Nobody cares.

  21. Charaleen Wright - April 5, 2019 4:21 am


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