This Side of the Glass(3.15.2007)

Z S
8 min readSep 4, 2023

Dean Hewitt is sitting in a corner banquette in the back room of a dimly lit Italian restaurant that sits on the second floor of the Four Seasons hotel. As I follow the maître’d past tables covered with stiff white cloths, I hear his laugh rise above the dull clatter, and see that he is not alone. A gray-haired man and a young woman are with him. The woman has dark hair, and for a brief, insane moment I think it’s someone I know until I get a little closer and see that she’s in her early thirties, a good three-decade younger than Dean or his friend.

I haven’t actually spoken with Dean yet. He left me a message with a place and time to meet — but he didn’t say anything about people joining us. Tonight is hardly a good night to make new friends, and I feel a flash of anger, almost enough to make me spin on my heel and walk out of the restaurant. But where would I go? I don’t want to be alone. The family has gone back home and I am supposed to socialize with the head of the Investment Banking division. I figure the Italian bread and the chilled bottle of Chardonnay on the table will get me through the night. And besides, Dean will have a reason. Later, he’ll tell me he thought it would be a good distraction, or that these people are important out-of-town clients. Whatever. He grins when he spots me, half rises from behind the banquette, and says, “There’s my guy!”

He engulfs me in a bear hug and then introduces me to our dinner companions. As I shake their hands, I recognize the gray-haired man as one of Dean’s partners in the trading unit, the guy who handles all the Hollywood clients. I’ve met him before. I don’t know anything about the woman he’s with, except I’d lay odds that she isn’t his wife. I’ve never met the wives of any of Dean’s friends or partners — but I have met the girlfriends. After almost three years, I’m beginning to get it: these men have parallel social lives that never intersect.

“Z’s had a hard time recently,” says Dean.

He flags the waiter, and I order a scotch, straight up with two ice cubes.

“What happened?” asks the brunette. She is wearing a large, round diamond dangling from a simple gold chain. It’s the kind of necklace no one who rides the subway would ever wear.

“My Dad passed away last month,” I explain woodenly. I’m not feeling anything, except maybe that vague, weird sense I had earlier in the day, of lying through my teeth. Why else in the world would I be sitting with total strangers in a loud trendy restaurant? My relationship with Dean is based on lies. I wonder, is there any chance he thinks I’ve made this up? I suppose, in the world according to Dean, a lie of this magnitude would not be out of the question. I notice him watching me carefully, his eyes steady over his drink. Dean prides himself on being a good judge of character. He was a trial lawyer, after all, and penetrating the defense is what he does best.

“So, how is your mom and sister doing?” he asks.

I tell myself he’s concerned, that he really cares about me and my family.

“They are fine,” I say. “They don’t know what was wrong with my father — whether it was a kidney failure or something else — ”

“It will all be okay. They will make it through”, he says. Dean smiles at me patronizingly. He always knows better. He has convinced me that the real world operates on a certain level — above my head — and that I will be able to survive in this world only if I stick with him.

I excuse myself.

Sitting on the toilet, fully clothed, I scroll through my phone — Anything to while the time. Anything to get away from them. I want to save the rest of my sanity for later. Later, Dean and I will sit across from each other again; he’ll throw some more lies at me, and I’ll believe him.

I’m not alone in the men’s room. I flush the toilet just for show, then open the stall. The older guy is standing by the sink, checking his nostrils in the mirror for caked white powder.

“Hey there,” I say weakly.

I splash cold water on my face, checking my eyes for dark circles.

“Dean’s f**ing amazing,” he says.

I try to smile, but my jaw feels wired shut, my eyes pinned open. As I leave the bathroom I notice that he is waiting for me to shut the door, a hand probably ready to pull out the small vial in his left pocket.

The brunette and the older guy are long gone, but Dean isn’t ready to go back home yet. He is picking on the last of the Italian bread as if it’s going out of style — A trait I recognize from my own behavior at restaurants.

The waiter clears my plate.

“Was the salmon not to sir’s liking?”

“No, no, it was delicious,” I say, trying to smile.

“You still hungry?”, I turn my attention towards Dean again. That gesture has me seeing him in a different light.

He is slightly drunk, but still fully functional and in control.

“You didn’t come from money, did you?”, I ask suddenly. I might be slightly drunk too.

He stares at me, naked hostility registering in his eyes. He has always told stories about how his parents were politically well-connected in Bainbridge, Ohio, and donated to mainstream causes. How he was sent to a prep school with his siblings when he was ten. He has stuck to his story. In the time that I knew him, he never, ever, changed his story midstream.

Today is different. Maybe it’s the alcohol. Maybe it’s the lighting. Maybe it’s the one-man audience. He just needs a confession and I am the reluctant priest.

Serena and Michael Hewitt had met years ago, on Fond Du Lac Avenue. Michael was standing at the bus stand swatting away the bees in the middle of summer waiting for the number 49 bus to take him to the carpentry shop where he worked a 12-hour shift. She had a gorgeous smile and her purse was hanging from her shoulders. He went and stood next to her and took the same bus as her, even though he had a different route. Serena remembered Michael’s shoes covered in sawdust, but still being well-polished, not too blue collar, with short hair and a bag of carpentry tools in his left hand. Serena thought he looked like a dope dealer, but gave him her real number anyway. Michael called Serena for three months before she agreed to let him take her out for ice cream. It took him another six years to marry her. She agreed to only after he could purchase a small two-bedroom fixer-upper in Cleveland Heights. Dean Michael Hewitt came another five years later.

Public schools in Cleveland Heights had metal detectors at each entrance and a noteworthy teen pregnancy rate. Every bike he had ever had as a kid was stolen. One day when Dean was twelve, he borrowed his brother’s bike without asking. He rode down to the corner store for candy, but when he came out not five minutes later, the bike was gone, and he was hysterical. A man he recognized from the neighborhood yelled at him to jump in his truck. He had seen a kid taking off on a red bike.

Miraculously, they found him pedaling frantically down a side street. He watched nervously through the windshield as the man nearly ran him off the road before jumping out and throwing him to the ground. The boy on his brother’s bike couldn’t have been much older than him. A white kid with a dirty, oversized T-shirt and a wallet chained to his belt loop.

Break-ins, shattered car windows, and pillaged center consoles were just as common. He had vivid memories of friends not wanting to ride the public bus with him because they were far too frightened of the kind of people who needed to. One year, a schoolmate’s mother refused to let her come trick-or-treating with him.

“All the kids from there come over here,” she grimaced.

Hordes of teenagers would arrive on presumably stolen bicycles with pillowcases to fill with candy; not the freshly purchased plastic pumpkins the other kids carried around. Even on a day meant for dressing as something you’re not, some folks still couldn’t escape the identities they had been assigned.

His mother Serena would wave to the neighbors and the kids on the stolen bikes from her eternal position — amid the flowers in their front yard. No zip code could keep her from pruning the petunias to perfection, but even she carried a sense of shame that they couldn’t afford to make it over the geographical and metaphorical line. She was adamant about writing Fairfield on informal address forms. “Close enough,” she would whisper to Dean under her breath.

Each morning, Dean would battle his way up to the front of his dad, Michael’s work van. Whoever did not shout “Shotgun!” fast enough sat on the center console with their legs dangling, without a seat belt. Serena would have already left for her job by then. They would stop by Dunkin Donuts first getting their only meal before dinner — A frosting donut for 39 cents shared by two people, and then tumble out of the van in front of the red brick building, the pink frosting happily smeared across their cold cheeks.

They knew they were different in some way, but they were too young to know exactly why. Ron being the elder one did have a few guesses. He was starting to feel his cheeks flush when the other parents stared. Perhaps it was the lack of seat belts, the sawdust sprinkled across their uniforms or the faint smell of Marijuana embedded in the fabric of his dad’s seat cushions.

His dad was a carpenter contractor and his mother worked as a school secretary. He doubted that they made enough money, but they worked tirelessly to give Dean and his brother the life they believed they needed. Money was the only thing he remembered them fighting about. His Dad made too little of it, and his Mom spent too much of it, which was easy to do, he supposed, when trying so diligently to keep up with the neighbors. The lakefront-home neighbors, of course, not the subsidized-housing neighbors.

And so that is how Dean grew up — right in the middle, more of a chameleon than a pack animal. Not quite rich, but not quite poor either. Not from the right neighborhood, but not really from the wrong one either. Close enough to press his hands to the tall glass windows of those waterfront homes and peer inside, but far enough to know exactly which side of the glass he was on.

The lessons came fast and heavy. He learned that he would never go back to the other side of that glass ever again — even in his memories.

Even as a child, Dean learned that it mattered —

It mattered deeply where and how you lived.

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Z S

Life is represented by two distinct sets of people: The people who live it and the people who observe them. These are their stories.