My First Home: An American in Paris

My First Home

Greg Betza for The Boston Globe

I was nearly 30 before I signed a lease.

I went to a college where everyone lived on campus, and then spent my early 20s bouncing around borrowed apartments. I bought an apartment in New York but always knew it would become a rental; I planned to move abroad and shared it briefly with a roommate before work sent me to Bangkok for six months. There, I stayed in a hotel and a month-to-month rental, as six months became three years.

And then I got a posting in Paris, and finally it felt as if real life were beginning. I had a long-term work visa, and a great expanse of time stretched out in front of me. I had lived in France twice already and left both times desperate to stay. Now I would never have to leave.

After losing two apartments to other renters, I found the one. The one with floor-to-ceiling French windows. The one with a chair rail and wainscoting and a “Prussian’’ fireplace. The one with just enough room in the kitchen for a washer and worn wooden floors that felt soft under bare feet and an entryway that made the apartment feel bigger than it was. The one with absolutely nothing offensive about the bathroom.

I signed a three-year lease. I ordered the flat-weave mandala rug my sister had that I had always coveted. I found the perfect spot for the red lacquer chest I had bought as a farewell to Bangkok. I hung paintings and hooks and a spice rack, making holes in the walls with abandon. I reveled in the fact that when asked for a utility bill with my name on it, I could produce one.

I was thrilled to be in Paris, but I was also suffering from impostor syndrome. This was my first posting as a correspondent, and I was covering economics, which was unfamiliar territory. With Europe’s debt crisis raging, I struggled to tread water between the heavy news flow and the constant barrage of terms I didn’t know: technical default, primary deficit, balance of payments.

But whenever I arrived home and turned the key in the five-point lock on the giant double door, I felt as if I were washing off the stress of my job and the swirl of my insecurities and slipping into my sanctuary. No matter what was happening outside, walking into the brightness of the apartment from the darkened hallway always gave me a lift.

And then I met Daniel, and we fell in love. And all the time I worried about whether my apartment was big enough to make space for him when we would eventually move in together. I knew it was not, but I dreamed of cleaning out a closet and jamming in another dresser.

And then Daniel got a job in Senegal and asked me to come with him. I would have to leave the job I had grown to love. I would have to leave the country that I adored and that had finally agreed to have me stay as long as I liked. But mostly, I would have to leave the apartment.

Since we had been dating for only a year when Daniel moved, we decided to spend a year long distance before I would make my decision. But deep down, I think I already knew what I would decide. I still loved clicking the door closed, but I started to see the apartment differently, from afar, the way you view a city slipping into the distance as your plane takes off. I no longer felt the giant expanse of time stretching out before me.

About eight months into the year, I told Daniel I would join him in Senegal. Two months later, my apartment building began to repoint the stone in the interior courtyard, onto which my windows looked out. My shutters had to be closed, day and night. A faint light still seeped in, but my life had already moved to Africa.

Sarah DiLorenzo, a freelance journalist, lives in Sao Paulo. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @sdilorenzo. Send a 550-word essay on your first home to [email protected]. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.