A Meditation on My Hometown

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses suicide.


I was raised in Acton, Massachusetts, which is about twenty miles west of Boston. Nobody’s heard of it. “It’s one of the Historical Towns,” I always say, “involved in the Revolutionary War.” People don’t learn about Acton in their history textbooks, though. They learn about Concord, which is directly next to Acton, and Lexington, which is a few towns away. Today, those towns are beautiful, but Acton isn’t.

My town is characterized by its lack of anything to do. There’s the sketchy bowling alley where people joke you can find used needles behind the building. There’s Nara Park, which is pretty, but all you can really do there is walk around or go to stupid tribute concerts. There's the bike trail that'll take you to Sudbury or Lowell. But the nearest movie theatre is in Littleton, the nearest chain restaurants are in Westford, and the nearest mall is in Burlington. We’re lucky the MBTA has a stop and can take us to the city, where one can actually do something. 

Concord still retains most of its post-colonial charm, and it shines like a jewel all year round. Carlisle, Boxborough, and Lincoln all have large swaths of gorgeous farmland. The town of Harvard has the Fruitlands museum, where everyone goes to watch the sunset on the distant mountains. Acton is listless and grey. It has nothing truly beautiful to marvel at. There are nineteenth-century homes on one street and brand new condos on another. There is no order or theme, no real rhyme or reason. The Hallmark channel will never film a Christmas movie there. Only once in my life have I found the town pretty, and that was this past summer while picking up pizza at Sorrento’s.

Our high school is the 30th best in the state and the 765th best in the country. It’s renowned for its STEM program, the sports teams are good, and the theatre program has grown significantly in the last few years. But the climate there is tense. I visited this past December and came out with a headache. You fall under the impression that everyone is just trying to get ahead there, whether with grades or social status or both, and it feels like nobody truly cares about one another. You’re frowned upon if you say you don’t want to go to college or if you take low-level classes. The lack of warmth in the school--in the whole town--contributes to a climate of stress and unhappiness, and it has showed its colors. In eighteen months, there were six suicides, all from people who were in or had been in the public school district. One of those who died was only ten years old. Another had been the younger brother of a mutual friend. A third had been the older brother of a girl I’d known in elementary school. 

It was no wonder I was so desperate to leave. I say I hate the Massachusetts winters--and I do--but I hate the general cold as well, which is the heart and character my town doesn’t have. My mom has talked about wanting to stay in town after my younger sister goes to college, but I remind her that aside from one family we’re very close to and a colleague she’s known for years, there’s nothing she’ll be leaving behind. There’s almost nothing in that town for any of us. I’ve learned the hard way that the world is so much better than my town will ever be.