“Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee”: Tom Petty, Virgil, and I

Tigger, a bookish cat preparing to read Dostovesky.

We drove all night in a Honda Civic with five cats.   With the exception of Tigger, a four-pound tabby who would not be fooled by a sedative in Fancy Feast, I’d managed to administer sedatives to all the cats.  Cats do not like to travel. Our black-and-white, Emma, howled  even on two-block trips to the vet and then coyly  refused to come out of the carrier. The vet dubbed our reclusive cat Helen “Yellin’ Helen.”  She’s fine at home, but her idea of hell is other people.  Now Emma curled up sleeping in a large carrier with her inseparable companion, Lou May. I held Tigger’s small carrier in my lap.

We were very, very tired. Indiana was endless.  Illinois was flat.  In Iowa we stopped at Kum & Go (really!) convenience stores for bad coffee.

As we finally veered off the Interstate, the sun rose over the dome of the Capitol.  A good omen.

Then it began to snow.  A bad omen.

Mixed omens.  That’s the way moves are.

And then we pulled up into the driveway.  “That’s the house?” It was a minuscule three-room rental house.   You could practically sit on the couch  in the living room and reach across to the kitchen to turn on the stove.

Would that our garage had been this organized!

We stored our books in the garage behind the teeny-tiny house. We had given away 350 books to a public library before the move, but we still had 2,000 books.   I would sit in the garage  in my tweed coat and fingerless gloves, trying to find specific books.   I told my doctor, “I’ve read 120 books since I moved here five months ago.  Don’t you think that’s odd?”  “I just think it’s odd that you write them down.”

I knew no one, didn’t click with the very nice women at the Oprah book club at a bookstore, and I spent most of my time reading and writing a bad novel.  One day I went to a mall, stocked up on classics at Walden, and gave away copies of Willa Cather’s My Antonia (Signet) to two women who worked at the Clinique counter at a department store.  “We love books,” said the beautiful women.  And they refused to sell me the extra-special miracle cream that was supposed to erase wrinkles and rejuvenate my sunburned skin.  “It’s too expensive.  This will work just as well,” they said.  They were honest women.  Readers, unite.

After searching in vain for my lost Latin dictionary, I ordered a new one from Amazon.  Tada!  It arrived very fast. And then I spent days reading Virgil’s  Aeneid, empathizing with the hero’s horrible situation. When Troy falls to the Greeks, Aeneas is by default the leader.  He is the last man standing.  Everybody’s dead. And he has to lead the survivors to a new homeland.  Where?  He tries, and tries again, and they are always driven away…  And he so doesn’t want this job. He is  half man, half god, the son of Anchises and Venus, and  should be up to the task. But he needs lots and lots of guidance.  He would rather take orders from  his father, or  from Dido, the queen of Carthage, also a refugee, than complete his weary mission of founding Rome, via war in Italy.  Why can’t they stay put?  What does it matter if Carthage or Rome is built to last?

David Ferry’s new translation of The Aeneid is elegant and very close to the original. He captures the human side of Aeneas.  Ferry and Virgil don’t hurry the poem along, or lose their audience by making Aeneas seem psychotic, but it is clear that he has post-traumatic stress disorder. He is very depressed.  When Juno arranges for Aeolus to whip up a tsunami, Aeneas sees the waves torrentially rising and wishes he were dead.

In Book I, lines 129-137, Ferry translates,

O those others are three-times, four-times blessed
Whose privilege it was to meet their fate,
Watched by their fathers as they died beneath
The high walls of their native city, Troy!
Alas, Tydides, bravest of the Danaans,
That by thy hand I could not fall and pour
My life out on the fields of Ilium ,
Where fierce Hector, helpless, fallen, lies, brought down
By the spear of Aeacides…

Yes. Why did I ever leave the fields of Ilium (Troy), i.e., my hometown, for the ugly, dark northern city?  In his travel book, I See By My Outfit, Peter S. Beagle refers to these cities as Mordor

Escaped from Mordor, by Jove!  That’s difficult.  So why so sad?

Well, I missed our old house.  As the iffy urban neighborhood there got rougher, as a policeman told me not to wait for the bus on that block because the gangs were selling drugs, I switched to a bicycle. But we couldn’t stay. Everybody was moving   to the exurbs.  We moved to a beautiful, smaller, still viable city.

Virgil writes about what it’s like truly to be a refugee.

But Tom Petty’s “Refugee” can be applied to both Virgil’s and my situation.   I danced around the house singing along  to this song.  So I do recommend playing this video and singing along  because “you don’t have to live like a refugee.”


Here are the lyrics to “Refugee.” And, oh, they do apply.

Ain’t no real big secret, all the same, somehow we get around it
Listen, it don’t really matter to me baby
You believe what you want to believe, you see

You don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you want to lay there, revel in your abandon
Honey, it don’t make no difference to me baby
Everybody’s had to fight to be free, you see

You don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)
No baby you don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)

Baby we ain’t the first
I’m sure a lot of other lovers been burned
Right now this seems real to you, but it’s
One of those things you gotta feel to be true

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Who knows maybe you were kidnapped tied up,
Taken away and held for ransom
Honey, it don’t really matter to me, baby
Everybody’s had to fight to be free, you see

Don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)
No don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)
You don’t have to live like a refugee
(Don’t have to live like a refugee)

I miss Tom Petty.  I feel that Aeneas and I have lots to learn here.

6 thoughts on ““Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee”: Tom Petty, Virgil, and I

  1. I miss Tom Petty, too, and David Bowie. I have you beat on the animals in small apartment and travelling with animals. When we moved from New Hampshire to Boston, we had an Irish Wolfhound and two cats sharing the temporary studio. When we moved from Massachusetts to Philadelphia, we rented a van so we could bring our Irish Wolfhound (different dog) and six cats in one trip. Boy, was that fun!
    I must read the Aeneid soon. Maybe after the move we’re in the middle of. No animals to transport this time. Maybe we’ll rectify that after we’re settled.


    • Oh, it does sound like a fun trip! I do wish we had a dog, but we’d have to find a bigger house. I hope your move will go well and that you’ll enjoy the Aeneid!


  2. Can I ask if this is an older memory?: It reads like a house you moved to before your present place? I see I haven’t been keeping up with your blog. I regret that. the song has that old-rhythm I used to love in the 1960s and 70s, except more plangent.


    • Yes, this is not our current house: thank God! I was thinking about refugees, and though we’re not quite refugees, I think everyone has that experience in some way. Yes, I love the old Tom Petty song!


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