An Essay Collection that Will Wake You Up Emotionally

BE WITH ME ALWAYS is a rich read, full of relational insight. The essays have a risky “out there” feel because the author, Randon Billings Noble, is not afraid to explore her own raw emotions. I relate to her inclination to go back in time, exploring the relationships that haunt her the most. Like her, I look back at moments when relationships heated up or teetered on the brink of dissolving or when, after a particularly hard break-up, I feared that maybe I would remain forever alone, clearly “incompatible.”

Noble, at times, seems in the thrall of an extreme desire for an impossibly intense romantic bond—which manifests most strongly when she describes a past lover who was, in a sense, her own personal “Dracula.” Her essays, which rely on surprising literary comparisons, bring to mind the forbidden relational dimensions in many stories and movies, reminding us how tantalizing those dimensions can be while at the same time raising the specter of emotional pain. Falling in love with Dracula is bound to end poorly because of his nature and because of the obsession he arouses. And the stories of star-crossed lovers are inevitably full of thwarted desire and loss. Somebody is going to get hurt.

One of the times Noble seems to stretch a bit too far for a relational analogy is when she likens herself to Ann Boleyn, admiring “the power to captivate a man, to enchant him, to possess him so fully that he thought of little else.” For Boleyn, the man in question was Henry the VIII, who repeatedly divorced or beheaded wives because of being so captivated. Boleyn must have known, at some level, what she was risking, and Noble seems a bit too willing to romanticize what was essentially pathological. But she probably knows this, and she bravely explores the terrain anyway.

I respect her intent to stay faithful to the man she eventually marries, letting go of the haunting lovers of her past and becoming a mother even though her unexpected twins threaten her sense of a future self. And I respect her honest admission that she is still sometimes haunted or pulled to the side romantically, as in her remarkably inventive essay “The Heart as a Torn Muscle.” Noble’s open admissions help me—and probably many other readers—to work through some of the hard-to-process subterranean stuff that we feel but never talk about.

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