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Chaos Theory

A Wilder Bond

A friendship rooted in fiction is formed

By Cassie Bustamante

While reading is generally a solitary activity, it invites us to feel less alone in this world. Books connect us to writers and the characters they create, to other places and times, real or imaginary. And in the very best situations, they bring us closer to our family and friends, and, sometimes, even help us make new friends.

It’s August of 2022, and I’ve signed up my youngest, Wilder, for “Bugs, Bees & Butterflies” camp at the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum. My husband, Chris, has been tasked with day-one drop-off, which he reports as being tearful and traumatic — mostly for him. I am used to being the parent who handles first-day-of-anything jitters.

But then he says something that makes my ears perk up: “There’s another Wilder in his group.”

“What?” I ask, astonished. I’ve given each of my children, Sawyer, Emerson and Wilder, a literary name because I wanted to put my hard-earned English degree to use somehow. But even more so, I chose uncommon names. I have to know who this woman is that named her son Wilder.

That afternoon at pickup, I wait to see who signs out “the other Wilder” and make a mental note to strike up conversation with her the next day.

As I wait in line for the camp door to open the following afternoon, I see her approach. Never one who has suffered from shyness, I say, “Hi! So, are you the mom who also has a Wilder?”

She’s wearing a mask, but I can see her smile reflected in her blue eyes, which sparkle against a thick mane of auburn hair. “Yes,” she answers cheerfully. “That’s me!”

I introduce myself and discover her name, Mallory, and learn that their family recently moved to Greensboro from California. And more importantly, I find out that my son is three weeks older, so I named my child Wilder first. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit I feel a little victorious knowing that. Our friendly chatter breaks up as we head our separate ways, but I’ve already decided that this person is someone I might really like to get to know. But there’s just one question I want answered first.

“How did you come up with the name Wilder?” I ask her the next afternoon while we wait for our kiddos to be released.

Mallory looks at me a little sheepishly and replies with another question. “Have you ever read White Noise?”

White Noise by Don DeLillo!?!” I exclaim. “It was only my favorite book of my college career!”

I don’t recall too much of the actual book — just that I loved it — because it’s been over 20 years and the Netflix movie hadn’t premiered yet. I certainly don’t remember that there was a character named Wilder. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen a peek into Mallory’s soul by knowing what books she reads.

In return, she asks how I settled on “Wilder.” I explain that Laura Ingalls Wilder was a favorite author of mine as a child. Though from very different sources, both of us selected book-fluenced names.

One year later, our friendship is going strong. Our sons lovingly refer to one another as “the other Wilder.” We meet often for wilderness walks and park play so that the boys can explore and do what kids do, while Mallory and I carry on deep — though often interrupted —  conversations. We half-jokingly dream of writing our own series of children’s books based on our outings called “The Adventures of the Wildest Wilders.” And maybe, if we’re lucky, one day those books will become the root of someone else’s beautiful friendship.  OH

Cassie Bustamante is editor of O.Henry magazine.