I was taking photos recently at a Park Ridge Academic Magnet School program in Baker when I stopped to take a closer look at one of the pictures. In the corner of the shot, a little girl appeared to be weeping while sitting on the lap of a man I assumed was her father.
I was so intrigued by the little girl that I asked a teacher why she was crying. “Oh, that’s Trista. Jayln was her best friend,” she said.
The school event was being held to remember Jayln Forsythe, an 11-year-old student who had died in 2014 from complications associated with diabetes. Jayln’s parents and other relatives were in attendance to hear the student choir and school principal sing songs in her honor.
Two professionals talked about healthy eating before the whole student body was led outside to a vegetable garden being dedicated in Jayln’s honor.
The students, some also shedding tears, stood near the neatly lined garden of broccoli, snap beans, lettuce and the like. Trista was still crying and clinging to her dad.
I may have been intruding, but I had to know more about this friendship and the undeniable pain of a little girl over the death of a friend. It turned out to be a bigger story about love and kindness that happens more often than we know.
The bond between Trista and Jayln spanned six years. Their fathers, who are also good friends, said the girls were more like sisters, one black and one white. Jayln was a year older. They went everywhere together, from attending church to sleepovers, to going shopping. Trista could count on Jayln cheering at her gymnastics meets at LSU.
Jayln’s dad, Henry Forsythe Jr., a single parent, said the Bryants “were often a lifesaver me, often baby-sitting Jayln for me.”
Forsythe said he knows that sometimes the girls’ closeness caused stares in some places because of their difference in race. Jayln is black.
“I tried to raise Jayln not to use that adjective so that she wouldn’t see color. Both of them were like that,” said Forsythe, a science teacher at Greenville Superintendent’s Academy. “It was just Trista and Jayln.”
Jayln’s death in September of 2014 was sudden and unexpected, he said. Everyone was shocked and devastated, he said. Students and teachers were all affected, said Principal Tammy Armand-Golden.
Trista was heartbroken, her dad, Michael Bryant, said, adding that she is still grieving.
In the weeks after his daughter’s passing, Forsythe said he felt the need to talk to Trista. “I told Trista. ‘It’s OK for you to miss Jayln. I miss Jayln, too.’ … I told her to ‘always remember the love you have in your heart for Jayln.’ ”
Trista says that sometimes when she’s alone, she will speak to Jayln. “I will tell her that I really miss her but that I know she is in a better place.”
The little girl said she knows that Jayln is happy right now “because she liked (the singer) Adele.” The British singer has a hit song now called “Hello.” “I know she likes it,” Trista said.
Looking back on the November school program for his daughter, Forsythe said, “It was humbling. At first I thought it was going to be overwhelming. It was amazing. We appreciated everything the school did.”
Bryant said he was glad he was able to get the time off to be at the program. “I knew I had to be there for my daughter and my son. But, I was there for Henry, too.”
At the vegetable garden, Trista was staring at the plots when she was asked if she would take a photo putting a couple plants in the ground in honor of her friend. She wiped away a couple tears and slowly agreed. Accompanied by her brother, she scooped away dirt and planted.
Minutes later, she did not return to class, but left with her dad and brother.
A few nights ago, I asked her to describe, as best she could, her relationship with Jayln. In her small voice she had but one sentence: “Jayln was the best friend I ever had.”
OK, I dropped a tear.
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.