Family portrayed in TV AIDS story still finding joy

Published: Sunday, Feb. 15 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

This portrait of the Smith family \\— Kim, Tony, Steve and Parker \\— hangs on a wall in Kim Smith's home. Even though her husband died of AIDS and left her HIV positive, Kim still feels intense love for Steve.

Smith family photo

Years after her life was played out on the TV screen like a reality show, the sequel to Kim Smith's story plays on without the cameras.

Her husband Steve lies in a Sandy cemetery. His violin is in the closet. His backyard garden is covered with snow. The greenhouse, where he nursed orchids and tropical plants and cacti, is neglected and dying.

The symbolism is not lost on Kim.

"It's very poignant," she says as she surveys the scene. "When I sit out here, I think about all the good things, or I get frustrated because I remember what was and what is."

It has been nearly two years since "The Smith Family" documentary aired on public television to much acclaim, and everyone who meets Kim wants to know what has happened in the intervening years.

Kim has returned to a life of normalcy, or as much normalcy as there can be for a woman who discovered one day that her husband had not only been having affairs but he was having them with men, then later discovered she was HIV positive, then nursed her husband until he died of AIDS.

The cameras recorded a close-knit, affectionate, musical Mormon family — Steve, Kim and their two handsome, clean-cut boys, Tony and Parker — as they coped with a slowly unfolding nightmare. All at once it was a raw, emotional exploration of love, family, religion, homosexuality, AIDS and forgiveness. The film offered no answers, but it did raise plenty of questions.

Nothing wraps up the film so well as when Kim says, "It was a love story, bottom line."

Kim is still trying to reconcile much of what happened, but meanwhile, freed of the exhausting task of nursing her husband, she has turned to more mundane matters. She took a job as a cardiology technician in a Salt Lake hospital. A tall woman with short brown hair, she looks fit and healthy but confesses, "I get fatigued easily." At 47, she is not only HIV positive, but she has had Type 2 diabetes for more than a decade. She is reluctantly selling her house of memories in Sandy partly because she no longer has the energy to maintain the place.

She has been making monthly trips to Washington, D.C., for experimental treatments. The "cocktails," as she calls the medication, have boosted her immune system to healthy levels, but the side effects are almost as bad as the disease, which is why she is taking a break from some of the treatments.

She is recognized several times a week by strangers who saw the award-winning documentary.

"Everywhere I go," she says, "people will say, 'You touched our lives, you made us think.' That makes us think it made a difference. All the time people come up and hug me. They say, 'I just feel like I know you.' The documentary was very intimate, and they know us."

For her part, Kim says, "I still can't watch it without losing it."

There have been offers to turn her story into a Hollywood movie, but she has refused them. She has had a falling out over this issue with the maker of the documentary, Tasha Oldham, who has urged her to consent to a movie deal. Kim has held her ground, largely because she fears she will lose control over the script and how the story is handled. She has been mulling a book for years. "It would be cathartic," she says.

Kim shares the family's Sandy home with Parker, 19, who has a job, attends school and plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (When a California choreographer saw Parker perform cheer stunts in the documentary, he cast him as a cheerleader in the movie "Bring It On Again.") Tony, 22, is married and visits his mother frequently between classes and work. He is majoring in nursing at the University of Utah.

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