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.
The house in Sandy has reminders of their husband and father pictures, artwork, his violin, the yard. In the family room, there is a statue of a naked couple standing in a passionate embrace. The statue was a gift from Kim to Steve on their ninth wedding anniversary in 1987. "It feels like we felt," she says.
But in some ways it was wishful thinking. They spent a happy day together celebrating their anniversary, but when night came "there was no Hollywood ending," she says.
It was an old source of contention. For years he had showed infrequent interest in her in the bedroom, although Kim says they were always affectionate and deeply in love. The next morning she raised the issue again, as she had so many times over the years.
"Steve, there's something wrong here," she said. "I don't know what it is, but it can't be all me."
Then he dropped the bombshell. He had been having affairs with strangers men. He told her about being abused by a stranger as a youth, which he considered the cause of his behavior.
"I was more hurt than angry that came later," she says. "I was heartbroken to think he had lived his whole life and had not told a single person. He had had to deal with this alone. It was a coming together for us."
She decided to stick with him and keep the family together.
They had met when they were 18. She sent him off for two years to serve a Mormon Church mission. They married six months after his return. They had two boys together Tony in 1981, Parker in '84. They had a good life, the life she had imagined growing up in a strong Mormon family in Utah.
Steve was a Renaissance man. He flew jets for the Air Force and later for Northwest Airlines. He was an artist, a painter. He was an expert gardener. He was a ski instructor. He liked cooking, theater and music. He played the violin in various orchestras and local symphonies over the years.
"We had a lot of the same interests," says Kim, "and then I grew to like a lot of things because of him." When the boys were older, they formed a family chamber orchestra, with Steve on violin, Kim on piano, Tony on viola and Parker on cello, and performed mostly in church meetings.
"He was a great guy," says Tony. "He was fun. He always found something we could do together. We skied together. We played music together. He took us to symphonies and musicals. He was a good father."
But he led a secret life that eventually encroached on this happy family life. He wrestled with his homosexuality for years. He was religious (he was serving in his Mormon ward's bishopric) and a dedicated family man.
"He didn't consider himself to be gay," says Kim. "He was really struggling with these feelings of attraction. He didn't understand it. He was very conflicted."
So conflicted that before his confession to his wife, he once traveled to Egypt and stayed several weeks while contemplating suicide. "Because of the way our society is, he was forced into dark, dangerous situations rest stops, restrooms, with strangers," says Kim. "What it does to him and many others who are religious and have high standards is force them into this duplicity."
Two years after her husband confessed to extramarital affairs, Kim received a call from her doctor saying she had tested positive for HIV. (She had seen him for flu-like symptoms.) Her doctor said he was sure the test results were a mistake he didn't know about Steve's indiscretions but she knew they weren't. Steve had been getting tested anonymously for years.
"I got off the phone and I was just standing in the entryway and I hollered at him, 'I'm HIV positive,' " she recalls. "He came unglued. It was our worst nightmare. We were just starting to get on top of things, with that (AIDS) in the back of our minds. We had just gone through the whole (forgiveness) process with the church. We had come together as a couple. We had worked so hard to turn things around.
"Then in a second, our life changed. I remember the moment. It's crystallized in my mind. From that moment on, I've never thought the same. You know you're facing a death sentence; now I know it's more imminent than it probably would have been. All those things you work on, all your goals, none of that matters. We lived our lives differently from that moment on. We tried to invest in the things that matter. Family."
Steve told his parents immediately, but for the next two years only four people knew the awful secret. In 1991, they decided they needed the support of family and that it was time to tell them what was going on. Steve insisted that he tell each relative face to face, one at a time. It took him months to complete the task, flying from their home in Minnesota to Utah to meet with family members.
"He would get sick from the emotion before he came out each time," says Kim.
Tony and Parker were 10 and 7, respectively, when they learned their parents were HIV positive. "It really wasn't a nightmare for us," says Tony. "We just kind of grew up with it. At that age, you don't really understand it completely. It made it not so bad."
Says Parker, "All I knew was that Magic Johnson had it and that it was a bad thing to have. They didn't say how he got it at that point. It was later, when my mom and I and Tony were talking, that I found out how he got it. It was rough, just because it's uncomfortable stuff. But he was still my dad. In a weird way I loved him more because of what he was going through to deal with that and with the consequences."
The documentary chronicles Steve's long painful slide. Kim's devotion and selflessness are among the most remarkable aspects of the documentary. It is difficult not to notice the tenderness and love with which she cares for him, feeding and medicating him, spending hours each day trying to deal with insurance companies and medical bills, taking care of her boys and her home and dealing with her own considerable health issues, not to mention the emotional trauma of Steve's betrayal and irresponsible behavior.
Given the bullet points of the story husband has affairs, gives his wife HIV one is staggered by her dedication.
"Everyone looks at Steve as a bad, selfish person," says Kim, "but no one knows the anguish, the heartache and sorrow he carried because of the ramifications for me. No one will ever know how he suffered. And they don't know what a good father and husband he was."
She is often asked if she forgave him. She says, "I have to qualify forgiveness. There are times when I get angry that the rest of my life I have to deal with this circumstance and it will affect the rest of my life and the choices I make. That's the thing nobody realized is that he lived a living hell because he realized that that it would make a difference in my life. I feel like I have forgiven him of the things I feel he had no control over."
For her, it comes to this: "I truly loved him, and I know without a doubt that I was the love his life."
In 1994, the Smiths moved to Utah to have the support of family. A few years later, Oldham learned of their story and began to film the documentary. The film chronicled the slow, painful deterioration of a man who was once athletic, fit and active. It was another sad family milestone the day he reluctantly asked his sons to carry him up and down the stairs.
Near the end, Tony accepted a call to serve an LDS Church mission in the spring of 2000, knowing he would never see his father alive again. Steve spoke at his son's missionary farewell meeting on Sunday. Almost everyone in attendance realized it was a farewell for Steve as well as Tony. To this day, people approach Kim to tell her how moved they were by the words he spoke from the pulpit.
Three weeks after the family delivered Tony to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, where father and son were filmed in a long embrace, the end came. It was June 11, 2000, 3:45 in the morning, and Kim and Steve were cuddling in bed.
"I hope you know how perfectly I love you," he told her.
"Yes, I know," she said softly.
"And I really don't want to leave you," he said.
"Do you think you'll be leaving soon?" she asked.
He never answered. He slipped into unconsciousness. The next day, extended family members came to the house to say goodbye.
"We listened to his breathing there were five or six seconds between breaths," says Kim. "Then there was an intake of breath and his eyes were wide open and clear. He was seeing something. He tracked to the right. He looked up as if someone was coming to get him. His whole countenance changed. He looked wonderful. He was at peace. We watched him go from here to there. It was probably the most joyful, glorious moment I've ever had in my life."
For the first year after Steve's death, Kim had free time for the first time in more than a decade and she hardly knew what to do with herself. She found herself wandering the empty house, staring out windows. She found herself grieving for the first time.
She rarely visits the cemetery where Steve is buried "because that's not where he is." She feels closer to him in the family's backyard gazebo, where grape vines grow and wind chimes chime. When he was alive, they decided this would be the place she would come to feel close to him.
"I would love for him to come and say everything will be OK," she says. "I hope he's aware of what's going on. I don't know what the rules for interaction are, but I feel he's aware."
When she wanted to sell the house to Stan, they discussed it here. "We both felt we had Steve's approval," she says.
During one stressful time when she was overwhelmed with medical bills, she came out here to the gazebo. The wind was blowing and yet "only one of the wind chimes was ringing, not all of them, the way the wind would do it," she says. "I just got this overwhelming, good, warm feeling. This wonderful calmness came over me. I couldn't help but smile."
Kim remains close to her sons. Their deep affection for one another was obvious in the documentary nobody's hugged this much since Richard Dawson. They continue to play music together in church meetings, with Tony on his father's violin. There are times when they break down sobbing because of the music's connection to their father, and the congregation is equally moved.
In the years since learning of Steve's secret life, the family has tried to come to grips with how it feels about homosexuality. They are divided on this point but never contentious. "Tony and Parker were concerned about the perception of others," says Kim. "There was never any question about their own sexuality. But both had been cheerleaders (in high school and college) and taken crap for that."
Asked about her feelings about homosexuality, she says, "I'm wrestling with it. I always will. It's not to be understood. It would be hard for me if my sons said they were gay, but my reaction would be different and more understanding."
Since the documentary was released, Kim has been frequently asked to speak to AIDS and gay groups. She has consented, but says, "I don't want to be a gay activist. I am just sharing my experience and relating the conflicts we share. I don't feel it puts my seal of approval on it. I can't make those judgments. I only know how I feel. I am there to share feelings. People should love and not judge. We all want to be loved and to love."
Kim's confusion on the issue is understandable. She watched her husband battle his feelings for years. Needing to lean on the church, he told his church leaders that he was changed, but in the end, shortly before his death, he returned to them and confessed that he could not change, that he still had those attractions.
"We desperately wanted the church to have something to lean against," says Kim. "He was willing to say (anything) because he needed the blessings of the church. But eventually he thought he needed to be ready to face the Savior. As he was dying, he admitted to his feelings. He had tried so hard. He had prayed so hard to change. Nobody did it with more sincerity. But he concluded it was part of his character and it wasn't going to change. Church leaders struggled with that."
Steve was disfellowshipped from the church but not excommunicated, and Kim is grateful for that. "All that's got us through this is that we'll be together," she says. "Our children hung on to that. Excommunication would have severed it."
Looking back now, she says, "Everything worked out. It could have been a lot worse. The Lord could not make up or change the circumstances that resulted from Steve's choices, but at every turn I felt he helped everything work out to the very best it could.
"We moved to Utah, and our faith in people was restored. People were wonderful. We had offers for moral and financial support. After Steve died, I told Parker that we have come to count on miracles so much I'm afraid we can't do without it, but they've continued. There was divine intervention, a lot of angels in human form."Comment on this story
In the den of the Smith home, one of Steve's paintings hangs on the wall. It is unfinished more symbolism because as the disease progressed his hand became too unsteady to paint. The painting is titled "Be Still, My Soul," named after his favorite hymn. On a plaque next to the painting, Kim printed her interpretation of the painting and closed by writing this:" 'Be Still, My Soul' has become our family anthem. The words bolster faith and bring comfort. Steve's painting is a visual reminder that he is with us always. Our souls are still, and Steve is 'forever with the Lord' until we all meet again."