ALL THESE MONTHS LATER, EDYE Smith still finds it painful to watch young children, especially little blond boys. Inevitably she is reminded of her own sons Chase, 3, and Colton, 2. "There's a hole left in her heart," says her mother, Kathy Wilburn, "that can never be replaced."
Ever since the toddlers were killed in the devastating explosion that ripped through Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, Smith, 24, has tried to fill that emotional void. And she has done so, perhaps unwisely, in a media spotlight: On Aug. 24, 1995, when she underwent surgery to undo a tubal ligation—and to give her the chance for more children—it was the talk of tabloid television. Sixteen days later—following a marriage proposal that came on the syndicated talk show Leeza—she remarried the boys' father, Tony Smith, 30, whom she had divorced four months before the bombing. In exchange for exclusive coverage, the National Enquirer paid for their wedding and Hawaiian honeymoon.
There were skeptics at the time, and now, unhappily, their expectations have been fulfilled. On Aug. 28, Edye Smith—who hasn't yet conceived—filed for divorce. "Everyone could see it coming," says Edye, looking back. "We got married for all the wrong reasons."
That wasn't at all obvious to her a year ago, when she and Tony were still consumed by their loss. "After the bombing she had a hard time thinking with her head, because her heart was so empty," says her mother. Adds Tony's mother, Carmen Hollingshead, 48: "You can't recapture what was." In the end the grief that had drawn the Smiths back together gave way to the bickering that had led to their breakup. "Communication, decision-making, friendship—we were lacking in all those departments," says Edye. "For Tony and I, it was always, 'You go your way and I'll go mine.' "
It hadn't started out that way, of course. When they met in 1989, Edye Coss was an auburn-haired high school senior—the only daughter of a Baptist preacher—who would drive 20 minutes out of her way to flirt with Tony Smith, a service-station mechanic whose father had left his family when he was 9. They married in 1990, just after her high school graduation. Edye worked as a secretary for the IRS, while her new husband ran a small heating and air-conditioning company. But their lives centered around Chase, who was born in 1991, and Colton, who arrived two years later.
"They were like little movie stars," Wilburn, 43, says of the boys. "Chase was a comedian and the center of attention, a little ham." Like his brother Colton, he was a fan of Sesame Street and Barney, the TV dinosaur. "Tony was a real good daddy," says Wilburn. "He loved those children and he was good to them." But Tony—who declined to be interviewed by PEOPLE—also had a drinking problem, one that seemed to grow steadily worse over the years. "I kept thinking that things would change," says Edye. They never did. The couple divorced in December 1994.
Then came the boys' deaths, and the pain. In the days after the bombing, "he avoided me and everyone else," Hollingshead says of her son. "It affected his job...he couldn't think or work." Nor would he get through the loss by discussing it openly. And drink has continued to plague him. "It's like he's killing himself," says Edye. "I don't want to watch him do it."
Edye Smith has found solace in a different way, keeping the boys' memory alive with frequent visits to their grave and leaving their bedroom intact. But that didn't heal her wounds. What Edye Smith decided she really needed was another child with Tony. "It had to be his," she says, "because Chase and Colton were so wonderful."
After the operation, which was donated by the hospital and surgeons, doctors said her chances of conceiving again were excellent. But despite a followup procedure last January to clear one of her tubes, the Smiths' efforts met with failure, even as their new attempt at marriage was faltering. In April, nearly a year after the deaths of Chase and Colton, Tony moved out of Edye's Oklahoma City home. "Tony's view is that it's time to get on with his life," says his mother. Edye is still set on having more children—but first she hopes to find someone with whom she can share a stable home. "I guess it was a blessing in disguise," she says now, "that I didn't get pregnant."
BOB STEWART in Oklahoma City
- Bob Stewart.