Turning the Tables
Adriana Aguilar doesn't remember what happened on May 25, 2002, but doctors, family members, cops, insurance agents and friends have told her it went something like this:
Derrick Daisey, her friend, was driving his Jetta along Monaco Boulevard near Evans when he suffered an epileptic seizure -- his first -- and lost control. The car plowed through the intersection, was struck by another vehicle, then smashed into a pole. Audry, who was in the passenger seat, absorbed the shock of the crash with her body, mainly her head.
Derrick recalls much of that day, but in pieces. He's spliced the full story together in the ten months since the crash, playing the scene over and over in his mind.
"It was a big, full-blown seizure. I'd never had one before in my life," he says. "I lost basically all of my senses, except for hearing -- so I was able to hear Audry screaming my name, but I wasn't able to do anything about it. I could see, right before impact, the car hitting on Audry's side. And then I woke up, and there were lots of people around, and Audry wasn't there, and I just knew that it was bad."
It was not just bad -- it was horrific. The Jetta was twisted, a mass of crumpled steel and glass with both doors nearly ripped off. Trapped beneath the steering wheel with a couple of broken ribs, Derrick was unable to breathe. He was hurt, but Audry was worse: A crack in the left side of her head was causing a severe hemorrhage in her brain. One minute she was a 26-year-old woman on her way to a relative's house on a spring afternoon, and the next she was lying broken on an operating table in the Denver Health Center emergency room.
Audry's mom, Maria, was told to brace herself: Her daughter had suffered a stroke that had paralyzed the right side of her body -- her arm, leg, vocal cords, right hand. She had a collapsed lung, two broken ribs, a punctured eardrum and a cracked shoulder blade. Maria had about eight seconds to decide whether or not to authorize nerve-decompression therapy, a risky procedure.
Because Derrick's most serious wounds would prove to be emotional rather than physical, he was able to leave the hospital after three days -- facing a month in bed and an existence that little resembled the one he'd previously known.
Audry's surgery was a success, but that success came at a cost. She suffered a severe brain injury when the decompression therapy cut off her circulation and prevented the dispatch of messages from neurotransmitters to the central nervous system. In those split seconds of mental static, her new life began.
Miss Audry. That's the name Aguilar chose when she formally christened herself as an artist.
A female Latin DJ in a scene dominated by white males, Audry has long felt comfortable in the company of boys. There was John Chamié, who gave her a break as the vocalist in his electronic band, Masterplan, in 1994, and Greg Eversoul, who sold her that first turntable and mixer in 1997. And once the buzz had fully set in, Steve Blakely, aka DJ Fury, helped Miss Audry hone her skills behind the tables and define her stage persona.
But Audry's personal and professional paths were most closely entwined with those of Derrick Daisey, aka Vitamin D, one of Denver's most prominent house DJs and the co-founder of the Colorecordings imprint. From 1995 to 2000, the two were boyfriend and girlfriend, inseparable, and it was Derrick who gave Audry her first shot at spinning publicly with a one-off spot at Club Synergy in 1996. Even after their romance disintegrated, they were still coupled in Denver's rave and club scenes. They hung out with the same people, played the same parties, aligned themselves with promoters and production crews like Together Productions, Terraform Records and Mile High House. Artistically, they were on a parallel track -- both headliners, both clubland celebrities. Audry was the winner of a Westword Music Showcase award in 2000; Derrick snagged the title the following year.
"Music was always a really big part of our connection," Derrick says. "She was the first girl I've ever met where I could talk about music, just like with any other person. I was the one who taught her to DJ when she first started. It was basically just both of our lives."
By May 2001, Audry was ready to test her talent outside of Denver. Drawn by the energy of the Bay Area dance scene, she followed a new boyfriend to San Francisco and started gigging almost immediately -- an amazing feat in an area that's home to so many established electronic artists. She landed a residency at the Lingbah Lounge and became affiliated with prominent local production crews, including Opel Productions, SF-Vibe and Mixed Elements.
"Audry came out to San Francisco and did very well very quickly," says Syd Gris, head of Opel Productions. "She was not just respected as a DJ, but sought after. Out here, DJs are a dime a dozen, but even with that, strong female DJs are few and far between. Audry was quickly setting herself apart as someone who could bring a vocal element to her sets. Different promoters would meet her and like her. It was like, if she played for you once, she'd play for you twice."
Audry maintained her relationships back in Denver, including her friendship with Derrick, and also held on to a monthly gig at the Funky Buddha Lounge. The trips home allowed her to spend time with her stepfather, William Gibson, who was ill with a rapidly progressing brain disease related to Alzheimer's. During one visit, Audry recorded vocals for Derrick's single, "That Latin Track," which became a club hit out of nowhere. Released on the United Kingdom's Loaded label, the song sold more than 10,000 copies and was played in clubs from Ibiza to London and on the airwaves in Spanish-speaking countries; last year, six compilations of electronic music featured the cut, including Darren Emerson's Underwater Episode with Tim Deluxe.
But at the same time global house-lovers were shaking on the floor to their feisty grooves, Derrick and Audry were reckoning with recovery in Denver.
Derrick hadn't been feeling well in the weeks leading up to the crash. He'd noticed shaking in his hands and experienced some trouble with his speech. Concerned, he made an appointment to see a doctor in late May.
"I had always been in perfect health my entire life, so I had no idea what was going on," he says. "Epilepsy was not something that I thought about. There's no history of it in my family, nothing like that. At the time of the accident, I hadn't seen a doctor in years."
Since he was diagnosed, Derrick's treatment for epilepsy has included monthly meetings with a neurologist, regular MRI screenings and daily medication. He doesn't drive -- instead, he opts to take the bus and walk almost everywhere he goes -- and is awaiting a judge's ruling on the citations he received after the crash, for running a red light and careless driving resulting in serious injury. He's returned to music full-time, running Colorecordings with partner Sean Biddle, with whom he also appears under the Floorfillerz handle in Denver and out of state; they're producing songs for other imprints, as well. But the effects of the accident linger.
"My career was at an all-time high at the time of the accident, and it brought it to an all-time low," Derrick says. "I had to cancel a bunch of gigs -- some overseas, some in Canada. Once gigs are canceled, it's hard to get them back. But, whatever. The big thing has been dealing with the mental stuff.
"I was seeing a psychologist for a while, and I think I need to go back," he continues. "I would say there's definitely depression. The whole thing has kind of messed with my head, and there's a lot of guilt. I know, rationally, that what happened was not my fault, but at the same time, Audry is different now. Her life is different, and its going to take a very, very long time for it to be like it was. I would do anything to have it happen to me and not to Audry. So I'm learning how to deal with that stuff while trying to figure out what it means."
For now, it means that Audry and Derrick again find their lives intertwined, but from a distance.
"We're still friends, just not like we were," Audry says. "I wouldn't say I'm angry with him. There was a period of about two weeks when I was, when I was in the hospital. I think I wasn't fully able to process what had happened or to conceptualize it. I've realized since then that it wasn't his fault at all. He's probably the last person in the world that would do anything to hurt me.
"I was hurt pretty badly, but I've learned to deal with it without getting angry or becoming frustrated," she adds. "I try not to regret what happened. I just take things as they come. There's no point in blaming anyone. It was just something that happened to both of us."
Like many of Audry's family members and other friends, Derrick visited her in the hospital again and again and again. This Audry would learn later. During the first few weeks of her hospitalization, she was so disoriented that she could barely recognize words or faces. For a while, she wasn't able to process reality or emotions -- not even when her stepfather passed away in June.
"It was an incredibly difficult period, especially for my mother," she says. "My stepfather had been ill for a long time, so it wasn't a huge shock when he passed. But here she'd had her daughter almost die, and then to lose her husband and have to continue as the caregiver for a daughter who couldn't understand what was happening? People have said that there must be some real strength inside me to have recovered as quickly as I have, but I really think it was the strength of my mother that saved me."
After nearly two months of intermittent deafness and blindness, partial paralysis and countless procedures in various clinical beds, Audry was well enough to leave the hospital. She moved in with Maria in Westminster, where she was cared for by both her mom and grandmother; she began intensive brain-rehabilitation outpatient therapy through Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in Aurora.
"It was a very strange thing in the beginning," Audry recalls. "After I got out of the hospital, really the only thing I could do was go to the movies. There isn't a lot going on in there, you know, just looking up at the screen. Afterwards, I could remember all of this random information about the film -- what actors were in it, what other movies they'd been in, who the producers were. But I couldn't tell you what eight times eight was."
Audry is still hurt, but she's getting better by the day. Her memory is the part most obviously affected by the injury. The entire month before and after that day in May just vanished -- not in the way non-essential data fades from the front lines of awareness, but in the way you cannot recall something you never consciously experienced. Sometimes trying to conjure up the past is like trying to remember the future. She can barely recall the period she spent as a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she graduated with a degree in journalism in 1999. She has vague, flashing memories of that blissful year in San Francisco.
When Audry began seeing specialists at Spalding, her mental abilities resembled those of a fourth-grader. She had to relearn how to pick objects out of a pile of beans, how to throw a basketball, how to jump rope. In therapy, she followed a regimen of drills designed to stimulate the left hemisphere of her brain and repair nerve damage there. Although she showed early, unexpected signs of recovery, therapists were careful not to raise Audry's hopes too high.
"They didn't know what was going to come back," she says. "They said my eye would probably be crossed permanently, that I wouldn't be able to drive, that I wouldn't be able to function that well. It's sort of like I went back to being a ten-year-old child. I had to learn how to do everything again; it was all new experiences. I think now I'm back to being more like a teenager, mentally, and hopefully, sometime soon I'll return to being an adult.
"It's hard for a lot of people who've never been around a brain injury to understand," she adds. "They'll look at me, and I don't look different, so they'll assume that I'm fine. But I'm still a little bit slow at some things, like talking, formulating ideas and writing. Little things that you take for granted, like going to the grocery store or getting gas, are now more like tasks that I'm experiencing for the first time, and they require all of my concentration. I lost a lot of my independence."
What she didn't lose was music. The entire time she was hospitalized, even before speech returned, Audry had beats, rhythms and lyrics in her head. Despite the damage to her brain, her "music center" -- a walnut-sized area behind the forehead that some neurobiologists associate with musical comprehension, taste and processing, among other functions -- appeared to have remained intact. And although the act of DJ-ing -- syncing up records, steadying needles on wax, matching rhythmic patterns and lyrical loops -- is about as integrated, complicated and coordinated an activity as there is, Audry's skills behind the tables hadn't diminished a bit.
"I don't think my creative side was affected," Audry says. "The weird thing is, I had to learn to tie my shoes, but I was able to DJ like nothing ever happened once the paralysis started to go away. I did have to make some adjustments. I now cue records with my left hand, whereas I had previously cued with my right. That took some getting used to."
When Audry announced that she was ready to try spinning again, Derrick took it as a good sign.
"Music was the one thing that I was just really hoping to God she still had," he says. "She came over here to DJ for the first time after the accident, just to practice. We just had a couple of turntables set up. I helped her get familiar with the mixer, just to be sure she knew what was what, and the first time she was right on it. She had it flawless. I knew she was going to have it, because she's one of the hardest-working people I've ever met."
In August, Audry got behind the tables again in a proper club setting, at the Funky Buddha. The crowd was primarily composed of friends who'd joined in a gigantic benefit concert at the Church in July, an event designed to help Derrick and Audry cover their massive medical expenses; Audry had maxed out her benefits at $100,000. (Two similar events were held for her in San Francisco.) Since then, she's appeared in the club a handful of times; a recording of one of her sets, Live From the Funky Buddha, is available through her Web site, www.missaudry.com.
"I wasn't nervous about getting back up there," she says. "I was too excited. The music really was an important part of my therapy, I think. When something's taken away, you miss it. And when it's there again, it's all new again. You're amazed by it, enthralled. I think, in a weird way, that the accident has actually helped my career."
She pauses for a beat, then laughs.
"Not that this is really the way that I would have planned it."
New Year's Eve 2002 found Audry perched high above a packed house at Kelly's Mission Rock, a popular late-night spot in San Francisco, in perfect command of two Technics 1200s and a mixer. She'd brought a crate of records so that, as one of 25 DJs appearing that night, she could spin the West Coast, vocal house style that fans in the Bay Area had come to expect from Miss Audry.
On the surface, the evening was not out of the ordinary. Parties, even twelve-hour parties like this one, are part of a working DJ's normal routine. Audry had seen hundreds of events like it before. Still, it felt like the most important night of her life.
"That was my first big gig after the accident, so it was really special to me for a lot of reasons," she says. "Not only was I able to DJ again, but a lot of my friends were there to kind of enjoy the whole experience with me. I felt a sense of triumph for sure, because I was able to overcome so many obstacles to get there."
According to a worst-case scenario presented to her friends and family in the hours following the accident, Audry might never have gone anywhere again. But now here she was, visiting the city she'd adopted and adored, putting her life back together like an extended dance remix.
On March 7, Audry turned 27. She entered her new year at full speed. She's seeing a vocal coach to help her reclaim her singing abilities, which disappeared when her throat was paralyzed. She's taking a Spanish class and writing lyrics and melodies for new songs, including a followup to "That Latin Track." She and her mom are planning a move from Westminster to Capitol Hill, so that Audry will be nearer to her friends and to her music. Friends say she's the same old Audry. But in some ways, she's a different person. Better.
"I don't feel like I've lost anything in any way," she says. "The type of brain injury I have, it just didn't affect me emotionally. But I feel like I probably am more positive now. I can really see the bright side; I feel really lucky that nothing is permanent with my injuries. Everything is a little harder now, but at least I can do it. That's what I have to remind myself: At least I can."
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