Could this Voice be the X Factor?

I’m normally not one for reality television shows, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, being the exception. 

I was once dragged to a taping of the X Factor show—kicking and screaming. I left there with a great appreciation for the show, but still no real interest and never saw the show that I attended. 


Maggie and Alecia dragged me kicking and screaming to the taping of the X Factor in Miami. 

This year’s season started and unbeknownst to me, my domestic partner LOVES reality TV, especially The Voice and X Factor. So I watched the series premieres as a roommate-bonding experience. 

I was hooked.

We DVR both shows each week and watch them later in the evening when we are both home. 

After weeks of listening to these people with amazing voices (and laughing at the atrocities). I want to learn to sing. 

Greg, the domestic partner, makes fun of my singing, calls me “pitchy” and recommends that I don’t give up my day-time job. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked not to sing. 

"Tonya, please be quiet. You sound like you’re stuck in a barrel."

I vividly remember my mother saying that as my siblings and I were singing a hymnal one morning in the kitchen. 

Oh, I continue to sing and I LOVE singing in church. God loves this voice. 

Seriously though, I want to take a voice lesson and learn the art of singing. Since I don’t have much money and can’t afford a professional, I turned to my brother, a musical guru. Since Mario acquired all of the musical talent among the siblings—well, I can play a few instruments and read music (and Monica plays a mean cymbal)—it is only fair that he teach me to sing. 

After pulling up the piano app on his phone and getting Middle C, we are ready to begin. We start with the scale and confirm that I am a soprano, so we move up the piano to the next octave and go through the scale. 

I’ve really nailed that “Re” and that’s about it. 

Mario has no formal voice training, but music comes as naturally to him as breathing. He’s been a member of a barbershop quartet, done musical theater and was even invited to sing in a local jazz band.


Mario with the cast performing the encore of Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

On top of his vocal acumen, Mario plays at least 10 different instruments, reads and writes music and can even conduct and design marching band field shows. He was a member of the high school band and the acclaimed University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band. The man can even play music by ear. 


That’s my baby boy ready to march into the stadium. Tubas for life.

My instructor had this to say about my voice…

"You are a soprano. So-Pra-No one ever hears you sing." (maybe he should share that barb with Simon). 

"You are really talented at a lot of other things, Tonya. You know how to do a lot of awesome things. It’s okay not to be great at everything. You can’t sing. Embrace it. Move on."

So it seems that my dream to master voice has been put to rest. I am back to where I started, unable to carry a tune even if it had handles.

I will cross it off list of things to accomplish and move on to the next…flight lessons. (Shhh…don’t tell my mom, she’ll find out when I have my license). 

You’re My Boy, Blue

I love hard. Once you crack these concrete walls around my heart, the love runs deep. 

All morning I had been “off”. Something wasn’t right from when I first woke up at 7 a.m. I went back to sleep for an hour and still just felt off. Something wasn’t right. I trudged off to work and upon arriving, I was all thumbs. I dropped everything I touched, something was just off center. I laughed about it, but God was working.

My brother Mario and I are always competing…ALWAYS. I’ve had Mr. Big for seven years now and he’s the best pet ever. Mario recently got a pit bull puppy and I received a text from him saying that Blueberry (the puppy) was way cooler than Mr. Big. 


This is a photo I took of him when I first met him. I instantly fell in love with Blueberry.

The text messages continued to go back and forth along with photos of who had the cooler little guy. I fell in love with Blue before I ever met him. I loved him so much because my brother loved him. It made my heart feel so warm to hear him talk about and care for this little guy. (Although a bath everyday was a bit much.)


Was the text message I received from my mother. We’d already talked this morning what on Earth could she want. I texted back that I was at work and couldn’t talk. The ensuing text crushed me. 

I went home a couple of weekends ago and before I got anything out of the car or went in the house to see my family, I went straight to the little puppy. My heart melted, I was in love. He too fell in love. I took him in my arms and we hugged and he smothered me with sloppy puppy kisses and I just keep hugging him and kissing his head. He was perfect. I spoiled him with treats and toys and brand new food bowls. 

"It makes me happy that you love him. He is a great dog."

That was a text message I received from my brother. Blue meant the world to him. Mario was raising him to be a gentle pit bull, as Mario is a kind man. 


The last time I saw Blueberry. I didn’t want to leave him and he didn’t want me to leave. He loved his auntie. 


The water works ensued. I ran to the cooler at work to call my mom. She answered the phone and was sobbing.

"We loved him so much."

My mother does not do pets. We never had indoor pets growing up, but she’s been forced to take care of Mr. Big and subsequently fell in love. She loved Blue as well. She even had him in her car on Saturday. Who is this woman?

"Tonya, I can’t believe he is gone. I loved him. He was a great little puppy. Mario has been crying. They won’t let me see him. I loved him, Tonya. You have to come get Mr. Big, If something happens to him, I don’t know what I will do."


That’s Blue laying in his pop’s lap. His favorite spot. 

I’m standing in the cooler, but I can’t feel the cold air as I audibly cry for the loss of the little guy. He was magic. He was happy. He was perfect. God made that little guy especially for my brother. 

I can’t get that gorgeous little face out of my mind. He just wanted to cuddle and play and give you big kisses on the face. I loved every moment of my time with him.

"Where is Mario? How is he holding up?"

"He’s been crying, but he’s well. He’s digging Blue’s grave right now. I’m going out in a few to buy a wreath for the grave. Tonya, we loved him so much."


I ache for my brother. He truly loved that little guy. He was up every morning to take care of Blue. He took Blue everywhere he went (Socializing him. Pit bulls aren’t naturally mean, reflect their owners.) They were inseparable. Blue was even Mario’s soccer team’s mascot. Blue loved riding in the truck with my brother and loved being in his arms. 

God works in mysterious ways. He spoke to me this morning, making me uncomfortable, and he brought this perfect puppy to my brother. We thank you, Lord for our time with him. We are better people and have hearts with larger capacities to love from knowing Blueberry. We will always love you, sweet puppy. Rest in Peace. 

Sweet Puppy

P.S. Mr. Driver who hit our sweet boy and didn’t stop to say that you were sorry or even help remove his remains from the pavement, I am praying for you. There was hate in my heart earlier, but I am God’s child and he has taught me to LOVE and to be kind and to forgive those who have hurt us. I’m working on forgiving you. 

Rings of Unity

Today marks the most wonderful day of Summer 2012. Today is the start of the London 2012 Games. Today is when amazing begins.


I’m more than giddy that the Olympics are finally here!

I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Games in Atlanta in 1996. It was the summer after my second year of college when my brother and I met up with my first-year college suitemates Betsy and Michelle to caravan to Atlanta. (I really wish I had Facebook back in 1996 for photos). 

I still remember Betsy, Michelle and I sitting in our suite first-year figuring out which sports we wanted to see as we made ticket requests for the lottery. I remember the day when we found out that we were getting tickets to the OLYMPICS. THE Olympics. Complete jubilation that day while also feeling a sense of “pinch me.” The anticipation of an international event of this magnitude, the unity, the sense of pride for one’s country, and having the opportunity to watch the best of the best athletes in the world compete. I still feel excitement in my stomach thinking about that day.

Nine nights in a row, we headed to the Olympic Park for the entertainment. Nine nights in a row, we arrive and the place is SRO. Nine nights in a row, the same bench opens up for the four of us to sit.

We’ve arrived in Atlanta and ready to soak in every ounce of this experience. Our hotel is a few miles outside of the city. The four of us share one room. We are living the dream. We have cultural activities, lots of events and sightseeing planned for the 10-day trip.

We saw a lot of volleyball—both regular and beach, men’s and women’s. We had tickets to baseball and athletics (track & field). Naturally, we rooted on the Red, White and Blue, but we also adopted other countries during the competitions. I still root for Tunisia in international events. Mario is all about Brasil—even to this day. It’s USA first for him unless they are facing Brasil on the pitch and then he is sporting a kit that is distinctly green, yellow and blue and chanting and cheering in Portuguese. We met Karch Kiraly. Mario still has the U.S. flag with Kiraly’s autograph. We logged many miles around the streets of Atlanta. I have many fond memories from those 10 days. I love lapel pins and have a nice collection, so I had a lot of fun trading those with people on the streets. Even squeezed into a MARTA car was a thrill.

“Mario, I’ll take a nap, we’ll order pizza and then head to the park for the concert.”

We were fortunate to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre live as one of our cultural offerings. I cried watching the ballerinas—the grace, the strength, the beauty and the magic. Powerful.

Alvin Ailey

We also spent a day at the High Museum of Art for the Olympic installment—“Rings: Five Passions in the World” for another awe-inspiring experience. The greatest piece of this entire trip was that I was sharing this adventure with my baby brother. (He HATED the stop at the museum). 

I spent $100 per day and it didn’t matter. Perhaps I would never have this Olympics experience again. I was all in.

We were staying at the same hotel as Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s mother and the only day that we spent at the pool, he happened to be visiting his mom. By the end of the day, she wanted me to date her son (damn hindsight).

“I need to tell you something. There was a bombing in the Olympic Park last night.”

I’m a little bit of a snob when it comes to what I like. Some find it annoying, but there was one time where it may have saved my life.

Day 10. We pack up the hotel room, and head out to our last event before returning home. We sit in the sun for several hours for track and field. The sun and I have a love/hate relationship and this time it was hate. When we left the venue, I had a horrible headache and didn’t think that I would be able to make the eight-hour drive back to Virginia. At 12, Mario would be of no help. My head is throbbing. There is no way I can drive for the next eight hours. Betsy and Michelle head north. Mario and I return to our original hotel to see if we can book a room for an additional night. The hotel is booked solid. Every hotel in the city and surrounding area is to capacity. What are we going to do? I’m talking to the hotel manager and his cousin happens to also run a hotel in the area. He calls and there is an available room. We’ll take it.

We get directions and head across town to the new digs. I can’t remember what the exterior looked like, but the room was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever come across. As we’re driving across town, I lay out the plan for Mario and I for the rest of the day. I’ll nap for a few hours, we’ll order a pizza for dinner and then head to the Park for the evening concert.

We’re in the room and I see bugs. It reeks of filth. I try to lay down to nap and it is just not going to work (never mind the thread count couldn’t have been more than 12).

“Grab our stuff, Mario. We’re leaving. I’m miserable, but I will not stay in this room.”

After a stern conversation with the manager, I have my money back and we are on the highway. The week prior, my mom was in the Virgin Islands with a group of friends and made a new friend. This new friend happened to live in Greenville, S.C. It was a little bit out of the way, but she said that Mario and I should spend the night there. We drove the 2.5 hours to her house. Introduced ourselves and soon after hit the sack.

I’d asked her to wake us up early so that we could get on the road and knock out the final six hours. She gently wakes me up and says, “I have something to tell you.”

“Ok. Tell me.”

“There was a bombing last night at the Olympic Park.”

“How many people died?”

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, I’m ok.”

Mario and I are back on the road and headed home. I was a combination of exhausted, numb, angry, confused, calm and anxious. I just wanted to be home. I couldn’t understand or figure out why the a bomber needed to afflict pain on innocent people. Why he was such a coward? My heart ached for the lives lost.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch showed a map of the Olympic Park and pinpointed where the bomb went off.

Holy Shit. The bomb went off by the very bench that every night for nine straight nights opened up for us. Mario and I could have been on that bench that Saturday night. The plan was for me to nap to sleep off the headache, order pizza for dinner (pizza is not delivered to our house in Virginia, so whenever it could come to his door, he thought it novel and wanted to order it) and then head to Olympic Park.

It was there for us for nine nights in a row. Would it have opened up on the tenth night? That night my slight snobbery may have saved our lives. We’ll never know, nor do I spend time wondering. It is moments like that when you really believe that everything happens for a reason. It wasn’t our time according to God. We still had work to do.


This is Mario one night in the Olympic Park dancing to the evening’s entertainment. 

This is the first Olympics that Mario and I are in the same place. We’ve spent some time talking about our adventures during the 1996 Games. It is always fascinating and neat to me when others have an aha! Moment. He recalled how my college friends Betsy and Michelle left us in the hotel room one night to which I responded, you were 12-years old. You couldn’t go out and I wasn’t going to leave a 12-year old in a hotel room for the night by himself. His silence spoke volumes. We had matching anoraks from the Gap that we sported, for some reason that stuck with him. I look forward to reminiscing and watching these 2012 Games together. 

King of the Jungle

Last week I told you about two very important men in my life. I have two more that make my heart smile. 

Last weekend my brother and I were texting and he asked why he hadn’t yet been the subject of a post. I told him that I would get there, but that he may not enjoy reading it. We have a very complex relationship, bi-polar even. It is great when it’s great and bad when it’s bad. I’ll stick with the happy post for now and deal with dark times in our relationship later. At the end of the day though, he is my world. 

Mario is eight years my junior. 

I was less than thrilled when I was informed that we were having another baby. Why? We had the two girls and that was plenty. Our family was perfect. A nice whole number. Nine months later, out popped this stupid boy. I was none too pleased. I finally got over having an odd number of people in the family (I count EVERYTHING), but I was pissed off that this boy was going to take all of my attention away from my dad. This boy was going to be gross—puppy dog tails and frogs, right? Stupid baby. 

So he’s born. Everyone goes to the hospital to welcome the little fella—everyone but me. I refused to go see this thing that everyone was ooohhhing and ahhhhing over. Didn’t see what the big deal was all about. He was having complications after birth and had to stay in the hospital longer than a normal delivery. Into his stay we were told that his veins had collapsed.

Victory is mine!

I finally go to the hospital to pay, what I thought would be, my last respects. The damn thing lived.  

I began to grow fond of the little guy. Tried to use him as a few science and anthropology experiments. He’s ambidextrous now—he can thank me for that one. I would bind his left arm when people weren’t looking and make him use the right one. I got in big trouble for that one when I was caught. I didn’t break the arm nor did I cut off circulation, didn’t see what the big deal was. Nonetheless, I got a spanking for that one.

We made it through that and were thick as thieves. We are truly the same person which is fascinating and frustrating at the same time. He may be a bit more esoteric than I, but our minds are on the same wavelength. I warn you now, never play a game against us if he and I are teammates. We will not just beat you, we will annihilate you. Sometimes one of us doesn’t even have to say a word and the other will guess the clue. 

(We got to get out on the track and take a photo on the bricks. We kissed them too. Indianapolis Motor Speedway—Aug. 2010)

He once beat up a boy for his sisters. He was a lad of about six or seven and this guy was 10 or 12. Mario warned the dude to leave his sisters alone. Dude didn’t listen and Mario beats him up. Now, we were not supposed to start fights with people, however, our father said that if someone started the fight, that we better not lose. Needless to say, Mario was tough.

He also once gave me a black eye. Yep. Socked me right in the eye. I had to go to school with a black eye. Heck yeah I made up a great story for that one. No way I was telling anyone that a five-year old gave me a black eye. 

We are so much alike that as much as we enjoy spending time with one another and having all kinds of fun adventures, after about three days, we LOATHE one another. Even at our ages now. He will have a huge fight—HUGE fight. After the fight we don’t speak for the rest of that day. The next morning we’re back to being best friends. 

Mario and I are constantly in a power struggle. As the only surviving male of the family, he takes on the head of the household role. Well, as the person who became mother to he, my sister AND my mother at the tender age of 15, I am the head of the household. Most times this isn’t overt, but it goes on. 

Mario is always competing with me. If I have it, he will soon have it. We once got into it over Foursqare check-ins when I ousted him as mayor of mom’s house. He likes to hold it over me that I’ve never been to Canada and he has. That’s great, buddy, but I’ve been to Mexico and you haven’t. I could go on with examples of this competition. 

I once begged my parents to let me carry the baby into the babysitter’s house one morning. This morning still haunts me. I’m walking up the sidewalk with the baby and he accidentally (we all know that there is no such thing as an accident) slips out of the swaddling and lands head first on the sidewalk. Later that morning, mom gets a call at school that half of his head has swollen and that Mama Delois is on her way to the ER with him. You can still feel the indentation in his head.

There have been entirely too many nights where I violently wake from my sleep, sweating, anxious, afraid and out of breath with images of me dropping him on the sidewalk. Guilt…you think. Then I say a little prayer to thank God that he survived. I can’t imagine life without my Rudy. 

One of the sweetest things my brother does for me when we’re together is to tuck me in at night. He used to do it without hesitation when he was younger, but as he approaches 30 it takes some fake crying on my part or a small tantrum to get him to tuck me in. I think deep down inside he loves it just as much as I.

The other dude in my life is my super awesome feline, Mr. Big or Bob or Robert as he has been named by my Miami friends. Three things about Bob…

1. He and Mario are also in a power struggle. You should see how they behave at times. Mr. Big is indeed the King of the Jungle. It is ridiculous how they go at one another. Testosterone makes you do crazy things. 

2. You will not meet a cooler cat than this dude. Even if you do not like cats, you will fall for Mr. Big. He’s 1/3 dog, 1/3 human and 1/3 cat. He may be slightly spoiled. He may be somewhat of a jackass. You will love him.

3. About seven years ago I was struggling with my father’s death and wondering if I could ever love anyone else. When he died, literally, a piece of me died. It was like my heart was a billboard in Times Square and after his death and few of my bulbs went out. So I decided to get a pet to see if I could love. The first few nights I had him, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic to check to make sure that he was still alive. He would whine and we’d go back to sleep. After about a week, I felt this wonderful feeling in my heart, a bulb was back. I loved him.