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When life is not beautiful

"I don't feel loved as a daughter, I feel useless..." Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

"I don't feel loved as a daughter, I feel useless..." Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Sexually abused as a child, Maya* was told by her mother she'd have aborted her if she had the money.

Maya's bedroom is adorned with Playboy paraphernalia - from the pink bedspread with a silver Playboy bunny design, a hand mirror in the shape of a bunny, an alarm clock with the bunny transposed on a pink background, to a bunny drawing she sketched herself.

The 18-year-old loves anything to do with Playboy... In reality, she lives in anything but the Playboy Mansion. She is one of the inhabitants of YMCA's Dar Niki Cassar in Valletta and her bedroom is no palace.

Dressed in a pink top, matching belt and fitted denim trousers, the pretty girl's hair is groomed, with red highlights. Her room is neatly arranged, adorned with photos of herself. with one placed next to a picture of a young man.

This smart Maya is a far cry from the girl who walked into the shelter last July. She was dirty and refused to eat. When she was made to eat, she'd leave her plate and cutlery running around, and, when spoken to she would reply with a string of obscenities.

As I walk in for the interview, Maya is talking to her social worker, and they are discussing her going to register for work: an enormous task for her.

This is the second time we speak. The first time, she was too shy to show up. She has an incredibly low self-esteem. Maya still finds it difficult to express herself and often needs her social worker to prompt her and remind her of what she has been through.

"I don't want to think about what happened, it brings back too many bad memories and I'm afraid that if I talk about them they'll resurface," is Maya's mantra during the interview.

Considering what she was told as a child, it is not surprising. "I'm not good to be around people, that's what my mother told me," Maya says, her thin arms remain motionless, resting on her legs.

When she was still living with her parents at home, she used to clean herself with clothes' washing soap. She talks about all this as if it is something normal, which makes the situation all the more disturbing. There is the sense that she feels she doesn't deserve any better.

"When I was young, my mother's partner abused me. Everyone took it against me - and my mother didn't even believe me. 'You're a liar,' she told me, 'you're mad, you should be at Mount Carmel Hospital.'"

The dark times continued when she left home aged 12 to live with her uncle. "He kept my children's allowance and refused to give me any money. I used to ask him for money to buy sanitary towels but he refused point blank. I had to use tissues instead," she says.

Everyday activities proved a horrible burden on Maya as she struggled with the traumas she was being lugged through. "I was so disorientated that I couldn't go to school. I couldn't stand my religion lessons when they used to speak about the family which I didn't have. So I used to create a fantasy family of my own."

She felt great anger at the world outside. "As a means of dealing with my anger I used to cut myself. Instead of attacking society which had betrayed me I transferred that aggression into cutting myself with a piece of glass or with a compass. I used to cut my face. It's true, you know," she adds with a sort of incredulity. "Then, when I saw blood, I kept quiet; it calmed me down as I felt that I could take control of myself."

Maya's reality was incredibly warped. She wanted to destroy all those things which reflected other's lives. She had broken the glass of a door and of a mirror. "I wanted to destroy them because they reminded me of where I was, of the reality I wanted to escape." And photos too: "I used to get pictures and cut off the heads of people and even burn some of the pictures."

Her yearning for her mother manifested in the pictures she used to draw of her hugging someone. "I can't believe how a mother abandons her child," Maya says coldly. The horror story goes on. "I so couldn't bear life, I preferred to die and used to fantasise about jumping off some high place or taking pills to end my pain."

She began experimenting with cocaine and heroin when she was 17. "I also overdosed on pills and ended up in hospital."

Anything associated with a special occasion or ritual sends shivers down Maya's spine. "I despise Christmas and refuse to go downstairs on Christmas day. That's a day you're supposed to spend with those you love. I even hate my birthday.

It reminds me that another year of bitterness has passed. Once, I spoke to my mother and asked her if she remembered that it was my birthday that day. She did; my birth was the worst time of her life and had she had the money, she would have aborted me."

"I also hate Mother's Day. I don't feel loved as a daughter, I feel useless. On days like these when I felt unloved, I would carry on trying to cut myself in order to cause myself more harm."

The turning point came when she entered YMCA and began to realise that the carers really did feel something for her.

At one point she had tried to run away from this shelter, but when the harsh realities of the outside world struck home she realised that it was better to stay at YMCA. She swallowed her pride and went back. "They welcomed me with arms open wide."

On a more positive note, we seal off the conversation discussing her aspirations. "I am determined to have my own place, to have a family, to make that wish come true...." Asked what she felt was her best quality, she replies: "I'm genuine, I'm honest."

Maya is currently living at YMCA Homeless, Dar Niki Cassar, which is constantly available to help people in such plight. Those who wish to help and pledge support or would like more information may visit www.ymcahomeless.org, call 2122 8035 or send an e-mail to [email protected]. To make a donation of €4.66 (Lm2) send an SMS to 5061 8088, or for €11.65 (Lm5) send an SMS to 5061 9212.

* Names have been changed to protect the person's identity.

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