A lifetime ago, after I’d gathered up the remaining pieces of my life following five years of abuse by a man who, on hindsight, might very well have been mentally unstable, I became a ghost.

For a while, I started to believe that I would be alone for the rest of my life, despite being surrounded by more people than ever.

My abrasive lifestyle began to show in the rings under my eyes and the sallowness of my skin. On my expanding waistline and the jaundiced tips of my fingers. My breath stank as much of cigarette ash as it did of abusive language. The more depressed I became, the more I raged against my body and my soul, battling anything that was strong and healthy and wholesome. Unknown to me, my self esteem had been ripped apart and turned to dust. Every shred blown away without a trace that it had ever existed.

And I begun to waste away.

Of course, nobody who knew me then, knew I’d been that unhappy. I didn’t know, how should others? I thought myself Happy-Go-Lucky Jenn. The good-time girl, living the good life. Jenn, who never took anything too seriously. Jenn, who could still laugh in the face of danger and less than RM100 left in the bank with a RM5k debt.

Jenn, the happiest girl on earth.

Two things kept me going: My job and my friends. I would have loved to add my mother but she had her own problems.

Even after I met and fell in love with Lokes, my self esteem never fully returned. Like an absent parent, she stayed away, unable to face the child she’d abandoned. Each time Lokes and I had a disagreement, I was sure that he would leave. Or worse, that he would beat or humiliate me so I would once again be proven right. The gashes of a battle fought long before, reopened through no fault of his. A cavernulous soul impossible to fill.

But I was half full instead of half empty.

Until June 6th 2002.

In the wee hours that Thursday morning, in a pristine white (overpriced) maternity ward in Pantai Hospital, I opened my eyes and found myself shivering under a thermal blanket. My teeth clattered as my eyes adjusted frantically to the darkness, as though emerging from a freezing lake into the night.

Once I could see, I found my husband in a corner. He stood up instantly as I stirred. Up close, his eyes were red with lack of sleep and worry.

Hey baby. How are you?

C-c-c-cold. W-w-why a-am I-I sh-sh-shivering?

It’s the drugs. You’re under a thermal blanket. It’ll wear off soon, the doctor said.

O-o-k-kay.

And then I caught a small movement. And then a sound. A whimper, as if to say.

Here I am, Mommy.

And there she was. A small pink bundle placed squarely in the middle of little transparent plastic bed, no bigger than a book box, right next to me.

Is that…?

Lokes came over and sat gingerly next to me, my overnight backpack still slung over his right shoulder.

I-i-is s-she o-o-k-kay?

Yes, she’s fine.

A wet gurgle popped, as if in agreement. And then Lokes leaned over to Raeven. I could not decipher the look on his face. Is he happy? Is he ecstatic? Why isn’t he ecstatic? Or taking pictures? And why can’t I talk without shattering my teeth into a million pieces?

W-w-we’re p-parents, I finally managed.

Yea.

That was all he said. And without another word, Lokes kissed me on my forehead, because that was the only part of my body that wasn’t under the blanket. And then I turned and looked at my daughter’s shock of black hair. Before I could ask Lokes to pick Raeven up and bring her to me, the quivering darkness came and led me away.

Ideally, self esteem has to come from one’s self. But what if the only way you could get it ALL back, is if you stopped thinking of yourself, and began thinking of others?

What if the only way you could feel self worth, was to make yourself worth it?

Not just by the money you earn or how you look, but by how you affect the people around you, and the lengths you’re willing to go through for someone else, starting with your own family?

Nothing makes me prouder about me today than my two girls. I look at them and wonder about all the things I did, and how I could still deserve these blessings, not just one, but two.

I wonder about the things they will see, and the people they will become. The friends they will make, and the people they will touch long after Lokes and I are gone.

My girls are here because somewhere, somehow, I’d taken one shaky step towards getting my self esteem back, without even realising it. By embracing the great unknown that is motherhood, I’d invited it back.

No hard feelings.

All scores settled.

And it was as though she’d never left.