RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorp, the project recording conversations across the country. Today, we'll hear from two survivors of domestic violence, brought together by tattoos. Dawn Maestas runs a tattoo-removal business in Albuquerque, N.M. Her clients include women who want the names of abusive partners removed. Some of the women have been tattooed forcibly.
Maestas removes those tattoos for free. She's in her 40s now, and lived many years with domestic violence herself. She sat down for StoryCorp with one of those clients, a client who wanted to remain anonymous.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I was with a guy for five years. He was much older. He was really abusive towards me. After a while, when I tried to finally end it, he kidnapped me, held me hostage, and tattooed his name all over my body against my will.
DAWN MAESTAS: Every time that you had to get dressed and undressed, you would have to look at that tattoo and know where it came from.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, that's when I called you.
MAESTAS: I do laser tattoo removal. When you walked in my office, it was deja vu. I knew the loneliness, the embarrassment, and I was so angry that life had done to you what it had done to me. You know, I - myself - had a tattoo of my ex's name. And he'd make constant references to it all the time; that he owned me. This is a person who locks his arms around your legs at night, and you have to ask for permission to use the restroom. So, you know, it's not just a tattoo. It's like being in a car accident; everytime you pass that intersection, you remember the impact.
How do you see yourself today versus the very first time you came in my office?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't feel like this prisoner in my body anymore. You just helped me in so many ways. You were my counselor; like, my mom; my big sister. You already know what I'm going through.
MAESTAS: I'm extremely honored that you let me be that person. You know, I can be thankful that I walked out with my life, but I've lost time that I will never get back. I spent 28 years living in violence. I think, if she can do this faster, then she gets to enjoy so much more of her life that I lost. And I hope you know how much I care for you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: To be honest, I'm just like, who am I for her to care about so much? I'm just a nobody. But you remind me that I am somebody. And I don't feel alone.
MAESTAS: That's all I could ask for. We're gonna make it. I refuse to let us fall.
MONTAGNE: That's Dawn Maestas with one of her clients. who preferred to remain anonymous, in Albuquerque, N.M. To hear more from Dawn, visit NPR.org. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.