Dawn Maestas runs a tattoo removal business in Albuquerque, NM.
Women who have been tattooed with the names of abusive partners come to Dawn for help. Some of them were tattooed forcibly.
Dawn removes those tattoos for free, because she has lived through domestic violence herself.
She sat down for StoryCorps with one of her clients — who wanted to remain anonymous.
During the interview, Dawn also spoke about her own experiences with domestic violence.
Click here for the transcript.
Anonymous Participant (AP): 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 (DM): Every time that you had to get dressed and undressed, you would have to look at that tattoo and know where it came from.
AP: Yeah. That's when I called you.
DM: I do laser tattoo removal. When you walked in my office, it was déjà 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 … it's like being in a car accident--every time you pass that intersection you remember the impact.
How do you see yourself today versus the very first time you came in my office?
AP: I don't feel like this prisoner in my body anymore. You just helped me in so many ways. You are my counselor, like, my mom, my big sister-- you already know what I'm going through.
DM: 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.
AP: 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.
DM: That's all I could ask for. We're gonna make it. I refuse to let us fall.
Dawn Maestas (DM): He was very charming, promised me that he would never hurt me, and then drugs changed everything. At first it was just a lot of cheating, being mentally abusive, and then the physical abuse started to come in.
He had a sawed-off shotgun in the top of the closet. So I thought, I am going to take the shells out just in case. And I thought, Ok I'll put them in the hamper, he'll never check in there. And so he had come into the house that night, and he was high. He was looking for money, so he had dumped out the hamper and came across the two shells. I got yanked off the couch and put on all fours. And he has that loaded shotgun to the base of my head with it cocked.
And I remember thinking, he is as high as a kite, he is going to twitch, and he's going to blow my head off. He's telling me all the reasons that he should kill me. And I keep telling him how much I love him. "Don't do this. The kids are only two rooms away, and they're going to hear the shotgun blast, and they're going to wake up, and they're never going to forget that my brains are all over." And I kept telling him it. And what seemed like forever, which could have only been seconds, he finally put the gun down, drug me to the back room, and beat the hell out of me.
And then afterwards I remember him telling me, "The kids are going to wake up, I'll go get us breakfast." As calmly as if nothing had taken place. Time and time again in some of the most horrific situations when I thought that I was at the point of losing my life, I used to tell God, "If you let me survive this, when I'm strong enough, I won't leave anybody else behind, I promise."