Dawn Maestas runs a tattoo-removal business in Albuquerque, N.M., and her clients include women who want the names of abusive partners removed.

Some of them have been tattooed forcibly, like the 22-year-old client who visited StoryCorps with Maestas.

“I was with a guy for five years. He was much older. He was really abusive toward 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,” says the woman, who did not want to be named.

Maestas removes the tattoos for free because she, too, has lived through domestic violence. She understands.

“Every time that you had to get dressed and undressed, you would have to look at that tattoo and know where it came from,” she tells her client. “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.”

Maestas says her ex made references to her tattoo of his name all the time. “That he owned me,” she says. “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 — every time you pass that intersection you remember the impact.”

Maestas’ client is grateful for the understanding.

“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,” she says. Maestas replies that she is honored to be that person.

“You know, I can be thankful that I walked out with my life,” says Maestas, who is 42, “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.”

“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,” her client says.

“That’s all I could ask for,” Maestas responds. “We’re gonna make it. I refuse to let us fall.”

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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