Sally, a writer, used to barter for tattoos on Hollywood Boulevard; a free tattoo in exchange for a story. Now 63 years old and a grandmother of four, she’s chosen to remove a tattoo that holds some of her fondest memories. She tells us why.
I can’t really even put my finger on how long I’ve had it. It has to be at least 35 years. A friend of mine told me that if I needed a tattoo, he knew the very place to go to. Who was I to argue? So I rocked up to this tattoo studio on Hollywood Boulevard. Just a very small office and a lovely group of people. I got to know the owner very well and I became very, very, very close to the family.
After chatting with the owner for a while, he said, ‘I tell you what’ - because these were the days of bartering - ‘I'll tell you all my stories. You write them up: I'll give you tattoos for free.’ Now, given that this was an office that even if you had a single full stop, that would cost you 100 bucks… ‘What can I say? Thank you very much.’
So there I was with my trousers around my ankles, wearing a thong, with the whole of Hollywood Boulevard walking up and down. And I'm thinking, I'm cool with this. I'm never going to see any of these people again.
“I think people do have their own particular pain thresholds. But it's been very easy, very quick, very clean.”
I was doing some work over in Las Vegas at the time, just a road trip away from Los Angeles, and on one of those trips I met a lady who was a Hopi Indian living on the reservation just north of the city. I bonded with her and she told me that my guiding spirit was a dragonfly. And so I had dragonflies tattooed around my belly, which this tattoo studio did.
I was really, really, really living my best life. I was having the best fun.
It sounds like the tattoo holds a lot of really dear memories for you. Why remove it?
Whenever I was in Los Angeles, I would look up the owner of the tattoo studio and we would just party and hang out. He told me his stories. He asked me if I wanted any work done. And then something really odd happened that I still can't fathom. I cannot understand for the life of me…
Suddenly, that relationship - that lovely warm, wonderful relationship I had with that family - went out the window and I was absolutely heartbroken. It was terrible. The end just came very quickly. One moment, it was fine. Next, it was over.
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Over the years, every time I saw that tattoo, it reminded me of a lot of heartbreak. And it's still very real to me now. I miss them. I miss them very much.
I don’t want the tattoo anymore. I can’t forget what happened, but I'm now choosing to remember the best memories. I'm 63 and I'm not in the best of health and I just want to be happy. I don't want to have to get out of that shower every morning and see the family I lost.
And if they stumbled upon this story or somebody says, ‘guess what, Sally had that tattoo removed’, maybe I might find an email in my inbox and you know, let's just say sorry and forget about the whole darn thing.
I see you’ve replaced the dragonflies you’re removing with some new ones…
Yes, by this lovely lady I’ve been following on Instagram for some time. Her work is so fine and beautiful.
I’ve got dragonflies on my right shoulder and underneath, ‘be not afraid’, because it seems to me I’ve lived most of my life in fear.
And how has the tattoo removal process been for you?
I've had children. I've survived traumatic car crashes. It’s nothing. I was really surprised when I found out about you because I thought tattoos were forever. I didn't know there was ever going to be a process that would be able to remove them so quickly and effectively. It's not as painful as people like to think.
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I think people do have their own particular pain thresholds. But it's been very easy, very quick, very clean. If you follow the rules and stick by them, you have a very happy and successful outcome.
I keep my Second Skin on. Back in my time it was cling film, but now there's this lovely dressing that you put on that stays on for 72 hours. You follow up with the various aftercare creams, which are wonderful. I use them on my face as much as I do on my tummy because they’re so beautifully holistic and smell of flowers. And it's fading really, really well.
“I can’t forget what happened, but I'm now choosing to remember the best memories.”
I think one thing is that I guess I'm a bit impatient. I was coming along every three weeks to have work done and I wasn't leaving enough time for my own particular skin to heal between sessions. So when one of the girls was saying, ‘no, I don't think we should be working on this today. I think you need longer for your skin to recover and to get into a healthy place so we can do the next treatment’, at first I was a little indignant. I thought it was just wasted time and effort. But she was right. Absolutely right, absolutely spot on the money.
It's been a while since my last visit, but my skin now is in the best place to have its next load of treatments. I know that slow and steady wins the race. It always does. Being impatient is a very human thing to do, but patience is key. We should all have more patience and be less afraid.
Sally's dragonfly tattoo reminded her of lost friendships.
After seven sessions
The tattoo is fading and we're returning to clear skin.