Wednesday, October 5, 2005
The laser shoots a beam of light that looks like fire and makes a sizzling noise -- Bzzzzzt! -- as it moves across Melissa Morrissette's tattoo. Morrissette winces. She closes her eyes, which are covered by orange goggles, and takes long, slow breaths, fighting the pain. It hurts to get a tattoo removed.
"It's 10 times more painful than getting it put on," she says.
The tattoo is on her left arm -- three ankhs connected in a circle around her biceps. An ankh is a cross topped with a loop, an ancient Egyptian symbol of eternal life. Morrissette, 37, has worn it for seven years. But now she's a real-estate agent working for an Annapolis company that doesn't permit visible tattoos. For a year, she covered it with long sleeves, but this summer she decided to get it removed. That's why she's here in the Laser Center of Maryland in Severna Park, paying $1,700 for six laser treatments that sting and burn.
Waiting to get zapped, her skin numbed by a cream, she remembers the day she got the tattoo, when the guy wielding the needle had a burst of artistic inspiration and decided to add flourishes.
"I could feel him doing something different and I looked and saw these red lines coming out of the ankh," she recalls. "I said, 'What's that?' And he said, 'It's a mystic mist.' I said, 'What does that mean?' To me, it looked like varicose veins."
She had to hire another tattoo artist to cover up those red lines with a reddish-orange cloud.
Now, seven years later, the whole glorious artwork is being blasted away.
* * *
"The interesting thing about tattoo removal," says Ross Van Antwerp, the doctor who founded the Laser Center of Maryland, "is that there's always a story behind every tattoo."
Over 16 years, Van Antwerp, 52, has erased thousands of tattoos and heard thousands of tattoo stories -- bizarre stories, hilarious stories, stories that support the recent revelation that human beings are 98 percent genetically identical to the chimpanzee.