The Origins of Petrichor: A Modern Tragedy by Ross Dohrmann

You examine a painting, a scene frozen at the moment when the mood shifted from chaotic to calm.

I am the painter and you one of two subjects, observing the scene as if watching a Greek tragedy. You recall that before the scene, you felt light and you heard my words, but they were empty in your ears. You did not feel my anger, but you saw it burst from the knots tied in the pit of my stomach like fireworks. There was nothing I could do to censor or control my actions, and so for a brief moment you left your body and let mine purge.

My eyes were red, moist, and hot, like freshly rinsed chili peppers. My posture was slumped, and my hands rested on my knees as I stooped to your eye level; you were sitting in the kitchen chair with your arms and legs crossed. The lights in the room were off and the overcast sky absconded the setting sun.

You looked at me with acquiescence. As I purged the negativity from the depths of my darkest caves, you began to realize that you were wrong. No, not that you were wrong, but that you were mistaken. You watched from your invisible pedestal and you closed your eyes, taking a deep lungful of all the air my body is releasing. It was hot air, unfriendly, unwavering, unbelievable –– but it was pure. You could not hear a word I was saying, but you saw my face contort. The muscles around my eyes and in my cheeks slacken, like soldiers after war. My face became a tragic mask, the emblem of pity and fear. Catharsis began to surface from beneath my anger; the purge was near completion.

Catharsis is meant to cleanse the soul of pity and fear; to join hands in love and give birth to a beautiful disaster. It is the moment when the storm passes overhead and you are left with the aftermath spread out before you like a ruined city. You were in awe of the destruction, but eternally grateful that you survived, rattled but alive. If someone had walked into the room, the smell could be likened to that of wet asphalt, that is, of petrichor: heavy and thick; pleasant, but with a trace scent of dust and grease. I pitied you that you did not understand my anger until now and I feared that I said too much. You feared entrapment within the storm and you pitied my lack of control. Yet the clouds were pushed aside to reveal a hidden understanding, like a parting sea carving a path from one shore to the next.

It should not have gotten to that point, but it was hopelessly inevitable. When words are left unsaid, they flush from your mind down into your guts, congealing and reopening like picked-at scabs. You watched this tragedy unfold as truth was ripped from my chest and held bleeding before your eyes and mine. You breathed in my anger as it left my body, recycling each hot breath into clean oxygen. The more I oozed from my lungs, the cleaner the room became. At last, the storm dispersed, and I slumped next to you in the adjacent chair, exhausted and sad, confused and relieved, rattled but alive.

Then there was silence. The truth was examined beneath a microscope like a virus, analyzed, then synthesized into a vaccine. Like a city after a hurricane, we, the citizens, emerged from our shelter to inspect the damage and thank God that we weathered the storm.

You returned to your body and a brief conversation commences, calm, civil, quiet. We picked up the broken pieces of ourselves from beneath the rubble and began to glue them back together, carefully as fine China. When all the pieces had been reassembled we embraced, and the purge ended at last. There was nothing left to breath out, and so we both took in a lungful of clean air that still smelled vaguely of petrichor.

This is the image, the scene I have painted. You gaze at the painting, stepping back for a different perspective. The background is dark and the brushstrokes are coarse. The subjects are smooth and illuminated, each stroke finely intertwined with the next to create a perfectly flawless image of perfectly flawed creatures. You remember the scene like a bad dream and your face contorts into a comedic mask. Distance, you think, allows for time to bleed.

I have made this image for you with the hope that as you examine it you see the beauty of the dark coarse background, and the illuminated figures caught in an embrace, trying to hold on to each other in the wake of a raging storm. I hope you smell the wet asphalt and the storm clouds, and I hope you feel the relief I felt as I brewed the storm, feeling the earth move beneath my feet, eyes wide in awe as you too began to purge.


*Ross Dohrmann is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. He moved to Tacoma in 2010 to attend UPS, from which he graduated in 2014. Aside from reading, writing and playing guitar, Ross loves to travel and do “outdoorsy” stuff like hiking, running, and kayaking. He first heard about Creative Colloquy on a poster at King Books in downtown.