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Grandma Donna passed the oyster stuffing and asked my father straight out what he was working on, it being so obvious his thoughts were not with us. She meant it as a reprimand. He was the only one at the table who didn’t know this, or else he was ignoring it. He told her he was running a Markov chain analysis of avoidance conditioning. He cleared his throat. He was going to tell us more.We moved to close off the opportunity. Wheeled like a school of fish, practiced, synchronized. It was beautiful. It was Pavlovian. It was a goddamn dance of avoidance conditioning.

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