When he was fifteen-years-old, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider at a science demonstration, gaining the proportionate strength, speed, and agility of a spider. It also granted him a precognitive sense that warns him of danger – his spider-sense. The death of his uncle at the hands of a burglar he could’ve stopped taught Peter that with great power there must also come great responsibility. Every day since he’s tried to live up to that creed, as the amazing Spider-Man. BUT Peter wasn’t the only one bitten by the irradiated spider on that fateful day. Before it died, it also bit Cindy Moon. On a whim I decided to begin rereading her adventures as the superhero Silk last week.
Reading these comics just as, “New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in record numbers swept through more U.S. states…as most push ahead with reopening,” cast these stories in an entirely new light. I marveled at Silk’s strength and realized she may well be the most important superhero we have in this pandemic age.
Cindy gained all the powers Peter did from the spider bite including a more finally attuned spider-sense (or “silk-sense” as she prefers to call it), greater speed, and the ability to spin organic webbing from her fingertips. Her control of her webbing is so precise she can even spin clothing from her finely woven threads – a pretty fantastic power in its own right and crazy helpful when you’re a superhero who needs quick changes. Shortly after her abilities began to manifest, Cindy and her family were visited by a wealthy man named Ezekiel Sims. He began to tutor Cindy in the use of her abilities until it became clear Morlun would be able to sense her. Morlun was an Inheritor – beings of immense power who hunt Spider Totems (anyone with Spider powers) across the multiverse. Upon finding a Totem, they kill it and feed on its energy. The Inheritors hunt Spiders because of an ancient prophecy saying only a Spider could prevent their ultimate control of the multiverse. Morlun and his family sought control over destiny itself for every single reality – every being on every world in every universe – in existence.
Ezekiel explained to Cindy and her family what was coming for her. He explained what would happen to all of creation if Morlun came to know she existed and could wipe out all Spiders. With full consent and knowledge, to protect the entire multiverse from monsters like the Inheritors, Cindy agreed to be hidden away. Ezekiel locked her in a bunker beneath one of his buildings designed to hide her presence from Morlun. There Cindy would live with absolutely no contact with the outside world. She had no word from her family, no news of life outside, and nothing but prerecorded messages from Ezekiel to continue her training and to remind her of the danger that would threaten all of existence if she were to leave. She had food, shelter, and old VHS tapes of Spider-Man battles to watch so she could study his techniques and further familiarize herself with their spider powers.
Eventually, as a result of the “Original Sin” crossover event (which, well that’s just a story for another post), Peter would have a vision in which he learned of both Cindy’s existence and her location. As Spider-Man, he thwipped his way over to the bunker to free Cindy. Far from thankful, she was furious with him for opening the door.
It had been ten years since Cindy Moon was locked inside her bunker. TEN YEARS. TEN YEARS.
When Spidey opened the door, Cindy attacked him in a rage. She understood he had ruined her sacrifice, made the decade of her life she willingly gave up pointless. Morlun could sense her now. The war was coming and all of reality was at risk. Eventually Spider-Man got Cindy to listen and he explained that he’d killed Morlun. Relief washed over her as she realized she was finally – finally – free to return to the land of the living! She spun herself a costume and Silk bounded into New York’s night sky for the first time.
Silk and Spider-Man swung to her family’s apartment where she was heartbroken to learn they were no longer there. Sometime in the last decade they’d moved. They were gone. She had no way of knowing where they were or how to get ahold of them. As she mourned, she asked Spider-Man how long it had been since he killed Morlun. She needed to know how much time she “wasted” in the bunker. When Silk heard Spider-Man had killed Morlun twice she flew at him with an even greater rage than before. Her worst fears were true. If Morlun had survived once he could easily have survived again. She had given up a decade of her life. She had lost her family. She had lost everything she ever knew – for nothing. Spider-Man had thrown it all away. The war was coming. All life across the entire multiverse was in terrible danger. Everyone was at risk.
Ten years. TEN YEARS. Cindy Moon lived in complete isolation for TEN YEARS.
I can’t even imagine that. As I write this, I’m at the end of my own 90th day in quarantine, admittedly with increasingly relaxed restrictions. My community is in “Yellow Phase” now, meaning any work that can be done from home must still be done there but other businesses are reopening with various restrictions. Bars and restaurants are still predominately takeout only (although, with summer weather, more and more are building outdoor dining areas to offer socially distant dining options), all salons are still closed, and not all stores are open (for example, stores with outside entrances are open at the mall but the stores inside aren’t, as they are yet unsure how best to regulate the people inside the mall).
All around the country – and very much in my own community as many of the regions around us have been moved to Green Phase while we’re still in Yellow – people are just over this. In an article published on May 1st, NPR used mobile phone location data provided by a company called SafeGraph to examine roughly 18 million phones across the U.S. to see what percentage stayed “home” every day. The data showed we, as a country, were largely over quarantine after a month.
About 50% of those mobile phones that SafeGraph had data on stayed home on April 12, which was Easter — the highest point in the data. That number hasn’t since come anywhere close, showing a steady decline with the most recent numbers showing that less than 40% stayed home on April 27.
The trend, SafeGraph says, is consistent across the entire country, though the degree to which movement is increasing is different. Some counties showed extreme drop-offs in social distancing, while some showed more mild curves.
“Regardless of what the orders say or the governors say, we’re seeing the whole country softening up,” says Nick Singh, a marketing lead at SafeGraph.
I picked this source to cite specifically because it’s from a month and a half ago. We’ve been wrestling with “social distancing fatigue” for some time already. The pandemic wasn’t over on May 1st. It isn’t over now, either. We don’t have a vaccine for the coronavirus yet. But, it would seem, our cultural attention span for this is past. We’re done. We’re over it. We want to move on with our lives. However, just because we’re over it doesn’t make the virus any less of a threat. In fact, “the U.S. has just reached a tragic milestone in the pandemic…The COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. has now passed 340 per million residents, just over 100 times the rate in China.”
I don’t point this out to judge. I mean, I do judge people who refuse to wear their masks in stores or wear it pulled down below their nose or their nose and mouth. And I do judge those who won’t socially distance in public from people they don’t know. And I do judge those who scream about their “rights” being “denied” when they have no idea what they’re talking about and/or claim this is all made up. I sure as hell judge all those people because, as they or a loved one of theirs hasn’t been affected, they can’t see and refuse to honor their responsibility to everyone around them. They are making it worse for everyone and I do judge and resent them for it (even if I shouldn’t).
But irrationality and dangerous selfishness aside, I don’t judge the desire for this to be over. This is hard. Quarantine has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and that’s what I kept thinking about as I was reading Silk’s story again. She was completely cutoff from everyone and everything for TEN YEARS. TEN YEARS. She willingly carried that burden. She made that sacrifice. And we, as a country, couldn’t make it past a month. But, aside from the behaviors I mentioned above, I can’t judge that struggle.
Making it more personal and less judgy about the country as a whole, as I read I kept asking myself – Could I have made Cindy Moon’s sacrifice? Am I that strong? Unequivocally the answer is NO.
I’m an extrovert by nature and my relationships – the people I surround myself with in my life, those I love, my natural supports to use the term I’ve learned in therapy – are everything. John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Uh, hell yes John; I’m with you. Sure, I wildly kicked up my phone calls and FaceTime and Zoom chats when lockdown descended. But there’s nothing like being face to face with another human being. Living alone, that lack of in-person connection coupled with the absolutely unknowable answer to how long life would be like this, was all but unbearable at times.
It was on Quarantine Day 20 when I broke. It was a Sunday night and I had been reading articles about how, at that time, the best case scenario was another three months until this was all solved. I felt starkly alone. I tried to meditate – a mixture of the mindfulness meditation I’ve practiced since I first studied Buddhism in college and the technique of finding, following, exploring, and understanding my emotions I’ve been learning in therapy. Touching those emotions, touching that sense of loneliness, opened the floodgates. I began sobbing. For over forty-five minutes straight I wept violent, choking sobs that shook my entire body. Tears streamed down my face as I cried, continually repeating out loud, “I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” It had only been twenty days. How was I to do at least ninety more? I wanted this to be over. I wanted life to go back to normal. I wanted to be with people again. I couldn’t live like this. I kept repeating all of this out loud again and again as I sobbed. I felt so very, very alone.
When we discussed this at our session that week, my therapist explained the reason the feelings were so intense was because it wasn’t just sadness or loneliness I was feeling. It was grief. I was mourning all that I had lost – all the relationships I couldn’t fully touch, the places I couldn’t go, my normal life and routine. She went on to explain, as we were all adjusting to quarantine, we were living a sort of death within life. We were still alive, yes, but so much of our lives were closed to us. We were trapped here, all of us, isolated with no way back to our regular lives. And, while it’s beginning to change now, at that time none of us had an emotional framework for dealing with something like this. Most recently in therapy we’ve discussed how this experience is leaving us all “touch-starved.” As human beings we’re not made to live in isolation and we’re not made to live without physical, compassionate contact with others. It’s not healthy to live so disconnected. But, rudely, the coronavirus doesn’t seem to care.
As I read, I thought of how horrible those early days of quarantine were. How could Cindy have survived that?? For all she knew she would spend the rest of her life alone in that bunker. I couldn’t make it twenty days! And I was breaking/”cheating” with the lockdown rules early on, too. I’ve never been reckless, but I’ve not followed them strictly. On Day 14, Matthew stopped by to visit. With my comic shop closed, he came baring a mixed bag of comics from Ollie’s. While we stayed six feet apart, we talked for over an hour. Then the second Saturday of quarantine, Hannah and I started meeting for our weekly walks. It was Hannah’s idea and we discussed our comfort with it at length, deciding seeing each other was worth the relatively small risk. As quarantine has went on my walking partners have grown. I’ve taken some walks with Lauren. I’ve walked a lot with Kalie. I’ve done a few walks with Mom and David and Aunt Judy and my cousin Melanie, too. Recently we’ve even tentatively returned to dinner at Grandma’s on Friday nights. But Hannah and I have been doing this since almost the very beginning. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I’m not sure I’d’ve survived without her.
We talked about this in my therapy session last week, too. Only recently have I realized just how essential our walks together have been for my mental, emotional, and spiritual health – especially in the beginning when lockdown was being treated far more seriously. I honestly think seeing Hannah every week helped keep me sane, helped keep me afloat when I was ready to drown. Because I always knew, no matter how dark it got, I was never more than seven days away from seeing another human being, from talking face to face with someone I loved, from being with family.
Cindy Moon had none of that. She was completely and utterly alone for ten years. TEN YEARS!!!! I know it seems I keep sticking on that point but it staggers my mind. Think, for a moment, of your own experience of quarantine. Now imagine ten years of total, unbroken self-isolation. Cindy shouldered an unbearable burden to protect everyone. It may just be the context in which I’ve read these comics but I’ve been wracking my mind trying to think of another superhero who’s made a more difficult sacrifice. I can’t. So many characters have lost so many things in so many ways but Silk lost everyone and everything in her life. To protect the lives of everyone across the multiverse, her life became one bunker without even so much as a window to the outside world. She was completely alone.
Then, when Spider-Man let her out, she didn’t rage for long. She didn’t lose herself to grief and anger, which is what I probably would’ve done. No, she went out into the world not just to live and to begin rebuilding her life but to continually refine her skill with her spider powers. Silk immediately began protecting New York and then, when the Inheritors came, she stood alongside a multiversal army of Spiders to fight them. For the safety of everyone, Cindy Moon gave up ten years of her life to live in absolute self-isolation. Then, once she was back out in the world, she continued to live responsibly, doing literally everything within her power to protect the lives of everyone around her every single day.
Can there be a better model, a more timely hero for us to look to right now than Silk? Again, unequivocally I’d say the answer is “no.” When Cindy Moon was created by Dan Slott (writer) and Humberto Ramos (artist) in 2014, they were adding a brilliant new character and an exciting new dimension to the Spider-Man story. But they couldn’t have known how important Silk would become six years later. Now, in 2020, she’s the character who perhaps most clearly speaks to our time. Through her example, Silk both inspires us and shows us how to do what seems impossible in the name of protecting everyone.
No matter how tired of all this we may be, we need to continue to take this thing seriously. COVID-19 isn’t going away. People are still getting sick, still dying. And we still have a responsibility in all this. We need to continue to self-isolate as much as we can, even though we don’t want to. When we go out, we must always be as responsible as we can be when we do it. We wear our masks. We socially distance. People’s lives are at stake. I know it’s exhausting and sometimes it feels like we’re hanging on by a thread. But threads can be surprisingly strong – and we’re not alone. None of us are facing the burden Cindy Moon did. As isolated and frustrated as we may feel, we’re still in this together. We have to remember that as we continue to struggle through the days ahead.
Sometimes a thread’s all we need. Sometimes a thread can be as strong as Silk.
 Lisa Shumaker, “Record spikes in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations sweep parts of U.S.,” Reuters. Published June 14, 2020. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa/record-spikes-in-new-coronavirus-cases-hospitalizations-sweep-parts-of-u-s-idUSKBN23L0JB
 Sean McMinn, “Mobile Phone Data Show More Americans Leaving Their Homes, Despite Orders,” NPR. Published May 1, 2020. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/01/849161820/mobile-phone-data-show-more-americans-are-leaving-their-homes-despite-orders
 Gavin Yamey and Dean T. Jamison, “U.S. Response to COVID-19 is Worse than China’s. 100 Times Worse,” Time. Published June 10, 2020. Accessed June 14, 2020. https://time.com/5850680/u-s-response-covid-19-worse-than-chinas/