The Black Widow. She’s sleek. Graceful. Her aim is deadly accurate. Mere mortals walk this earth but not her. She stalks her prey with agility, athleticism and cunning. Every move she makes is calculated and is a result of brilliant strategy.
If you think this is some fluff piece about Natasha Romanova because I love her, you’re only half wrong. I love Natasha. But this is not about her. I’m talking about the other Black Widow, Jeanette Lee.
If you grew up in the 90’s and ever followed women’s professional billiards, her name and her nickname, the Black Widow, should be familiar to you. She ruled the green felt and the fans loved her. I looked up to her and spent every day after high school in various pool halls working on my game because I wanted to be the next Black Widow. We’re both Asian. We both have long, black hair. We both wore a lot of black. Aaaannnddd that’s about where the similarities ended between us.
Back in the day of Asian Ave and ICQ chat, I used to work in a pool hall after graduating from high school. I kind of fell into this job by accident. I was at this particular pool hall so often, the managers and one of the owners used to joke that I might as well live and work there. And that’s how I got a part time job.
One day, there was a ton of excitement. We just found out that the pool hall I worked at would be host to a Women’s Professional Billiards Association event and that the Black Widow would be playing along with Allison Fisher. Fisher may have been the top seed in the tournament, but it was the beautiful, deadly, charismatic Black Widow who everyone came to see. I was so excited to see her in person but my little brother was even more excited. He was only 7 or 8 years old at the time but he was so in love with her.
One day, she dropped in the pool hall. I think she was raising money for charity but I can’t be exactly sure. All I remember is that my little brother was with me and we solemnly watched her absolutely clean out the guys (and some ladies) who lined up for the privilege of being in her presence and breathing the same air as her. We watched her run rings around them as she ran the table. The speed in which she annihilated them on the tables was breathtaking. Watching her play on TV is nothing like watching her play in real life.
She made it look so easy. By the time the balls were racked and cracked, she had already mapped out every single move and effortlessly executed it to perfection. Having spent countless hours on those very same tables trying to be 1/23742958 as good as her, I know the kind of strength you need, both physically and mentally, to play at just my extremely amateur level. Shooting pool doesn’t look really hard but it’s a sport for a reason.
And then I learned about her scoliosis diagnosis. Despite the pain she must have been in daily, she still dedicated insane amounts of hours perfecting her craft so that she could be the best. That made me admire her even more.
So back to that day. I’m watching her dust these guys left and right in the span of what felt like seconds. The lucky ones lasted maybe a couple of minutes. My little brother tugs on my shirt and says, “Do you think I can have a chance to play against her?” Now, I’m 18 years old. I don’t have a lot of money. I definitely didn’t have the kind of change these guys were dropping on the tables just so they could stand around for a few minutes while she destroys them on the felt. But what I do have is an insane love for my brother. So I did what any big sister would do.
I ask one of my friends to watch my brother, flip my waist length hair over my shoulder, walk up to her and introduce myself. She looks so bored as I explain that I work here and I don’t have a lot of money but, as soon as I pointed out my little brother and told her how he’s a huge fan of hers, it was over. She took one look at his little face full of hope, scoops up the couple of dollars that I had and saunters over to him. What happened next is something neither he nor I will ever forget.
She taught him how to rack them up for both 8 ball and 9 ball games. She positioned herself behind him, held him close to her, closed her hands over his little ones, and LET HIM BREAK WITH HER PERSONAL CUE AS SHE GUIDED HIM. He didn’t break with the house cue. She let him break with HER CUE. I mean, granted she was in full control the whole time, but he didn’t know that. I almost died when he accidentally dropped her cue because, HELLO, how am I supposed to repay her if it was damaged??? But she didn’t even bat an eye. She just picked it up and gave it back to him.
She spent so much time with him and taught him about when to use English. She taught him how to jump balls. She set up trick shots for him over and over again until he finally managed to sink it. She cheered so loudly for him when he executed the trick shot. She was so proud of him. She treated him like he was her little brother.
I remember how full my heart was watching her spend her time with him. It was like all the other guys waiting on her didn’t exist. All that mattered to her was my little brother. Some of the regulars came up to me and were like, “Damn, Bonnie. Can I be your brother? Come on, tell her I’m your brother, too!”
To this day, my brother never forgot that experience and neither have I. So you can understand how sad I was to learn today that the Black Widow, Jeanette Lee, a single mom of 3 beautiful girls, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. Her prognosis is not good. Her doctors are saying she has a few months left to live, maybe a year on the outside.
In true Black Widow fashion, she’s determined to fight cancer and has already started chemotherapy. In this way, she reminds me of Romanova because they’re both mentally resilient and determined fighters. From what I understand, Jeanette’s scoliosis prevented her from playing the last decade or so. That was her livelihood. Now she’s facing the literal fight for her life. I don’t know how I can ever repay her for what she gave to my brother that day. All I can do is share my memory of her, keep her in my prayers, and share the GoFundMe that was set up to help provide for her three, beautiful girls.
Jeanette Lee is an icon, an inspiration, and a role model I looked up to. I’m cheering for you, Black Widow. Fighting.