The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

BRFHS Paw Print

The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

BRFHS Paw Print

The Student News Site of Black River Falls High School

BRFHS Paw Print

AIDS speaker advises ‘Find that moral compass’

“I’m not here to make friends with you. I’m here to tell you a story,” said Jim Bertolini.

Bertolini’s story is about living with AIDS.

As a part of  Social Psychology, social studies teacher Tony Boerger arranged for Bertolini to speak to students who have taken the class during the school year about about how the speaker contracted disease and how he is dealing with it.

As a child, Bertolini grew up in a town similar to Black River Falls. He had a good childhood–and then he became a teenager.

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“When I was 13 I stole a car. I stole a car just so I’d be popular,” said Bertolini.

After a while things started getting worse. He started to develop a carefree attitude and during his freshman year started drinking. Sometimes he would come home very late and couldn’t sleep due to how much alcohol he consumed.

“I got home at two in the morning and I felt like hell,” said Bertolini. “My parents were standing in there watching me. I went to bed and I got the dizzies so I went to the bathroom and ran into the wall four times and was puking my guts up.”

Things didn’t stop there. For a while he stole things, started using drugs and women and slowly his life started to turn for the worse. After high school he joined the Coast Guard. As his duty to the Coast Guard he was supposed to keep illegal drugs out of the country. He was also not allowed to do drugs and was expected control his alcohol consumption. Bertolini felt like those rules didn’t really apply to him and continued to use drugs.

Things got even worse. While in the Coast Guard, Bertolini decided to go to a party. There he met a 17-year-old girl and committed statutory rape. Slowly and steadily Bertolini’s moral compass started to disappear.

Bertolini left the Coast Guard in 1983 and went to college. Still using drugs and women, he was slowly reaching rock bottom. He played rugby in college, but that’s all he was  known for. He didn’t have any academic achievements and flunked out of college.

“I took six-and-a-half years of semesters. I got no college degree. Had a 2.19 grade average, but I was popular because I knew every bartender in each bar and what hours they worked and where all the good parties were at,” said Bertolini.

Drugs and alcohol had become his life. He did continue to play rugby after college. Since he enjoyed playing the sport so much and didn’t want to deal with an injury he decided to get some health insurance. He called an insurance company, which sent a nurse to take a blood and urine sample. Afterward the nurse told him he’d receive a letter in a few weeks to see if he was able to get health insurance.

A few weeks went by and a letter came telling him he was denied health insurance. A little ticked off, Bertolini called up the 1-800 number on the letter and asked why he was denied insurance. Since he was still doing drugs, he assumed that was the reason. However nothing could have prepared him for what was coming. Bertolini was about to hit rock bottom.

“I was on the phone and a total stranger 100 miles away told me I was denied insurance because I had full-blown AIDS,”said Bertolini.

At that time, having AIDS was a death sentence. There was no way you could live past 75 with the disease. However, Bertolini decided that he wasn’t going to quit. That included his drugs and alcohol consumption.

February 7, 2000, nine years after being diagnosed with AIDS Bertolini found himself across the street from Walgreen’s, in the middle of the road.

“I was standing at the laundrymat with no money and no drugs. Since drugs were my life, right then and there I wanted to die. So I leaned my head in the middle [of the street] waiting for one of those big vans to come and hit me, but everyone seemed to be driving those darn small cars that it wouldn’t kill me and only injure me. I didn’t want to be crippled and have AIDS!” said Bertolini.

Fortunately, Bertolini saw the light.

“Right there, I saw the hospital right across the street, and I swear I heard the angels sing and the clouds had separated and a light shined on that hospital and I know this sounds corny, but it was like a message,” said Bertolini.

Throughout his entire lecture Bertolini mentioned his moral compass. A moral compass is what guides you through life based the truth, honesty and respect. Up until Bertolini’s recovery, his moral compass had disappeared. Bertolini doesn’t speak to social psychology students  for teacher Tony Boerger. Instead, Bertolini hopes that students will listen to his story and hopefully not make the same mistakes he made as a child. He hopes they figure out their moral compass.

“Find that moral compass. Find what makes you tick. Please remember who you are,” said Bertolini.

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  • T

    Tony BoergerJun 8, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Great article Lindsey!

    Just because we don’t read about HIV/AIDS everyday, doesn’t mean that is it going away. A new person is infected worldwide every 6 second and every 10 seconds someone dies of an AIDS related disease. Education is the best way to protect ourselves and others from this epidemic.

  • J

    james bertoliniJun 7, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    To the writer of the Pawprint article,
    I would like to thank Mr. Boerger and his students for having me speak in their classes over the years. They have always been respectful and attentive. I have known Mr. Boerger so long, I consider him a friend. Thank you all BRF School District for helping me on my journey.


    James Bertolini

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AIDS speaker advises ‘Find that moral compass’