My name is David Billington and I was born in 1953. I grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, where my dad commuted to a civil engineering design job in New York and my mom taught piano. In 1960 my dad joined the civil engineering faculty at Princeton University and we moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where I entered the second grade.

I made some friends in Princeton but I was not very social. We moved to another house in Princeton at the end of 1963, where I founded a toy soldier empire on a rugpad in an attic room on my eleventh birthday in 1964. This empire, modelled loosely after the Roman Empire, coincided with the best period of my life, fifth grade. I was a Safety Patrol and editor of a classroom newspaper. For some reason I was aware that this was the high point of my life. My favorite books were Encyclopedia Brown, Tom Swift, and Brains Benton.

I did not adjust well to sixth grade, the first year of junior high school, the following autumn. I still had a crush on another boy from the year before who did not want to be particularly close to me. I also did not understand why the school had separate teachers for separate subjects. My empire ended on December 24, 1964, when I had to clear the rug. I tried to start new empires and city-states but none lasted for more than a few days or weeks.

In the summer of 1966, our family moved to The Hague, administrative capital of The Netherlands (Holland) in Europe. My dad had a National Science Foundation grant to study engineering over there and my brothers and sisters and I were enrolled in a British day school. I was lonely but being with students from all over the British Commonwealth was interesting. I learned fourteen subjects instead of five. I also learned some Dutch. Kaan U spreekt Nederlands? I loved the beach at Scheveningen (when there was sun we went to the beach). I also fell in love with royal pageantry and built a castle and a palace for my sister's miniature stuffed animals. This photo shows the castle.

We came home in early 1967 and I returned to eighth grade, where I ran into trouble. I had no interest in girls, and I aggravated this by wearing white crew socks, which was not cool. I was starting to realize that I was gay. A friend from childhood arm-twisted me to attend the eighth grade dance at the end of the year. I went and to my surprise I had a decent time and nobody treated me badly. But I felt more and more alone. I was able to be invisible in high school the next year, where there were too many students for everyone to know everyone else.

Over the summer of 1967 and again in the summer of 1968, I went to a summer camp for boys in Maine. Here I experienced nature for the first time. I also learned to contribute to the efforts of others and be recognized for some of my own.

I only spent one year in high school because my grades were low. My dad had gone to a boarding school in Pennsylvania during World War II, where his uncle was a teacher and soccer coach. With some scholarship support, I went there for my tenth grade year, 1968-69. The students were friendly and I was particularly close to the fourth form (tenth grade) European history teacher.

The school enabled me to excel in history but I failed in math. I got through another year at the school but continued to fail math. The school allowed me to return for a senior year as a non-degree student, however, and I did much better since I no longer had to take math. But I had a nervous breakdown over the winter and had to withdraw in the spring.

Over the next three years, I attended the University of Pennsylvania intermittently. The fact that I did not have a high school diploma did not prevent my admission, but I did not do well in courses. I saw a psychiatrist, which was inconclusive and ended in the summer of 1973. Over the academic year 1973-74, I lived at home and sat in on a graduate seminar and a senior seminar, both in history, at Princeton University. This was at the invitation of Professor Cyril Black, who believed I had potential as a historian. I did well in these courses, which encouraged me to return to Penn for a final time in the fall of 1974.

But I had another breakdown and had to withdraw in January. I was in no shape to support myself, and at around 6:00 PM on February 10, 1975, I jumped off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York City.

Part of why I went off the bridge was the isolation and sense of rejection I felt as a gay person. I had been withdrawing from the world since late childhood, though, so my sexual orientation wasn't the only problem I had. But the added burden made it that much harder to deal with the stresses of life.

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