somewhat screwed up the firewall rules in the google console. The catch was that I could only acces the website from port 80, by trying to acces it from 8000(node's actual) didn't work. I deleted the rules, and added them again in the platform console (Networking->Firewall rules) and then restarted nodebb and it worked!
@frissdiegurke Knowing what I know now, @julian post can be construed to contain all the information :). I would word it differently though as SSO is probably veyr widely used. And if so, then calling port optional is...well, still technically correct.
So I just built a quick VM locally and followed the guides I mentioned above. Did nothing differently except I didn't install php and apache before and start ripping things out. It works flawlessly. I can only imagine at this point its something with my server and I think I may just wipe it and start clean, using nginx only instead of apache.
Thanks for looking at this stuff guys - I appreciate it.
Edit - welp, it works great now. Probably has this whole time. The URL I was using to hit the forums was set to be x.x.132.x, it had to be x.x.135.x. Hey, at least I learned a TON about nodebb and nginx 🙂 I'll take it.