top of page
  • Writer's pictureNathan Foley

My Boston Chronicles: Prelude - Before the Move

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

We hosted Julianne’s cousin Ben over the holiday weekend and it was a blast just sitting down and talking about stuff. He’s a really cool guy and I love picking his brain. The three of us spent every night talking about family, video games, relationships, politics, foster care, education, basketball, and nearly everything else that life has to offer–it was great! As far as social settings go, I love nothing more than sitting in a room, a drink in hand–coffee, tea, ice cold water, White Claw, etc.–and carrying on meandering conversations into the waning hours of the night. It’s a time for self reflection, learning new perspectives, and getting to know your contemporaries in an intimate setting.

During one of our nightly long talks, Julianne and I shared some of our Boston experiences. She moved there in 2014 to attend school and I moved there in 2015 hoping to do the same. Whenever we delve into those memories, I always come out with more forgotten images, lessons, and thoughts on that entire saga.

I wanted to put as much of that as I can into writing so as to not only share it within this space but to also solidify these experiences in my mind.

So, here goes.

My Boston Chronicles

Prelude – Before the Move

Right up until I moved to Boston in August of 2015, I still lived at home in South Sacramento with my parents, sister, and brother. I graduated high school in the summer of 2013, but instead of going to school right away, I spent a lot of time working on film sets with my dad and his crew of indie filmmakers and running around California taking pictures. I would have liked to go to college right after high school, but circumstances that I’ll get into later threw a massive wrench in that idea, so it was ultimately put off for half a year until I figured out what to do with myself. Eventually, by January of 2014, I enrolled at Cosumnes River College, a community college also in South Sacramento. At first, my classes were centered on business, because my grandfather–who held the keys to my 529 college plan–preferred that over what he called a “bullshit fucking art degree.” But I eventually ditched the business classes and opted for the more creative ones.

Come summer of 2014, I had gotten back with my high school girlfriend and tried to give the relationship another shot. Getting back with Kimaly was probably not the best idea, but I am grateful for the time I spent outside of Sacramento thanks to her attending San Francisco State. Looking back on it, I think I relished more in the opportunity to go to a different place for a weekend than the actual time I spent with her, meaning her no offense of course. It wasn’t a terrible relationship necessarily, but I could have done better in terms of finding a partner who treated me with a little more dignity and who wouldn’t slam doors on my fingers. Ultimately, I do give that relationship a little credit for inspiring my appetite for adventure by providing me extended periods of time in a big city.

These are some of the pictures I took on photo excursions to the Bay.

During the summer of 2014, I found a job as a statistician and videographer for PlayOn! Sports, working the broadcasts of Northern California high school sports, and I also worked as a Yard Duty at Maeola Beitzel Elementary–the school I attended from Kinder-6th.

In all, from the summer of 2014 through the summer of 2015, I was pretty occupied with short films, two jobs, school, photo excursions, family drama, and a girlfriend in San Francisco. My average weekday usually started at Beitzel, shepherding children through the crosswalk, then I’d rush over to CRC for a morning class, then back to Beitzel to work recess, stick around the school for basketball or volleyball practice, then back to CRC for night class. Then on the weekends I’d travel to some NorCal town to either film the gameplay or record live stats for high school football, soccer, basketball, etc. Sometimes I’d pop over to San Francisco, either with one of our family cars or in the back of a Megabus charter, and hang out with Kimaly in the city or on her school’s campus. And other weekends, I’d help out Burn Baby Burn Films with this or that short film. If I wasn’t doing any of that, I’d most likely be at home playing World of Warcraft, shooting a basketball on my abused hoop on our narrow and overcrowded street, or taking pictures somewhere.

Behind the Scenes photos from the production of Dirt, a short film by Burn Baby Burn Films

Each of those activities gave me different flavors of distraction from my general disposition, which, mostly unbeknownst to me at the time, was steadily declining. It was almost like how some addicts describe the vicious fall offs of their highs: the equilibrium slowly drifting down into the abyss, and with it, the peak of each subsequent high is lower and lower, giving off less of a rush with each hit and leaving you increasingly worse off than you were before. That’s how I started to feel after a while. The film set work felt like more of the same shit every day with less and less payoff. My relationship was deteriorating by the week. I was attending school, but the struggle I endured thanks to my grandfather really soured the experience. My two jobs were decent enough distractions, though their allure too fell off before long. I’ll delve into those first.

Mr. Nate, the Yard Duty of Maeola Beitzel Elementary

Being a Yard Duty at Maeola Beitzel Elementary was an overall fun gig. I’d start the day with the major stress test of manning the 3-way intersection right in front of the school: Mr. Nate, clad in a high-vis jacket and wielding an oversized stop-sign-on-a-stick, shepherding groggy children through a crosswalk rife with parents who could not drive safely. If I didn’t have class that day, I’d have enough time to shoot some hoops for a while on the blacktop before the deluge of children came spilling through the gates.

Morning recess was always such a blur: hordes of kids going wild on the blacktop, playground, and soccer field, and Mr. Nate, armed with nothing but a whistle and a walkie-talkie to defend himself. Morning recess doubled up the grades for a half hour or so each: 1st and 2nd grade, then 3rd and 4th, then 5th and 6th. Once 5th and 6th wrap up their morning zoomies, we are left with about an hour or so to catch our breath before lunch recess starts and we do it all again, but lunch recess is only one grade at a time–THANK GOD.

I also coached 5/6th boys basketball and 5/6th boys/girls volleyball, which were both incredibly fun. Practice was always pretty chaotic: kids were absolutely wired from still being on campus after 8 long hours, and once they had the entire place to themselves, they went bonkers. I think I had the most fun with coaching when we had away games at other schools because the kids would get a little uncomfortable being out of their element/environment and you can see some of the anxieties on their faces before the game started. I enjoyed getting them all to focus on the game and watching as their anxieties fade as the morning’s event wore on. You could see as the game progressed and as they got more comfortable in its flow, they’d remember that they were just having fun, playing a game of basketball or volleyball with their classmates on a Saturday morning, all their worries from 15 minutes past left behind.

This is the volleyball team I coached alongside Britni Alford. We named the team the

Sparkle Squad

Some of my first teachers were even still working there too, which was an experience–working alongside adults who witnessed me spring up into young adulthood from 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, only they seemed tired and haggard, to no fault of their own. I had a few chances to help out in their classrooms as well, which the kids always enjoyed. It was an interesting social experiment when little children thought they had dirt on me. Some 8 year old would just walk up to me and say, “Mrs. Sumaraga said she was your 2nd grade teacher!” To which I’d reply with a resounding, “Yuuup!” Their minds would be utterly blown, comprehending that this 19 year old in front of them had the same teacher they have now, only before they were even born.

My mom worked there too. She was a yard duty for a while like me, but moved to the cafeteria to be one of the lunch ladies before I started. The kids thought that was pretty wild. I mean, who could say they worked with their mom? I was mostly indifferent to that at first, but I eventually wanted my own space and experience so while on campus I would stick to myself mostly. Nothing against my mom, I just wanted some space and an identity of my own, and to not be regarded as Miss Sandy’s son.

The kids were rambunctious but nice enough. Many were sad when I told them I was moving across the country, disappointed that they only had me for a single year–a mere photo and a footnote on their ‘14-’15 yearbook. I would have kept coaching at the very least if I stayed, but I was ready to leave Sacramento by the end of that school year. The main thing that I do miss about working with a bunch of kids was asking their perspective on things and picking their brains. The sense of wonder they had for everything around them refueled my own spark for curiosity, contributing to push me in the decision to move in August of 2015.

Videography and Stat Tracking for PlayOn! Sports

I started working for PlayOn! Sports during the summer of 2014 and stayed with them until the end of that school year as well, same as Beitzel. I found their listing on Craigslist, looking for statisticians for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. I covered my first game at Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA, just northeast of Sacramento. They gave me an iPad whose only app was their proprietary statistics software and set me to work. It was a fun experience, following every single play alongside the stadium announcers in the press box, checking each other’s notes. That weekend was a tournament of sorts, hosting teams from all over, including one team from Hawaii with a star player for whom the whole stadium was hyped, but unfortunately I can’t remember his position or his name.

I quickly migrated into the videographer role for many of PlayOn! Sports’ Northern California games. I think I worked maybe 2 or 3 games in Sacramento County before they thrust me into the “distance” games. The vast majority of the crew for Northern California came from either the Bay or from Sacramento, but we covered ALL of Northern California, which for the uninitiated is a large swath of forest, farmland, and dry hills stretching all the way to the Pacific Northwest.

Sacramento, in my eyes, is but the southern tip of Northern California, with I-5 snaking ~280 miles from downtown Sac all the way to the Oregon border and beyond. If you stand in the heart of the North and walk to the west from I-5, dense forests utterly blanket the landscape for a hundred miles until the rocky coast sprouts up under your nose, just beyond the treeline. And for another hundred miles and change to the east, the utterly flat valley gives way to craggy mountains, trees primed for wildfires dot the landscape, and then desert steppes stretch til you hit the Nevada border. The true Northern California is a place that resembles more the wild of the 19th Century American West than what most people think of when they conjure up images of California. I spent a lot of time driving around by myself in the middle of nowhere, searching for the soccer matches, wrestling tournaments, and football games assigned to me. All that driving gave me a hell of a lot of time to think about life and contemplate what to do next.

The Struggles of Beginning a College Career

I worked at the same elementary school that I attended, was coworkers with one of my parents, saw many of the same faces from my childhood daily, lived in the same town I grew up in, endured abuse from extended family, shared a home with the same 4 people I’d always lived with, and trudged through a second stint of a dead-end relationship. I enjoyed work enough to not dread getting up every morning to slog through it, but after a while I started to feel like I was just going through the motions. Although I generally enjoyed my jobs during this time period, I will say that the routine grew old very quickly, and my mental health began to falter. I began to feel locked in the past, while droning through the present. I felt trapped everywhere I went, the walls encroaching upon me day by day. The only space that granted me a degree of freedom and control was the classroom, but even that was a struggle early on.

Despite it straying drastically from my teenage dreams, I appreciate my time at CRC. I immersed myself in the projects and presentations, completed most of the assignments, gave my all in every paper I wrote, and really soaked in the environment as much as I could. I grew to really enjoy the experience, but early on, I was especially bitter about my place in life.

Originally, I placated my grandfather and enrolled under the pretense that I’d work towards a business degree, but in getting to that point, I endured a fair bit of emotional trauma. After so many arguments and hateful words, he had me utterly convinced that he would only permit me to access my 529 college fund if I went into a program he approved of, and not the art/film schools I envisioned.

I remember very vividly the moment my college dreams were first shattered. It was Easter weekend 2013 at my grandparents’ house. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins were there for a joint celebration of Easter and my 18th birthday. Over the preceding weeks I’d received several acceptance letters from schools across the state and country. All of these schools had art and film programs I was interested in and I was so excited to share the news that they were also interested in me. With great enthusiasm, I shared the news with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and they showered me in words of praise and encouragement. I was the first of 10 grandchildren to go to college, the first to tap into the sweet college funds our grandparents set up for each of us. As a kid coming from a disadvantaged household that was particularly ravaged by the burst of the housing bubble, my modest 529 fund felt like an escape pod from the entrapping cycle I’d grown accustomed to.

A few of us kids went outside to throw a football around in the backyard for a while, smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts. But when we came back inside, we were assaulted by feverish screams coming from the adults of the family. The happiness that wrapped its warm arms around us just moments ago utterly incinerated the second our toes hit the kitchen floor.

The first words I heard when we set foot inside were, “I will not let him waste my goddamn money on a bullshit fucking art degree!” That was promptly followed by, “And I will not let him become a deadbeat like his fucking father!” The venom came spitting from my grandfather’s hateful mouth, his face burning red hot and his eyes threatening violence. It was in that moment that I realized what I was to him. All my memories from my childhood of hanging out with my grandpa, him calling me his #1, turned to ash in an instant. I had put up with a lot of his hate over my teenage years, but that moment hurt the most.

Grandpa Jim showing #1 grandkid Nate how to drive a small tractor circa ~2004ish (I think)

I’d been conditioned to believe that this money was my best ticket to a successful life, and the man who hammered that into my young brain now tore that ticket to shreds before my very eyes. He conditioned me to believe in his benevolent lordship over my education for nearly a decade, and in an instant shat all over that trust. He had forsaken his first grandchild because I had the audacity to think I could make something with my artistic inclinations. Rather than sacrifice my morals and bend the knee, I wrote him and his money off and didn’t enroll in college. The exorbitant upfront costs and the prospect of being in debt for decades to come had me paralyzed in fear, so I decided to wait. I instead worked with my dad pretty extensively on his film projects, which enraged my grandfather further.

This whole saga was actually the catalyst to our getting evicted out of our home, my childhood home of 10+ years, in September of 2013. He was the landlord of the house and my parents rented it, the second of such houses during my childhood, the first being a house across the neighborhood that we lived in from 2000-2003.

I have many memories from the first house on Chantal, but it was Montevina that I revered as my childhood home, and it was ripped from us by a bitter man thirsting for power.

Below are images from that home, ranging from 2003 through 2013

One August afternoon, my grandfather came storming to our door, huffing and puffing about some annoyance inflicted upon him at one of his other dozen or so rental properties. He came looking to blow off steam at the expense of his historically favorite punching bag, his youngest child, my mother.

Immediately upon entering our home, he began berating her for her supposed failures as a parent because she was allowing me to waste my life away and devolve into a deadbeat (mind you, I had only graduated high school 3 months prior). He bashed her over the head with a verbal assault that had no standing in reality. My aunt Nicole and her daughter Ava were over that afternoon and Nicole stood up for my mom, which I’m grateful for. But he didn’t care, he just kept going, completely ignoring his daughter-in-law’s voice of reason.

He screamed and screamed until I grabbed him by the shoulders and ushered him out of the door, calling him an asshole and ignoring his verbal jabs along the way. I remember the invigorating sense of satisfaction I got from firmly locking the deadbolt into place, leaving him in an abrupt and isolated silence outside, the metal bolt’s loud and emphatic snap punctuating my forceful end to his temper tantrum.

He came back the very next morning with the eviction notice. I can’t remember the exact justifications he gave on the letter, but my parents weren’t in the mood to fight him on it, and fight it all the way to court he would have, if only they took the bait. They had put up with his hate for long enough and there was just no gas left in the tank to put up with it any longer. We moved within a month, leaving the home of my childhood behind for another house that was good enough shelter but never quite felt like home.

That whole experience stalked me like a shadow for longer than I’d like to admit. In many ways it shaped me through young adulthood, imparting on me a greater sense of independence because I learned I could only really depend upon myself at the end of the day. But it took significant effort and self-reflection to reach that point.

As the rest of 2013 faded and slipped into 2014, I too felt like I was fading and slipping away. Lost and rudderless, I limped back to my grandfather and told him I wanted to go to school and get a business degree, forgetting my past fancies of art and film. The gates opened immediately.

I enrolled at CRC and took a few business classes and didn’t feel any less directionless, but I acknowledged that I finally had my foot in the door. The first semester he demanded that I bring all my paperwork to him, so he could verify the money I was spending and the classes I was taking, but thankfully he lost interest in that level of control rather quickly. The very next semester I took the classes I wanted to take and just lied to him about it, a practice I kept up throughout my time in school. He never looked into my finances again.

Giving Speeches and Writing Papers

Initially, I felt ashamed that I had succumbed to the manipulation and took his money. But I slowly regained control and went after the opportunities that interested me at CRC, disregarding his snide comments and instead focusing on me, while keeping him at arm's length. After a few months, I began to flourish.

There were a few teachers whose classes I really looked forward to, like Dr. Melanie Lewis’ English I and John Gilgun’s Communication II. Both of those classes in particular allowed me the freedom to explore what I wanted to, share what I wanted to say, and do so in ways that worked with me. Yes, there were rubrics and guidelines, but I was given the creative freedom to explore on my own terms, and I explore I did.

Dr. Lewis’ English I focused on Shakespeare and the human condition, which was a blast to write about–I love discussing the frailty and triumphs of humanity. It was in her class that I began to really analyze my experiences with my grandfather dating back to childhood. I learned from those unearthed images as I replayed them with a wiser, more experienced mind. I unlocked memories I forgot I had and saw them for what they were without the naiveté of 8 year old eyes to skew the truth, which really taught me how to retrospectively analyze my own actions and thoughts. I credit her class with breaking me out of the funk that I allowed to seep into my bones following the past years’ events by giving me the opportunity to explore what I was feeling, examine the causes, and express what could be learned.

Gilgun’s Communication II was focused on presentations and effectively communicating with your fellow humans. I enjoyed his class because we were given the freedom to share whatever we wanted, as long as we did it effectively and in an engaging manner. It was in his class that I really threw caution to the wind and let whatever creative ideas swimming in my head take the reins. “To hell with convention!” I said and just ran with it. I gave a presentation on video editing for beginners and it was during that specific project that I said fuck it and let loose. It originally started as a simple instructional presentation on the basics of editing but I scrapped that for a more energetic presentation on how you can swindle moms and dads for hundreds of dollars by throwing together quick edits of their kid’s sports reels and graduation tapes, because video editors might as well be wizards to such simpleminded plebs, and deserve to be paid handsomely for something that truthfully isn’t really all that complicated to do. I also gave a presentation informing my classmates of my illustrious and scandalous 50 years career in the NBA–Mr. Gilgun loved the shit out of that one. That story was a wild one: quaaludes threatening to derail me in the early 80’s, bastard children the world over, records galore, too many championship rings for my 10 fingers, and one or two all-out brawls with my fellow NBA stars. I took iconic images from the NBA's past and Photoshopped my face onto the players to seal the deal. Very informative stuff.

My creativity flowed elsewhere on campus as well. When I had time before class, I enjoyed sitting in a corner of this or that building on campus and writing into my notebook. I filled that notebook with randomness, exhausting the couple of hours until class with brainstorming sessions for personal projects and creative endeavors. I wrote scripts that were never shot and novelistic passages that rarely went on for more than a few paragraphs at a time. I enjoyed the feeling of cozying up in a corner and losing myself in a world of my own imagination, regardless of whether those imaginary worlds amounted to anything more than just a few yellow pages in my worn notebook. Sometimes the highlight of my week would be getting to school as early as my job would allow just so I could sit in a corner somewhere to scribble and drift away in peace.

However much I did enjoy my pre-class ritual, when the alarm went off indicating it was time to pack up and head to class, I wouldn’t despair. In fact, I’d leave these meditative explorations with a marked sense of enthusiasm and energy and I’d ride that vibe as long as I could into and through the night’s instruction. Sometimes I’d continue writing in my notebook between lecture notes, keeping mostly quiet and in my head while following along with the class. Other times I’d shelve the notebook entirely and put my creative juice to use in class discussion. Other than that first semester of boring business lectures, whatever I was doing, the main energy I tapped into while at CRC was one of creativity and curiosity.

But, every time I drove back home that energy would evaporate, leaving me in a disquieted stupor. I loved school. I loved how I felt when I was on my own, away from the stresses of family and their expectations. I wanted more, so I began thinking of moving out on my own, far far away.

Although things were not inherently terrible at that house, it was constantly enveloped in a dark cloud of general depression. Mom and dad weren’t happy and drifting towards divorce. I wasn’t happy and drifting into depression. I can’t really speak so much for my sister during this specific time period, but I could tell my brother wasn’t very happy either. We had been kicked out of our home and forced to live in this new place that lacked everything that made the last one home. My grandfather no longer lorded over us, but he was still a persistent presence now that we lived only a mile down the road from him and my mom lacked the will to keep him away, despite our repeated pleas. The stifling air grew to be too much for me.

The whole family together the day I graduated high school at Arco Arena

The Decision

Spring of 2015 came around and I decided enough was enough and it was time to leave. I think I was sitting in Mr. Gilgun’s class when the thought to move somewhere far away first crept up from the back of my mind. I associate that snap decision with sitting in his class because it was the environment that he fostered that gave me the final nudge to make it happen. Everything until that point was building up to the decision, his class was just the last piece to give me the courage to do so.

First, I packed up all of Kimaly’s things I had at my parents’ house and drove to San Francisco. I drove right to her door with a box in hand, broke up with her, and drove back. That in and of itself was liberating and way easier than I hoped. I expected yelling and to defend myself against a degree of violence, but it was unceremonious. Then immediately after I got back, I spent a couple days poking around on Google Maps, looking at different cities around the globe and browsing their sites, amenities, and reading a bit on their cultures. I researched pretty heavily what it would take to go to Copenhagen and would have done it if not for the cost of plopping down on the other side of the planet, so I instead looked closer to home. I immediately ruled out the West Coast because I wanted to be as far away from what I already knew as possible. I saw Boston on the map, with all its schools packed tightly into its cramped streets and thought to myself, “I like the Celtics. I don’t really want to go to New York. Boston looks cool. This is the choice.” I applied to a few schools in Boston that night and heard back from UMass Boston within a couple of weeks, my plan set in motion only a matter of days from its inception.

I didn’t tell my mom that I was planning on moving across the country because I knew she would react negatively. When I told her, after I already knew where I was going and when I would leave, she flipped out. She didn’t want her oldest kid to leave her, especially for the other side of the country. My parents’ relationship was on the brink and she couldn’t stand to lose half of her family in one fell swoop, so she tried her damnedest to stop me. She and my dad got into several screaming matches over it, my dad supporting my desire to explore and my mom terrified of the unknown. They each tried to put on a good face around me, however, so as to not dampen my spirits with their squabbles, for which I’m grateful, but they didn’t practice that same resolve when arguing around my siblings. She argued that I would not be able to make it out there in the real world, but I felt that she was saying that on her own behalf as much as mine. He argued that they need to let me be independent and go out into the world for myself, without them holding me back. She saw parallels in me and my dad, both with one foot out the door, and resented my dad for defending me because she saw it as him defending himself for what he’s about to do.

I will admit, the decision was rather abrupt and it must have stung for it to go through so fast, but that's what I needed to do for my own good. If I stewed on the idea, I would have talked myself out of it. I would have allowed the voices of doubt to sway my decision and dampen my desire and the last thing I needed was other people telling me what to do with my life, I’d sacrificed enough time because of that. What I needed was a jolt to the system. I had no real plan going into it, I just picked a place and rolled with it. Boston here we come!

The months that ensued after my rapid fire decision, application, and acceptance were a blur, but in the best sense possible. I rode out the final months at CRC, Beitzel, and PlayOn! Sports with a pinch of melancholy because I had grown to enjoy my time in each environment, but it was overcome by raw jubilation for the adventure that awaited me in August. The summer of 2015 flew by in a rush of excitement, the months screaming past like the used to when I was a kid.

My last few weeks in California before the move

I could hardly contain my joy that something exciting was finally happening.

Meanwhile, the mood in my parents’ house kept plummeting the closer we got to August. I genuinely do sympathize with my mom and the rough situation she was in during this time. She knew her family was forever going to be sundered very soon and couldn’t really do anything about it but watch as it all unfolded. My dad left 2 months after I did, but the writing was on the wall for some time before then. Things were not going well between them for a while by that point and I could see it on their faces that their compatibility was waning. But despite knowing this and seeing it play out, I had to put myself first and foremost in my mind, and by packing up my things and leaving, I did just that.

Come the last week of August, I packed two large suitcases with EVERYTHING that I could, including my iMac computer, and flew across the country, landing in a state I’d never been to, walking a city I’d never seen, on my way to live with roommates I’d never met.

Closing note:

Mom and dad, if you are reading this, I just want to close this chapter by saying that I love you both and am very happy for each of you, especially now that you are both finding enriching fulfillment in life. There was definitely something spiritually stifling about that house, and I’m glad that we are all in new and comfortable environments, you, me, Nic, and Susie. We can all continue down our own paths in happiness and mutual respect and still be a family.

Love you guys.

41 views0 comments


bottom of page