2014-08-21 00:00:00 +0000 UTC

Niko in Aegina, 2011

Niko would have been 35 today.

When I think of Niko, of his struggle, of all the seasons and moments we shared together, August stands apart.

It was a clear, hot summer morning in August 2001 when we learned that Niko, thousands of miles away in the U.S., was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eleven years later, it was August when his doctor wrote the words that ripped apart our hopes and confirmed what we had been dreading for so long:

“Kosta, The MRI shows tumor growth that has extended across the middle of the brain. We should stop the Avastin and the etoposide.”

The next six months were the most difficult of my life as we watched the illness he fought for so long slowly take him away. There are experiences and memories here I will never forget. A sadness that stays with me, just under the surface, always a moment’s reflection away.

When I close my eyes and reflect, it’s hard to disentangle these memories of illness, worry and heartbreak in the last chapters of his life.

But today I remember Niko in happier times. I think of the warm August nights we spend talking for hours about everything and nothing. Throwing rocks in the cool waters of the Aegean and going for walks in Durham. The tavli games where Niko always has the lucky throw of the dice. The warm welcome he gives me when I show up on his doorstep in 2006 to live with him after living apart for nearly ten years. The joyous celebrations of his birthday and the smiles he brings to all those around him.

In his absence, his presence is felt; today I remember Niko with a smile.