"I see him on his good days," Jessica said, "and everything is wonderful. We actually have conversations." But then weeks pass without sight of him.
"He has to get stable," she said. "If he was better, we'd be together all the time."
Miller lives in a refurbished trailer behind his father's house. Two televisions provide constant background chatter. The refrigerator is bare. A hound named Mudbone spends most days tied in the yard.
Miller is estranged from his mother. He talks with his father, Jimmy Miller, 43, about everything except Iraq.
"What am I going to say? 'Son, I know what you've been through'? 'I know what you're going through now'?" the father said. "Well, the truth is I don't. Maybe it's just better that we leave it alone."
Miller's brother Todd, a 21-year-old diesel mechanic, doesn't pretend to understand.
"I'm glad I didn't join the Marines," Todd said one day. "I got a nice house, a wife and twin baby daughters, and I drive a Durango that's used but damn near new. You're divorced, drive a beat-up pickup and live in a trailer."
On top of that, Todd told his brother, your head is screwed up.
The months go by. One disability check comes, and then the next -- about $2,500 a month. Miller sees Barringer, the psychologist, but only occasionally.
"Sometimes you just have to look at the culture of small-town eastern Kentucky," Barringer said. "Blake graduated from high school and had no future. So he joined the Marines, and now he's home and has a steady income. Things are good.
"But sometimes that's more of a negative than a positive," he added. "Look, every time you go out to that mailbox and get your disability check, it tells you you're sick."
It took a while to get to know Miller. But I've come to appreciate his intelligence, generosity and dignity. He is a talented musician and skilled mechanic. I try to relate to him as a brother, even though I'm older than his father.
He has helped me sort through the craziness of Fallouja. I can't stop the war, but Miller has given me a chance to make a difference -- by helping him. And maybe myself.
Often, I wonder if I've done enough. Can I let go now? Can I ever let go?
The experts tell me I may be in it for the long haul.
Armstrong says Miller is "playing out his symptoms on cue."
"He's just keeping his head above water," he said. "He can't afford any downtime because it allows him to think."
Harkness holds out hope that Miller will eventually seek intensive therapy of the kind she offered.
"He won't come in for help because a part of him is very macho," she said. "He really comes across as the Marlboro Man. My fear is that at some point, it's all going to come crashing down.
To me, she said: "You are a constant object for Blake. You are the only person to follow him from the war zone to back home in America. You have a bond. He would be much lonelier and lost without you."
Some experts estimate that 30% of the troops who have seen combat in Iraq will suffer from PTSD.
As that thought lingers in my head, I remind myself that the sweetest victory is survival. The rest of life is a glittering gift, tempered in the forge of Fallouja.
Sometimes in the night, I hear a grenade launcher belching rounds. Or maybe it's just Miller gunning his Harley. He's roaring over Foggy Mountain, the wind blowing by, cleansing his thoughts.
Blake, son, I know it sounds crazy, but my mind always takes me back to that distant rooftop in Fallouja, where I snapped your picture. I think of that sunrise, bright and warm, and how lucky we were to see it.
Begin text of infobox
For additional photography with narration by Miller, plus a
video interview with Sinco, go to latimes.com/marlboro.
WHERE TO TURN
Organizations that offer help to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder:
* American Legion, (310) 235-7127
* California Dept. of Veterans Affairs, (310) 235-7155
* Military Order of the Purple Heart, (310) 235-7276
* Paralyzed Veterans of America, (310) 235-7796
* Veterans of Foreign Wars, (310) 235-7159
* Vet to Vet, (203) 623-0731